Sunday, October 11, 2009

Bears, Beavers, And The Best Ribs In The Klondike!

If I don't get round to posting right this minute, it'll never get done. No use waiting for enough time, is there? You have to make it. Even when editors are threatening and deadlines are sitting evilly on your bedside table , eying you like vultures when you wake up in the morning.

Besides which, if I don't post now, Samhain will be past and Christmas, heaven help us, on the way. And that wouldn't do at all.

It was wonderful going back to Yukon Territory and a tiny bit of Alaska. Even without window seats, we got a few stunning glimpses of Greenland.

And Whitehorse (when we finally crawled in at 1.30 am, having left Cork at 6 am - and you can subtract another eight hours from that for the time difference, so it was well over 24 hours, with delays at this airport and that) was as charming as ever. It's nice to be in a real frontier town of the kind that faces up to nature and rough weather with total practicality, knowing it can't just assume things will always be easy - things like pottering out to do a spot of shopping, or travelling any distance without packing survival gear.

Absolutely and far away my favourite restaurant in the whole world is in Whitehorse - the Klondike Rib & Salmon on 2nd Ave - and one of my favourite people is owner, Dona, who runs the whole shebang as if it were a gigantic party. You can see queues down the street at feeding time, but she still finds time to greet every customer personally and has a wonderful relationship with her gang of cheerful young staff.

Here she is, still merry after closing time. See that Dog Sled Parking sign over her head? That's a very tempting reminder to head back to Whitehorse next February. No matter that the whole place will be frozen solid and blanketed under twenty feet of snow, that's when the Yukon Quest takes place, the dog sled race from Fairbanks Alaska to Whitehorse. The dogs and their mushers race a thousand freezing miles, and I WANT TO BE THERE. Dona, if you're reading this, can I come help make soup, coffee, man one of the checkpoints? Please? I'll knit double thick socks for both of us!

Headed out early every morning in Whitehorse, to see what was about in the dawn light.

I don't know who was more taken aback here, me, the coyote, or DH.

Is that a lens or a Gatling gun? Wow, you don't see many of those in these here woods...

Having got over his initial camera shyness, he trotted quite casually past DH, on his way to a business meeting no doubt.

The other place we spent quite a bit of time was the Whitehorse dump or recycling centre. Those with wildlife photographer acquaintances will know that dumps are very high on the list of desirable locations, and Whitehorse is one of the best. Simply everyone drops in at one time or another.

These juvenile bald eagles would far rather have Mama and Papa bring them a nice hot lunch like always, but their parents were having none of it, sitting at a distance on a tall pine, and refusing to lift a talon to help. They had to learn for themselves.

This raven was really being mean, winding up the poor hungry young eagle something rotten. He'd fly down, get a nice tasty titbit, then bring it back to the wire, and edge slowly up towards the eagle, taking delicious little nibbles and cawing, 'Oh this is nice. Oooh, this is the best titbit I've ever tasted...' He was doing it on purpose, no doubt about that. Every now and again, goaded beyond endurance, the eagle would make a dash at his tormentor, but the raven would easily evade him, chuckling all the while.

We went up to Dawson, another of my favourite places. Do you know Dawson? It was a huge place during the Klondike Gold Rush, fell into decrepitude thereafter, but was, thankfully, saved as a beautiful ghost town for future generations to enjoy. It's full of old log cabins dating from those heady days, some sinking into the soil at dangerous angles (probably where their occupants had dug right under the building in search of the elusive metal), others, on firmer ground, holding their own.

This is somewhere I think of when I can't get back to sleep at 2 am and need a peaceful old-world image. It's Robert Service's cabin. The Bard of the Yukon lived in this little hut and wrote his wonderfully evocative and popular poems here. I've quoted this verse before, but I'll do so again, because it's a good one to recall when life gets a bit too respectable:

They have cradled you in custom, they have primed you with their preaching,
They have steeped you in convention through and through.
They have put you in a glass case, you're a credit to their teaching,
But can't you hear The Wild - it's calling you!

Of course we went up The Dempster a little way - until the road got really rough anyway. You're supposed to tape up the headlights and put mesh over the grille and things like that if you plan to drive any distance. That's as well as food for a week, enough medical supplies to perform minor operations, and a few extra sweaters.

In Ireland you can't go three kilometres without someone offering you a cup of tea, for heaven's sake!

Dawson is a good place to watch beavers.

This chap was so busy stocking up for the winter, gathering juicy branches, still with the golden leaves attached, and carrying them down to the underwater larder, that he didn't mind us at all -

- but I simply loved watching this guy swim off and collect a huge armful of weed, then ponderously carry it all the way up to the top of his lodge to caulk any possible weak points.

From Dawson, you either retrace your steps the long long road to Whitehorse or you cross the Yukon River - just like in the song - and head into Alaska.

That's an Elizabeth Zimmermann Ribwarmer in bright pink boucle, by the way, being knitted on the ferry. Thought another layer wouldn't come amiss.

From the high road above, the early morning clouds were still hiding Dawson, but you can just see on the right where the Klondike River joins the Yukon. And then it was a long, long, LONG drive down through Chicken, Alaska (really!), back into Canada at Beaver Creek, out again just before Thirty Mile Roadhouse, where we had to stop for coffee, as this is another of my favourite places.

Unutterably cosy and comfy and welcoming after a long drive, run by several sprightly and very strict elderly ladies, it's a gathering point and information centre for the surrounding area as well as a cafe. Which makes sense in Offthemapua.

We were heading for Haines, a small port of call for cruise ships in season, but also an extremely good place to see grizzly bears if you know where to go. Which, fortunately, we did. As dusk falls each evening at this time of year, the grizzlies come down from the woods to fish for salmon in the river. There aren't any controls, no barriers or safety screens, just you, a lonely woodland road, a river - and the dark woods.

I was wandering along this road on my own in the dusk, thinking of Starmore sweaters or something, and only belatedly realised that perhaps being solo wasn't all that good an idea. I headed back to find DH round the next bend and as we met up, we heard a crashing in the woods a few yards away.

'Time to move, I think' said DH with understatement, and we got rapidly out of the path of the approaching noise. Only a few yards up the road and then we turned -

Not a very good picture, snatched at speed in the gathering dusk, but I won't let DH delete it. It is a reminder of just how close I came to being on my own in the sort of situation where you would really prefer several strong friends by your side.

There were actually three of them - Mum and two grown cubs - and they trotted across the road, glancing crossly at us, and down to the riverbank. DH switched to flash mode, which interested the youngsters exceedingly:

Gosh, maybe we shouldn't have beaten up that coyote, he was telling the truth after all! Willya look at the size of that lens?

Great heavens, I've only just this minute spotted something, when I looked at that picture. We'd both noticed the nice white markings on the bear on the left, but now it looks exactly like the face of another bear, doesn't it? What a very odd effect. Must go tell DH as soon as I've finished posting.

It's a privilege to get so close to these enormous creatures but let's face it, it's also darned dangerous. Probably won't be much longer that you can walk that river road at dusk and play peekaboo with grizzlies. And I'm still wondering what exactly I would have done if I'd been on my own when The Three Bears crossed the road. Frozen in shock? Closed my eyes and prayed? Shown them the sock I was knitting? (Reagan in Wollmeise, on size O Addi Turbos).

On the way back up to Whitehorse, completing a very big circle, we paced the White Pass Railway train, the big black steam engine puffing clouds of smoke to let us know where it was when we lost it in the hills. Wish there had been time to hike a bit of the legendary, appalling, Chilkoot Trail, but unfortunately we had a flight to catch.

Two days to get home and the jet lag from hell, lasting well over a week, but it was worth it. To be out there in those huge empty spaces with those vast skies and that clear cold air - it made you feel invigorated just to breathe.

There would be absolutely no sense, no justification whatsoever, in going back for the Yukon Quest in February, would there? No, you're quite right, there would not. There would not...


Lindy said...

Hi Jo - My husband and I have always wanted to go to the Yukon Territory and Alaska - and it's a whole lot closer from Arizona than from Ireland without the jet lag to boot. Someday! Famous last words I fear.

The pics. are fantastic. I desperately want to be able to see such wildlife and get those shots.

I have been trying for nearly a year to get a shot of "Lone Coyote" who roams free and stealthly right here near our house in the Sonoran Desert. All I have is a blurred image thus far.

Can't wait to see this book you two are working on.


Sarah said...

I always enjoy your posts. Thanks for taking the time to tell about your trip.

pacalaga said...

Jo, were you bragging about the size of your husband's...lens?
(My abject apologies for filthying your blog.)
The photos and stories are lovely, as ever. I think turtlewoman must not be far from me - I live in the center of town and my neighbor tells me the coyotes visit every night.

cindyl said...

You're nuts if you don't go. And chicken.

Lindy in Australia said...

Oh Jo, so lovely to have you back, and as always, with such an interesting post.Love the pictures. You sure get around!

Nancy said...

I trust you've made your February reservations by now?
Thank you so much for shring this. I'm not too sure but that the bear's chest doesn't almost look more like a wolf than another bear!

LaurieM said...

Breathtaking. I'm speechless, but very appreciative of your post.

Linda B said...

I've been checking every day for the report of your Northern journey, and as always, it was worth the wait. I live vicariously through your adventures. I would love to visit that part of the world someday. Of course, I'd also love to visit Ireland and be offered a cup of tea at every turn!

Evelyn said...

I noticed that bear-face effect too. I almost wonder if it's a form of camouflage? Very ghostly! Sounds like an awesome trip! And well worth repeating in February...!

Anonymous said...

Dear Jo..... lovely pictures bringing back lovely memories! A few years back my husband and I did an 11 night rafting trip in the BC/Yukon/Alaska wilderness...the Tatshenshini River. We were with a small group, 7 passengers and 5 guides. It was so lovely and lonely.

A running joke on our hikes went this way: "Bear poop!" (Reported by a hiker) "Is it steaming?" (A guide) In other words, there are bears is their home. We only worry if we're REALLY close. (On the other hand, we were not allowed to walk anywhere alone.... 3 was the minimum, and more was always better.

The trip was very hard physically, but I'm very glad we did it.

Barbara M.

Barbara-Kay said...

We went to Alaska on an inner passage cruise for our 25th anniversary (could that have truly been 21 years ago?). I wasn't allowed enough consecutive vacation time then to go on up to the Yukon.

Now I'm retired, and you've reinfected me with the Alaska bug. Must go!

Jean said...

You really know how to live! The places you've been to, the wildlife that you've experienced - up close, the people you meet. What a fine tapestry of life that you are weaving. Thank you for sharing a taste of your adventures with us.

Linda from Montana said...

Jo, I agree with all the comments posted! If you need more coyote pictures, come visit us in Montana.
I am finally knitting my Kerry Woolen Mill yarn, the Central Park Hoodie, loving it, just hope I have enough yarn.

Metta said...

Oh my, those photos are simply stunning! You must tell us when the book becomes available!! I too love Alaska & must return. You know now that you will......Thanks for your really wonderful blog.

Anonymous said...

Wonderfully evocative story and pictures, as always. You've reminded me of summer visits to my aunt and uncle's cabin on Lake Hebgen, Montana, near Yellowstone Park. A favorite local entertainment was to drive out to the town dump at dusk, park with headlights trained on the garbage as though on the screen of a drive-in theater, and watch the bears. Lots of modest black bears at the "early table", but they all discreetly left when the grizzlies arrived.
-- Gretchen

Melissa said...

Lovely, as always! You always manage to show the best of everywhere that you visit-even if it is cold and full of dangerous creatures!

Anonymous said...

I SERIOUSLY hope you have telephoto lenses. Getting that close to one grizzly, much less three, is taking your life into your hands! I was worried when I saw how close your husband had gotten to the moose (notoriously bad-tempered animals), but grizzlies can and will eat you! And winter IS coming!

But other than that tirade? Lovely post!

We see 'yotes around here all the time (it's pronounced yo-ties).

Angeluna said...

Just WOW! Thanks for forcing yourself to the computer. And thanks to dear Richard for some more great photos.

Very interesting that face on the bear's chest. Wonder if it is some inherited evolutionary characteristic to make enemies think they are facing two bears, not one.

Anonymous said...

I love the bear wearing the bear sweater! Karen

Charity said...

Oh, Jo! So close to me yet again, and yet not close enough!! I'm so glad you enjoyed your visit here & into Alaska - it really is the most amazing place. :o)

Nicki said...

Thank-you for the interesting post. I love "traveling" with you. You pick the most interesting places!

SueJ said...

Just jealous! Awesome!This would be a dream trip. Thanks for sharing.

greenmtngirl said...

Hi Jo--I haven't commented before, but love your blog & read every post.

Your bear photos and story made me think of a friend, who, in her 60s, was camping in Alaska with her husband. He was asleep in the tent when a grizzly strolled into their campsite. Sylvia said briskly to it, "Now bear, go away. This is where the people are!" and it turned around and left. She always reckoned they had been exceedingly fortunate...

Thanks so much for the brilliant posts and photos; I really enjoy them.


lilymarlene said...

What a wonderful trip! Ours to the G Canyon and monument Valley was pretty tame by comparison.....but we did see a moose!!!

DH got bad jetlag this time....after three weeks away it was pretty inevitable...but I decided I wasn't going to get it this time, got my daily dose of daylight each lunchtime, and soldiered on. This seemed to stop that "walking through treacle", or being in spomeone else's body sensation that I remember from last time.

Enjoyed the bit about the Grizzlies....and glad they didn't eat you!!!

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