Alaska, Day One

Looking through a spotting scope that costs more than I made my first year as an airline pilot, my buddy Bryan thinks he’s showing me the beauty of Dall sheep and black bears but there’s more to this image than that. An oft-visited break off the Seward Highway, Beluga Point gives travelers a moment to enjoy the views of the Turnagain Arm in the hopes of catching sight of the similarly-named cetaceans feasting on the salmon this time of year. Fighting for a parking space, tourists leap out of their rental cars and turn to south looking out into the water. Bryan, however, sets up his tripod and aims north to the mountains. Noticing the obvious difference in directions, I had to snap this picture.

Hidden in the foothills above we found the sheep and bears that Bryan was hoping to see. Turns out a few years of trying to find warblers hidden within branches that seem to multiply through your binoculars can help you spot what Bryan affectionately calls “critters” beyond what most can see with their naked eyes.

Passing the eyepieces to three-fourths of our group (one-fourth still enjoying the breathtaking views of Denali), young Dall sheep are observed traversing terrain in a manner that no human could emulate with such grace. Black bears making their way across the face of the mountain slowly disappear behind small changes in elevation slowly invigorate our friends as we enjoy that which we hoped to see in this great state.

Cheers of joy echoed around our small group, a group we haven’t seen for a while. Originally consisting of a half-dozen or more couples, the remaining four pairs of us once neighbors, now friends. Inviting ourselves along for their somewhat annual adults-only vacation, Stef found much reprieve from her innate dedication to serve our family and together we found ourselves once again with our Stoneridge Ward family enjoying our presence as if we haven’t lost any time since we moved up north.

Soon I found myself looking the opposite direction. What once was a sea of southbound eyes slowly turned our direction, the bravest of them walking towards Swarovski’s latest and greatest wondering if they could catch a glimpse. Smartphones, binoculars, and even drones once aimed towards the Cook Inlet now took heed to which direction we were facing. “I’ve got a bear!” I’d exclaim to Bryan. Shortly thereafter, others shouted “bear!” and pointed to the hills above. Incrementally, the new arrivals to Beluga Point spared the sights to the south and joined us on the hunt to the north.

Inevitably this casual observation brings forth lessons beyond land and sea critters, beyond the ideas of herd mentality, beyond a sizable investment in better glass. And while I’ve been browsing Swarovski’s catalogue via satellite internet way too much for my own good, I’m taking some much needed moments here in the sun on a lounge chair sitting next to my best friend reflecting on gratitude for where I am, who I am with, and why I am here.