Sunday, October 26, 2008

Winter comes to Kodiak

It is the last week of October and the temperatures have started to drop into the 30's on a regular basis. We had our first snowfall of about 1 inch this past week. Fortunately, the temperatures increased enough to melt most of it within a day or two.  Last nights cold front brought winds of at least 50 mph but only snow flurries. The seas were "angry".  We went out to Spruce Cape where the winds made it difficult to walk.  We kept Raton, our 10# dog, on a leash to avoid having her washed out to sea.

At times we actually see surfers in the waters around Kodiak.  The water temperature was a warm 44 degrees today but we expect it to decrease to 32-34 by the end of the year.  The waves were up to 15 feet high about 1/2 mile from the shore. The were still about 6 feet high when they crashed at the beach. It was a spectacular show of nature.  Unfortunately, it means that Carlos had to store the kayaks for the winter. 

I have learned in the past week how to operate of wood stove. With the costs of heating oil rising along with gasoline prices, we decided to purchase 5 cords of wood.  This wouldn't be enough if we were here all winter, but should cover the 3-4 months we will need it.  It manages to keep the house a comfortable 58-60 degrees during the day.  

Snow now covers the mountains surrounding Kodiak. There is not enough for skiing yet, but it shouldn't be long.  Their elevations are only 1500-2500 feet around the city.  We are still seeing small streams with runoff along side the roads.  Pretty soon that will all freeze and we'll have some spectacular icicles covering the hillsides.  

Carlos is waiting for the first ice storm.  He knows when winter truly arrives that there will be plenty of broken bones from falls on the ice.  We have to put ice cleats on our shoes when we go outside. The temperatures stay so close to freezing that walkways and streets might have a layer of ice covering them at any time.  The snow melts quickly, but usually the following day there is a sheet of ice to we have to deal with.  We had to change the tires this week to studded tires for driving on ice.  We will keep them on the car until about mid-April.  Crazy people like Carlos will put studded tires even on their bicycles.

The last of the salmon are finally coming upstream.  And in the bays fishermen are now allowed to "snag" the fish instead of only catching them in the mouth since their end will be the same anyway.  Carlos is hoping to catch his first fish this way.

Come January it will be time to go ice fishing on the lakes.  What is now our municipal float plane airport will become a completely frozen lake.  There will be an ice skating rink set up in the city park for the public.  It is still possible to hike in the parks during the winter but you have to have your ice cleats for stability. 

The bears are starting to go into hibernation now but the ones out and about are still hungry.  They are, also, not as respectful of people as they were before.  Now is the time to carry your 44 magnum at your side.  Here it is legal to carry your weapons in plain sight.  It is not unusual to meet a hiker with one and occasionally you see someone wearing one into a store.  
We'll be traveling to the south a couple of times in the next few months.  That way the short days and cold temperatures don't get us down.

For some photos of our coming winter in Kodiak, go to: 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Living with bears in Kodiak

Most everyone has heard of the Kodiak Bear. It lives only in the Kodiak
Archipelago and is the largest of the brown bear.  They arrived originally
from Russia during the last ice age.  When the ice connecting us to the
mainland receded, the bears became stranded.  They have continued to
develop to the point they are considered a separate subspecies
from the grizzly bear.

These bears can weigh between 1500-2000 pounds as an adult male. A
bear that stands 5 feet tall when measured at shoulders can be 10-13 feet
tall on his hind legs.In fact,  8 of the 10 largest bears ever killed have
been in Kodiak.  Needless to say, these bears can be intimidating to mere
humans.  And as the natives, we tend to show respect towards them, if 
only to give him or her the right of way.

The island of Kodiak has around 3000 of these bears, most living in the 
uninhabited 97% of the island. They feast on salmon during the spawning
season and eat berries during the summer months. They are usually very
full and ready to hibernate as winter arrives.  Most people who live here
have stated they have never seen a bear up close.

Unfortunately for those bears that live in the woods around the town (yes,
we have city bear residents), they have a more difficult time building their
body fat. Berries are limited as we tend to enjoy them as jellies and
fishermen are frequently in their hunting grounds as well.  Carlos has
displayed a avid interest in the bears lately, or maybe they just keep
finding him.

After establishing residency of one year, Carlos was able to purchase his
fishing license. Of course he also needed a rod, reel, lures, knife, and 
waders. After the expenditure reach $300 he realized that the first fish
he caught would be very valuable. As of this date, the only fish we have
eaten was given to us.

His first expedition was with another doctor. When they arrived at the 
river and were ready to cast they noticed the bear behind nearby bushes. 
As they waited he wandered out into the river (where they had been 
fishing) and proceeded to catch his dinner.  Carlos and his friend left 
empty handed.

The next week Carlos had a couple of days off work and went to the 
river around 8 am.  He found a 400 pounder by the picnic table so left
for a while.  When he returned another fisherman reported that the bear
sat by the dumpster for a while but then left.  Feeling he would now be
uninterrupted, Carlos stepped out on the wooden deck.  There was a
terrible commotion underneath and out comes the bear.  He was less
than 10 feet away!  He looked straight at and then ran across the river
to the other side.  

Bear appearances, unfortunately, have not been limited this year to the 
rivers.  Just this past week one of the elementary schools had to cancel
outdoor recess due to roaming bear visitors. He also showed up in the
hospital parking lot twice in one day.
You can log on to our gallery of photos and see some of the pictures
we've managed to take.  One of them is of the bear that made Carlos
leave his fishing site.  Another is the sign posted in the school parking 
lot.  Some photos are of the black bears we observed on the mainland
during our summer vacation.  To view this site copy and paste: