Putting the “Wild” in Wilderness

06-19-2012

By Hannah Hindley, Wilderness Explorer

Our maiden voyage into Glacier Bay aboard the Wilderness Explorer lived up to our vessel’s name--it was both exploratory and wild. We certainly felt like genuine explorers as we tested the limits and possibilities of this new boat on her new route.

And wild? We pulled past heavy brown bears foraging along the shoreline, watched arctic terns wheel among the spray and thunder of calving glaciers, lifted mammoth, dripping, sunflower stars from the sea floor, and steered our kayaks among otters, playful sea lions, and the distant sound of humpback breath.

What really brought home the sense of the “wild,” however, was a single, rare wildlife encounter one evening on the dusky bank of Tidal Inlet, near the northern reaches of Glacier Bay. Our boat and passengers alike sat quietly that night as we watched a lone timber wolf meandering along the tide line.

Timber wolf in Glacier Bay National Park

The wolf was long-legged and dark, and even at our distance we could feel the gravity of his size; this was no ordinary dog. With fingers tight around our binoculars and hips close against the railings, we watched him breathlessly—but he did not watch back. He picked his way slowly along the shoreline, nose to the ground. Whatever scents or urges brought him to the beach, whatever the impulses and motives that shaped his world, we were not among them.

I think the encounter was a reminder to us all that we are just visitors to this untamed place--profoundly fortunate to be able to come and to watch and to go again. I also think, just maybe, it awakened a little bit of our own wild side. It certainly seemed that way when, a couple days later, one of our passengers took a “polar bear” plunge off our fantail into Alaska’s icy waters, wearing only swim trunks and a life vest!



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