University of Alaska Press, Edited by Michael Engelhard
I wrote the forward to this lovely collection of mostly Alaskan writers, about their unusual relationship with the local fauna
I’d been in carnivore country before. In Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley, my horse spooked at the sight of an upright grizzly, and I nearly slipped a stirrup and joined the food chain as an edible link. It was a singular feeling, the hair-prickling tingle of being prey.
The first time I went to Alaska’s North Slope, it was on the heels of another tromp through grizzly country — in Montana. I’d strapped on a backpack and a can of bear repellent to join United States Geological Survey researchers as they measured how fast Glacier National Park’s storied ice flows were melting. On that trip we saw no bears, although a mountain goat nearly decided to butt heads with me when he interrupted my middle-of-the-night pee.
I was feeling a little expansive when I found myself in Barrow and wanted to go for a stroll near Point Barrow to get a feel for my new surroundings. Kenneth Toovak, an Inupiaq elder and former whaling captain, warned against it. Some polar bears had ridden in on broken-up sea ice and come to shore recently, and the ice blew away without the bears on it. There were a bunch of them near town.
I inquired if perhaps I should just take some bear spray along.
He laughed, a full-throated, head-tilting guffaw. “Well,” he said, “that way you could spray yourself in the face, so you wouldn’t see anything while he ate you.”
I didn’t take the walk.