A ramble through Alaska – Portage Glacier, Anchorage

Concluding Anand Yegnaswami’s sojourn in Alaska, this episode sees him face to face with a Grizzly and learning something new about the gender of Santa’s red-nosed reindeer

Refreshed from a rather uneventful third day of our trip we emerged from our slumber gung-ho about what was to be our first experience of a fjord. We had read in school textbooks about Norwegian fjords and here
was our ticket to experience one from a cruise boat.
A brown bear

The cruise we had booked promised fascinating views of glaciers and wildlife that included sea-lions, puffins and whales. The Czech acquaintances Rajarshi made the previous day had shown us captivating images from the cruise taken a day earlier. Had someone heard us praying, they might have assumed us to be sexist expecting parents but we prayed hard for the sun.

As we emerged from the hotel still praying, the ice-cold drizzle left us bedraggled and washed away our hopes of the fjord experience. It wasn’t a surprise when the cruise operator told us it was impossible to provide cruise services on such a wet and windy day.  We were done with Seward and as we headed out I learned from chatting with the lady at the gas station that the day before had been the 14th sunny day of the year. I left grumbling about the weather. Zeus was off my worship list.

Portage Glacier with the Blue Ice visible
We opened the glove compartment to look at the guide and found Plan B smiling at us – we settled on Portage Glacier and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. The weather seemed to have come out of its fickle bout and we enjoyed our drive until we reached the glacier. Having caught wind of my recent affront, Zeus sent a freezing downpour accompanied by a breeze so strong that the tandem strike could have frozen the marrow in our bones. We braved the weather and moved on to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
Bisons at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
At the Conservation Center we saw significant acreage allocated for the rehabilitation of wild animals. Moose, elk, brown bear, Bald Eagles, bison, coyote, musk ox and lynx formed the group of animals that have found refuge here. We heard about the injured Bald Eagle that was too hurt to be safely released back into the wild. I was pained at the plight of a bird of prey so majestic that was now hopping along a solitary branch of a tree stump and would never again spread its mighty wings. Having seen the commendable conservation efforts at the wildlife center we headed for Anchorage.
The Seward Highway 1 that flanks Cook Inlet is known to offer Beluga whale sightings and we kept our eyes wide open and shouted “Beluga” for everything that moved only to quickly realize our folly and melt into sheepish grins. By the time we reached Anchorage our throats were parched from the screaming while our eyes were dreary from having seen none.
Anchorage, Alaska
Anchorage is one of the coziest cities I have visited during the beginning of fall, not temperature-wise but temperament-wise. The city, built by army engineers, is organized well into streets and avenues with buildings bristling with character. The three previous days of recluse living with inadequate social interaction made the visit to Anchorage a treat. I have never enjoyed crowds so much.We lapped up the cultural gallimaufry with gusto as we saw different races, nationalities and ethnicity converge on the city while we went looking for souvenirs. We saw totem pole replicas with carvings of raven, bear, and whales. We saw artwork on ivory from whales and even baleen, which raised our eyebrows on the legality of the sale of these items. The trip to Alaska illustrated the power of nature to sustain communities in the severest of weather conditions.
There is, however, a thin line between sustenance and exploitation. Will the pressure of population take its toll on this paradise? From our interaction during the trip we learnt that most of the population in Alaska is transient, they travel to Alaska for work during the summer and leave before winter. Probably the inhospitable winter is in a way a boon for conservation.
We left for the airport, where we chatted up a gentleman from Colorado who was returning from a visit to his girlfriend’s family near Anchorage. He brought in a very interesting piece of information from the Caribou farm he had stayed in. He mentioned emphatically that “male Caribous lose their antlers by December 15.” Which means Rudolph is a female!
Sculpture in Anchorage asserting the significance of nature in Alaska
I took back more than just souvenirs, pictures and memories from Alaska.
Text and photos by Anand Yegnaswami
Andy

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