Living Like the Bears
One of the first things I learned about Alaskans is that they live life like bears – in cycles of rest, work, and indulgence. The long days of summer are a time for tireless work and celebration. When I arrived in Alaska, I didn’t yet understand the still deep-rooted relationship of people to the land. They soak in the long hours of summer, feasting on berries and celebrating the coming of light, and gathering resources and warm memories for the cold and dark ahead. This summer, I, too, vowed to live like the bears.
Guests get a brief window into life at the lodge, but the staff see, feel, hear, and smell the changes of the seasons here at Tutka Bay. If they’re lucky, guests’ short stay will show how quickly Alaska can turn in tides and weather – but the ebbs and flows of a few days are the blinks of an eye regarding the season. We look to the residents and long lineage of peoples – namely the Sugpiaq / Alutiiq – who call Kachemak Bay home to learn how to live by this land.
I believe you come to know a place when you see it change – primarily when your life is dictated by those changes. When we lose daylight by over five minutes a day, it seems everything else hastens its pace to keep up.
As a guide, I love to take my guests into the woods on their first day. What they don’t know is that these woods are new to me each day as well. Every week, if not daily, new treasures reveal themselves in the forest and tides. One week you can slice and eat Devil’s club’s buds; the next, their leaves will become more significant than my head and adorned with sharp spikes. Blooms will turn to blueberries, and the sweet fresh tips of goose tongue will go to flower. Mushrooms will appear miraculously overnight, reminding us of the cycle of decay and birth constantly churning at our feet. I can see at least one volcano from the trail when it’s sunny. When it rains, the mushrooms will start to erupt in every color, shape, and configuration. When it rains and shines simultaneously, you’ll know you’re genuinely in Alaska – and you might be standing under a rainbow.
The tides change like the seasons, fluctuating and pulsing with the moon’s cycles. My favorite times in life have been dictated by the moon’s pull. When I live by the tides, I listen to nature and meet her where she’s at. She whispers when the rockfish are biting, and sea lettuce is fresh – if you just pay attention, you’ll hear her. With one of the most significant tidal changes in the world, the extreme lows gift us with exposed sea stars in rainbow spectrum piles and other creatures we don’t so often see.
The whales will do as whales will do, with little care for our gawking eyes and eager cameras. They will come to the bay and leap and breach for days on end and then, without warning, they will slip silently off to sea. The orcas may come in large and boisterous pods, with their dramatic towering fins and calves in tow, or they might silently cut the still waters, hunting their prey with precision. The uncertainty of these momentary glimpses into life under the surface only adds to my respect for the mystery the sea holds in her inky depths.
The midnight sun starts to recede, and an endless starry sky will take its place in August. With the dark nights come a new source of light – as bioluminescence surges in the sea, matching the stars in their brilliance. The wave of a hand through still waters can invoke a cascade of dancing, glittering lights as jellyfish float by in glowing pulses.
When the fireweed finally blooms at its peak and leaves turn red, we’ll accept that summer has ended.
As the weather and foliage change with the season – so do we. Inside the lodge, chef meals shift to showcase local berries and porcinis paired with the salmon you caught that very day. Amongst the change, there are always constants – ideally in the form of salted chocolate chip cookies and soft-centered cinnamon rolls. The scent somehow took on a new sense of comfort with the cooling days. The staff, too, are pulled by the flux of seasons. Adorning new layers and clinging closer to the friendships we’ve formed.
My guests, seeing the lodge with new eyes, remind me to stay present. They remind me every day how fortunate I am to wake up in this place – this forest and coastline that holds so many stories before my time and beyond my ears. It is a privilege to breathe clean Alaska air and reside where the mountains meet the sea. At the end of their stay, when they’ve walked the trails and fished the waters, I hope guests take a renewed sense of wonder – a priceless souvenir that can serve as a reminder wherever they go. I, too, will take with me the gifts of presence and appreciation, and I will never forget the lessons I’ve learned living like the bears.
By Roxanne Hoorn
Roxanne is trained as a biologist and worked as a guide at Tutka Bay Lodge for the 2022 season. She is an aspiring science journalist and storyteller now pursuing her Master’s in California. She hopes her writing not only engages readers but inspires action.