“Anchorage Welcomes You.” The sign surrounded by cheery summer annuals made me smile as my friend, Paula, drove toward her house. The first of our group to arrive for our writers’ retreat in June several years ago, I’d been on the plane for about 10 hours and awake for much longer than that. I was excited about seeing Alaska and being with my friends, but I was also very sleepy.
Then Paula said something that made my eyes pop open. The day before, a black bear had crossed her back yard, walked up onto her deck, peeked through her window, and sauntered down the stairs on the other side.
I swallowed hard.
Note to self: Avoid black bear—or any kind of bear—at all costs.
Paula also told me that a female moose and her two baby calves were living in her neighborhood--in back yards, vacant lots, and wooded areas. Before I could say, awwww about cute little moose babies, she filled me in: Moose are huge and dumb, and it’s not wise to get close to one, especially a mother who feels that she or her calves are being threatened.
Note to self: Do not get charged by 6 ft-tall, 1000-pound moose mama.
Alaska’s got some wildlife, that’s for sure. And Anchorage is a haven for all types.
About five minutes from Paula’s house is Potter Marsh, Anchorage’s most popular wildlife haven. We visited one bright, beautiful afternoon.
The marsh was created accidentally as a result of the construction of the Alaska Railroad. Three creeks plus water from the surrounding area flow into the marsh, which is one of Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge’s most accessible attractions.
The water-saturated environment, with mountains rising in the background, provides a habitat for thousands of migrating and resident birds and spawning salmon as well as food and shelter for other wildlife.
The birds and animals come in droves—flocks and loners alike. We saw a white board that listed the wildlife sightings in the past 24 hours: many varieties of birds, a bald eagle family, beaver, muskrat, and several other mammals.
Potter Marsh is a treasure, full of beauty and life in abundance. It was lush with life, vibrating with variety and saturated with color. I didn’t realize it at the time—the marsh seemed underwhelming compared to the mountains in Denali and Exit Glacier in Seward. But now, looking at my photos again, even from a newbie photographer with a new camera, it’s easy to see that it’s a vital part of the landscape of Anchorage.
Close to the entrance, another sign stopped me in my tracks: “Do bears live in subdivisions?” I already knew the answer: they do in Anchorage! During the summer, bears wander through greenways and sometimes neighborhoods to “fish urban waterways and look for other foods like berries, grasses, sedges, and moose.”
Moose? I felt a twinge of something akin to worry for the moose mama and her calves in Paula’s neighborhood. We had seen them a few times but they were too far away for me to get good photos. I wondered, would we see them again before we left?
Oh yes, indeed, we would.
On our last day in Alaska, Paula, Nancy, and I dropped Wendy off at the airport, ran some errands, and came back to the house. We pulled into the driveway and realized the mama moose was standing in the yard, on our left, not far from the car. Her kids were on the other side of the yard behind the fence. Paula’s dog, whose pen was between the moose and her children, was barking furiously. The mama was so agitated that she was pacing. We knew she could charge any second.
We couldn’t back the car up because she was so close to us, and we certainly couldn’t get out to go in the house or to try to quiet the dog. We were stuck.
To make matters worse, Nancy and I had to finish packing and get to the airport to catch our flights. We needed to get into the house. It was a tense situation, to be sure.
After what seemed like half an hour, the moose mama finally gathered her wits and courage and lumbered across the yard toward the fence where her babies were. She joined them, and they all went off the other way.
We rushed inside the house and loaded up our suitcases, and Paula drove us back to the airport, past the “Anchorage Welcomes You” sign. Along with bags of souvenirs, I took home photos of a strange (to me) and beautiful land, memories of a special time with friends, and a story to tell for years to come.
Do you have any crazy wildlife encounters? I’d love to know; share in the comments below.
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