Even after a few minutes spent on board of the seaplane, I realized I was going on a journey that would bring me long back in time. Kilometers ran away under me first in tens then in hundreds, everything without a sign of human presence on the coast.
I was crossing the Shelikof Straits ,I had a 20-year-long appointment with grizzlies. I was in Alaska at last!
We landed on a lagoon with emerald green waters ,which looks onto the mouth of one of the so many rivers salmon yearly run up to lay roes.
A bear was calmly wandering on the beach, bald eagles perched on branches waiting for the right moment ,a seal peeped out of the surface of water ,made curious by our presence, guillemots and puffins flew off awkwardly even if swiftly.
I saw all this at one single glance!
Beyond mere rethoric, when faced with the perfect harmony felt in this place you are pervaded with a great peace. The passing of time slows down to adapt itself to a rhythm which is no longer human but which deep down we feel to be our own. Our minds find solace in a primeval world which paradoxically helps us understand the world in which we live much better; ours is a world in which everyday life has become more pressing and troubling than ever as it creates empty needs to be met at all costs.
I have travelled thousands of miles throughout Alaska but it is only here, at Katmay, that people can be given back their ancestral past. I can’t hide from anyone indeed and even less from myself that this is a place where the line separating life from death is very thin and that this apparently serene scenery is sometimes the theatre of fight, cruelty and death.
The writer Jean Claude Izzo has written,” Dawns are nothing but the illusion of the beauty of the world. When the world opens its eyes again reality claims its rights”.
In spite of this , even being aware of these considerations ,there is no doubt that the deep peace felt in these places may be a revelation and a starting point for reflection.
At last we left the seaplane !
After walking for a short time, I had the first close encounter with a she-bear and her cub, which were skinning a pink salmon .From that moment on plenty of bears went by very close to me and I met the glacial eyes of these animals. I spent the whole day taking photographs squatting on the bank of the river and watching that no possible onlookers came out of the thick grass behind me.
The day I spent with the grizzlies was really fantastic, but Alaska is a small continent and hides its treasures in the most unconceivable places.
In the surroundings of Valdez, on the edges of an asphalt road which runs along the beach, I noticed a lot of black bears hiding behind the rain water drains because salmon instinctively streamed into these gutters which they believed to be small torrents.
Across the road, because of low tide ,tens of thousands of dying salmon gave life to an unreal scenery of death with their bodies lying on the shore like a banquet laid down for bears, eagles, ever-present seagulls, with a terrible stink all around.
Other animals could hardly find their own way into the gutters which furrowed through the beach : there was such a big quantity of them that the bears just pressed their belly to eat their roes leaving the bodies on the shore.
People think of Alaska only as of an extremely cold place characterized by boundless expanses of snow, desolate tundra ,bears and elk. Instead ,they seldom reflect upon what appeared to me as one of the most impressing spectacles of nature, that is the running up of salmon .Every year ,following an unchangeable seasonal rhythm ,they run up the river in an endless number. The whole echo-system draws a great advantage from their death. The phenomenon is so imposing that only if you can watch it on the spot you can perceive its real dimension. I have seen beaches full of dead fish or just pools which seemed to boil for the pangs of dying fish.
In Valdez ,in Prince William Sound you can also go on boat trips, choosing from among the several options offered: in a scenery of glaciers and cliffs at a sheer drop from the sea, seal life explodes with unespected force .In the rocky islets near the coast sea lions have a rest after fishing ,In spite of this there is always inevitable clash among males.
Instead, the expanses of sea facing the glaciers are the favourite habitat of seals ,which often lie down on the slabs of ice floating adrift or can be very frequently seen together with sea otters , while these are, entirely taken up with cracking the shells of bivalves lying down on their back ,as it is common for them.
Luckily, the echo-system of Valdez Bay is recovering from the most disastrous environmental catastrophe in the United States. It was 24th March 1989 when the tanker Exxon Valdez discharged tens of thousands of oil into the sea causing the death of about 250,000 sea birds, 2800 otters , 300 seals, 22 killer whale, beside an incalculable number of herrings and salmon.

Still today these seas are ploughed by the tankers where the oil getting to Valdez from Prudhoe Bay ,which is about 1300 km.s(sarebbe meglio trasformare in miglia mls) farther to the north is loaded. Transport takes place through an enormous oil pipeline (Trans-Alaska pipeline)which goes the whole of Alaska and has its outlet in the port of Anchorage, like saying in the port of Valdez.
The sea in Prince William Sound is generally very calm thanks to its sheltered position ,which is important because it avoids seasickness during day trips.
It is also possible to see, even if not frequently killer and humpback whales. The latter can be more easily seen at Seward. Boat trips also start from this seaport ,but wave-motion is heavier here and might cause sickness. As compensation ,while on these boat trips ,there may be important sightings as it happened to us: we were at sea watching sea hogs chasing one another under the keel and were struck by typical puffs witnessing the presence of a humpback whale. They suddenly loomed on the horizon more shining than ever against the light. A humpback whale is the most eagerly awaited protagonist so our boat got nearer up to about 10 meters and we could admire the whale in all its impressiveness. It is not certainly the biggest whale but undoubtedly the most beautiful. Like all other whales it migrates for many thousands of miles from tropical to polar seas but it can take those wonderful jumps all photographers would immortalize .Other species like the blue whale, the grey whale and the white boreal whale also travel through waters in late spring beyond the Straits of Bering.
In the evening ,on the way back, the sighting of a shoal of killer whales closed a memorable day properly.
Another place, among the ones I have visited, that is worth being mentioned is Denali National Park. Most visitors gather on the main road, which leaves from the visitor centre and penetrates 90 kms into the park. Its first stretch is asphalted and you can cover it in your own cars and if you are lucky you might well meet elk .After it there is a long dug up stretch where only shuttle buses can drive through. You can see a lot of animals but this is never fully gratifying because it is not pleasant “to live” nature on board of a bus. On the other hand Delani’s bears are certainly more aggressive than the ones living on the coast and are a real danger to people on foot. I chose a middle route walking along the first stretch where you are less likely to meet a bear .I met quite a few moors and squirrels there. It is impressing to notice how friendly these animals are ,especially if we think of what happens at our latitudes. Moors came so near that we could touch them. It generally happens the same with Canada’s grouses(canachites canadensis) hares and squirrels.
Being here in September when autumn paints tundra in all the possible hues of red and yellow is an invaluable experience.
My first time in Alaska was necessarily a sort of approach and I think that the places I visited were a set course for the people who want to get an idea of the country. To move from one place to another I suggest going by camper, it helps avoiding the strain of forced stays and in Alaska there are certainly plenty of service stations (R.V.Parks). For my journey I chose the period between August and September . The weather was always nasty on the coast but absolutely fantastic inland (Denali).
I hope that Alaska will remain the final frontier for a long time as it shelters animal species in danger of extinction elsewhere in the world. Besides that, it shows what the Earth was like in the past and no longer is nowadays. We do not always realize how many people annually move in search of better conditions of life .We are not aware of the reasons why these migrations both on land and on sea take place and ,I dare say, we even miss their inner poetry as by now we have nearly lost the sense of natural rhythms .Alaska is one of the privileged places of arrival of these migratory flows.
Men must do their best to let the one hundred million birds which take their yearly flight to reach their nest-building sites continue to exist to be our companions in our common earthly journey.
Unfortunately we are not easy prophets if we foresee that Alaska’s rich oil reserves will be exploited even more heavily in the near future. Extremely beautiful places and wild life will be spoiled ,problems will be created to the natives, who will be heavily damaged by the consequences of an echo-system that is becoming weaker and weaker .Even forgetting the effects of global warming there is no doubt that the new oil plant which should be built in Artic National Wildlife Refuge might cause unforeseeable consequences on migratory movements, and on the survival of the largest herd of caribou living in North America(The Porcupine Herd) with 15000 animals and menace the lifestyle of Northern Alaska’s populations making up , as we should never forget ,the majority of existing population.
I returned from Alaska over 2 years ago but I still like watching my photos to revive that unforgettable experience.
Once the geographer Henry Giannett ,who led the Harriman Alaska expedition in 1899, said ,”If you are an elderly person try to visit Alaska in any possible way but if you are young wait. Its natural sceneries are so magnificent that you could find nothing better in the world if you visited them before.”
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