A Darker View

We expected to find the bears at the back of the bay, where the stream and the salmon would be.

The mission of the morning was to see bears. So we cast off lines at Tenakee and headed up Tenakee Inlet. There are several side bays along this large inlet, each with streams that attract the bears. The salmon had not quite started to move into the streams, a bit early in the season yet, but they were around. We hoped the bears would be around as well, congregating at the streams in anticipation of their yearly feast.

It was a surprise when my dad spotted this bear, we were just starting into the bay and still a mile from where we expected to find bears. As everyone grabbed binoculars we steered towards shore to get a better look.

So often the bears will run for the woods when a large white object appears. This bear just kept eating grass. A further surprise… Just as we got closer a small bear cub appeared at mother’s side. Deep water just off the rocky shore allowed us to get the boat in quite close. On occasion the mother would look up at us as we drifted in for a closer look. The array of pointing humans, binoculars and cameras were dismissed as unimportant as she continued to graze along the shore.

The cub was a handsome fellow, dark, with a collar of golden fur. He stayed close to mother, but seemed curious. We may have been the first humans he had ever seen. He watched us intently from the safety of mother’s side.

There were several bears at the stream and the grassy flats at the top end of the bay. But the shallow water would keep us from getting anywhere near with the boat. The total was nine bears that morning, including four cubs, three with the same mother. With the morning’s plan a success, we headed back to Tenakee to collect our crab traps.

Grizzly with Cub

A mother Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) and cub on the shore in Long Bay, Tenakee Inlet, AK

It is one of those spectacles of nature that you will never forget. I have seen a total solar eclipse, a meteor storm, calving glaciers, flash floods, come eye-to-eye with a grizzly bear, and I have witnessed bubble net feeding.

Bubble Net Feeding

A pod of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) bubble net feeding in Iyoukeen Cove

Imagine half a dozen 40 ft whales surfacing together, rearing out of the water with mouths agape, so closely packed it is difficult to tell one whale from the next in the chum of whale and churning water.

It is the last part of a carefully coordinated feeding maneuver that we see at the surface. One or two whales trap a school of herring by means of a circular wall of bubbles blown underwater. The whales swim in a tight circle, forcing the prey into a tight ball. Once the setup is complete the entire pod of whales charge vertically through the net, sweeping through the bait ball with open mouths. They all come up together at the end, with ventral pleats distended, full of water and herring to be filtered through the baleen.

The process is often repeated several times as the whales eat their fill. For the spectator the challenge it to guess where they will come up. If you want good photos it is necessary to be aimed and ready when the whales erupt from the water. To do this you must watch the birds. There is often a flock of gulls awaiting the whales, hoping to scoop up dazed herring forced to the surface in the net. From their vantage point well above the water the gulls see the net before you do, the entire wheeling flock suddenly heads in one direction, that is where.


A floatplane pulled up on the seaplane dock at Hoonah

Happy birthday America…


A fountain spews colorful sparks during a neighborhood firework display


The interior of Hearthside Books on Front Street, Juneau

Leaving the women behind I stride towards the one shop I want to look through. My wife, my mother and her best friend– their idea of shopping and mine do not mesh. We know this and have arranged a plan, I leave them for an hour, to meet again at the vehicle.

I rapidly pass storefront after storefront, fine jewelry and tourist kitsch have no attraction for me. A few pretty pieces in the galleries draw a glance or two, but I turn and walk on. Memory leads me down the street and away from the docks, towards a shop I have visited in years past and I only hope it is still there.

Leaving the waterfront district and the tourist shops behind, I climb another block, to a shop occupying an oddly shaped storefront where the street splits. The result is a pie wedge shaped building, the shop I want is in the point.

This is a place I will always enjoy, a store filled floor to ceiling in books. It is a small shop, no literary supermarket, there simply isn’t the space. But the book-buyer here carefully chooses the selections, there seems to be anything you could want in the one foot of shelf space devoted to each subject.

A single rack, three feet of wall, is Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I have either read most of what is available, or know the authors displayed are not ones I enjoy. I make a couple selections, a classic Heinlein I have not read since I was a young teenager and one by Ben Bova I do not know. These I will save for traveling, to pass the time during the trip home with a long layover in Seattle.

For the next selection I rely on the advice of the sales clerk, a field guide to Alaskan birds. Every vacation is marked by what you forget at home, for this trip one of the forgotten items was a well worn copy of Sibley’s Western Birds.

Purchases made, the clerk ushers me out the door, closing time had passed while we chatted and exchanged credit card slips. I have few minutes before I must meet the gals, so I stroll back towards the docks and back into the crowds from the cruise ships.

Today the Earth is furthest from the Sun, a point called apehelion. We will be about 152,096,000km (94,508,000miles) from the Sun. Compare this to the 147,099,000km (91,403,000miles) we were be at perihelion on January 3rd, a difference of about 4,996,000km (3,104,000miles) occurring throughout one orbit.

It may seem odd that we are actually at the furthest for the middle of northern summer, you just have to remember that proximity to the Sun is not the cause of the seasons. The seasons are caused by the axial tilt of the Earth, creating short and long days throughout the year, with a resulting change in the angle and intensity of the sunlight.

2014 Solstices and Equinoxes
Perihelion Jan 4 05:59UT Jan 3 19:59HST
Vernal Equinox Mar 20 16:57UT Mar 20 06:57HST
Summer Solstice Jun 21 10:52UT Jun 21 00:52HST
Apehelion Jul 3 22:59UT Jul 3 12:59HST
Autumnal Equinox Sep 23 02:30UT Sep 22 16:30HST
Winter Solstice Dec 21 23:03UT Dec 21 13:03HST
Source: NASA Sky Calendar



Jupiter and the moons Europa, Ganymede and Callisto (left-right)

Jupiter is quickly sliding into the sunset heading for superior conjunction on July 24th. This evening the planet will be 15° above the setting Sun, in the next couple of weeks it will disappear into the glare. Look for Jupiter to reappear in the dawn during the first week of August.

About the time you read this we should have cast off lines and left the Juneau area. The plan is to spend some time exploring the Glass Peninsula and Seymour Canal, an area we have often skipped past on our way south from Juneau. We have reservations for access to the bear viewing area at Pack Creek. Stay tuned for plenty of photos of grizzly bears fishing.

With any luck we will be back in a week. Hopefully the cats are OK with the house sitters. Hopefully the fish makes it back still frozen. And maybe I will not get eaten by a bear.

Inside Passage from Andrew Cooper on Vimeo

As it is my father’s favorite place to eat in Juneau, I expect to be having dinner at The Hanger this evening. Our usual stop after a day of checking the boat and shopping for supplies. It is just a few hops down the waterfront from the harbor where the Nordic Quest is docked, a great place to grab a bite after a busy day.

Fred Cooper

Fred Cooper enjoying a drink before dinner

The Hanger really is built in a hanger, a seaplane hanger that once serviced the aircraft of Alaska Coastal Airlines from the 1940′s on. Coastal Airways was purchased by Alaska Airlines in 1968. The planes of Wings of Alaska use the dock below the old hanger as the starting point for their ice field scenic flights. Today the building looks out on the busy harbor in front of downtown Juneau. While just down the waterfront the huge steel walls of the cruise ships block most of the view, here it is unobstructed.

The Kitchen

A dish waiting to be served from The Hangers kitchen

A long area with windows onto the harbor greet you after entering. About half the space is a regular dining area, with the other half set up in a bar format. You can choose to dine on an outside deck overlooking the harbor in good weather. There is also a loft with a couple pool tables upstairs. The kitchen sits to one side of the dining area, you can wander over and see the dishes being prepared. This is where you second guess your order as you see what is sitting on the counter waiting to be served.

The Hanger

Dining in The Hanger, Juneau

As one would expect, seafood dishes are the specialty of the house. There is a good selection of non-seafood as well if you prefer a steak or burger. This is not diet food, most dishes are rich and tasty. Expect it to be busy during the summer months, we ended up sitting in the bar area last time.

Dinner in Juneau is a chance to sit and relax a bit. We can plan any remaining details that must be accomplished before we break dock, or consider the weather and the first day or two of cruising. The details involved in getting the boat ready seem endless, but at this point most of the list has been completed. It is a chance to sit and converse about the voyage ahead, a glimpse forward to a week spent with family.

Arrival in Juneau is always pleasant. This is a very small airport, far smaller than even Kona or Hilo. As a result there are no long lines, no mile long walk to the rental car agency, no shuttle vans or snarled traffic awaiting once you do free yourself from the terminal. Walk from the gate down one flight of stairs to the single baggage claim. Forty feet from the luggage you find the rental desks, where you pick up a key and walk out into the parking lot just outside the terminal for your vehicle. As you load your luggage you can turn and see the plane sitting just the other side of the fence. A complete contrast to our experience with the enormous labyrinth that is SEA or PDX.

The jet was a 737-800 Combi model, the front half was air cargo, with a bulkhead just over the wing. We boarded and debarked by walking across the tarmac to stairs at the tail of the plane. I expect to walk across the flightline in Kona, but at SeaTac?!

Alaska Air Combi

Alaska Air flight 61 unloads cargo and passengers in Juneau