Growing Up Alaska: Don’t Feed the Wildlife

Whenever I was 16, I spent the summer on Kodiak Island with a survey team of four. It was an interesting summer in the wilds of Kodiak and I have multiple stories from that summer, but this one comes from the near end of my time there.

We were in Olga Bay and had travelled by boat to do the third and final job in that area. We had been there for nearly 8 weeks with limited food supplies that had run out a few weeks ago, and we didn’t have communication with the outside world.

This job was an easy one and took us less than a day, so Sam and I went to go catch some fish while our boss tried to get the radio working at the abandoned Ranger Station there. Two large creeks flowed into the bay here and they were both filled salmon….and bears.

The creek literally teemed with fish and Sam decided we should have some fun. Most of the silver salmon pooled up in the bend in the creek to allow the salt from the ocean to wash from their gills and Sam challenged me to catch a fish with my bare hands.

We waded out to the bottom end of the pool and the fish scattered, but after standing there for a few minutes, the fish started swimming around us again. More fish came up stream and there were so many that they began bumping into us.

We stood perfectly still, then Sam slowly lowered his hands into the ice cold water and snatched up a salmon! He held it up as it flopped about, sending the other fish scattering again. Now that he had the fish, he didn’t know what to do and tried to wade across the stream. He didn’t make it and the fish eventually wiggled free and plopped back into the water.

It was all very funny and we went back to try again.

After a couple of minutes, and my feet starting to go numb, the fish returned. Sam scooped up a second one, but this time, instead of trying to carry it to shore, he tossed it up on the embankment just above our heads. It cleared the edge and we heard it flopping around in the grass.

Laughing, we noticed the other fish hadn’t been spooked and Sam announced that the score was 2-0. I hadn’t realized that we were keeping score and it took me a couple of tries to scoop up my first salmon. I didn’t get it to shore and as I tried to toss it, it wiggled free and plopped back in the water.

We decided that each fish we grabbed was one point and each fish we landed was two points. It took us a few more tries before Sam was able to toss another up onto the bank taking a commanding lead of 7-3.

Now we really only needed the two fish for dinner and breakfast, and our hands and feet were growing numb, but it was now a contest and there were so many fish I figured on scooping up as many as I could and not worry about the bank.

After about another fifteen minutes, Sam was still in the lead, though neither of us had landed another fish and I could feel my body starting to shake from the cold. Sam announced that the next person to land a fish would win the game, so I waited for a good grab.

The fish swam right between my boots and I scooped it up and tossed it before it could react. Sam caught one at the same time and tossed it too, cascading me with cold water. We watched as the fish sailed through the air and over the bank….

…And into the mouth of a waiting Kodiak Brown Bear. He lay there, his front paws dangling at the edge of the embankment, shredding one of the first fish we’d tossed up there. He continued chewing and watched nonchalantly as two more fish landed beside him. With a mouthful of fish, he looked down at us as we splashed to the other side of the creek.

We only paused long enough to grab our gear and stumbled numb footed back to the boat. And as we hurried away, I looked back at the bear who I could have sworn had a disappointed look on his face.

Author: matthewlasley

I am a school teacher and an author. I like to write picture books, middle grade, science fiction and short stories. I live in Alaska and I love history, so those two things often influence my creative writing.

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