DAY 4: Walking on the tundra is quite unlike any other walking, and that is something I had not expected. Tundra, at least to my very much a layman's understanding, is defined as tree growth severely stunted by a short growing seasons (in Alaska that's a result of cold temperatures and limited sunlight on permafrost, permanently frozen soil). This tundra would look like dark green mud from any distance, but to stand on it you see at your feet a remarkable mix of every possible shade of green, tan and brown, with bright red, orange, blue and purple berries crazily popping up everywhere. We are a species hardwired to seek patterns and those of us who work to closely observe the natural world look for help in understanding that world through patterns. There are no patterns to find here, but it is easy to enjoy the chaos of this massive colorful carpet which goes on for miles.
But back to the walking... It's like trying to walk on an endless expanse of a very springy and lumpy mattress several feet thick. You hop and stumble forward and to the side. You try, and with considerable effort succeed, in not stomping on the full grown but tiny dogwood and alder trees underfoot, a drunken Gulliver in Lilliput.
It is the last day of August and it is snowing. Heavily. A mother grizzly bear and two cubs are grazing for berries on the many colored, bouncy tundra. They are far enough off for us to feel (and to be) safe but close enough to make this an amazing show through binoculars. Raking their massive hands (paws does not quite seem right) across the fruit in machine-like rhythm, feeding on as may as fifteen gallons of berries a day, they are getting ready to sleep their months' of sleep.
We leave here, Kantishna, tomorrow. We've seen so much and so little.