Part 4 of the Alaska Series. Don't miss a moment: click here to start reading at Part 1: Above the Arctic Circle!
Luckily, I wasn't holed up the entire time with a cold. The first fine day saw me champing at the bit to be out by myself in the Great Outdoors of Alaska. But there was a problem: I didn't have anything for protection from the wild beasties. Not that we'd been inundated with four-legged visitors; all we'd seen so far were a couple of moose, at a distance. The only thing I was planning on shooting with was my trusty Nikon. Nevertheless, best not to tempt fate, so when Wayne offered to lend me his handgun, I accepted.
This wasn't any old handgun though; this was a Smith & Wesson 500, no less. According to Wikipedia, the S&W 500 is 'the most powerful production revolver in the world today, and it is being marketed as [...] "the world's most powerful handgun" by the manufacturer." Yikes.
(I just used Wikipedia as a source in my writing. My English professors will be rolling their eyes in dismay.)
Okay, so that you know where I'm coming from, I hadn't even seen a handgun until I came to the US. My brother has a rifle, my uncle and cousins enjoyed hunting and I'd shot a BB rifle, but I'd never been in the presence of a real-live, hip-holstered, gun-totin' type before emigrating. When we were planning the Alaska trip, Steve and I decided it would be a good idea for me to learn how to use a handgun, if only so that I didn't shoot myself... (For the record, I'm pretty darn good at sporting clays and the paper-silhouette target at the gun range ended up with a nice, tight cluster of holes in its shoulder, right where I intended it to be.)
Anyhow, back to the story. Here's me, the rookie in camp, out for a walk by myself with a portable canon strapped to my chest (gee I hope Mum isn't reading this...). The S&W 500 is a lot heavier than those I practiced with at the gun range, but Wayne promised me the adrenaline rush would take care of that if I had to point it at something. Oh joy.
I walked far enough away that camp was a few smallish white blips in the distance, then stopped to breathe in the scenery. A movement caught my eye and I spotted a black bear moving at a fairly quick pace in the direction of camp. My heart started racing - it wasn't the first black bear I'd seen in the wild, but this time I was alone. My initial thought was to alert the folks back in camp. Actually, that was my third thought. The first two were: Eek! Oh whew, it's moving away from me and then Rats! I wish I had a longer zoom lens.
But my cellphone was stuffed into the bottom of a pack in my tent and no-one provides service north of the Arctic Circle anyhow. Yes, that's right; of all the ridiculous things to flash through my mind at that moment, calling camp on the cellphone was one. Yet more proof that I've lived in a large city too long. (Smoke signals would have been more effective. Hold on a moment while I rustle up a fire.)
By this time, I was fairly hopping with excitement and no-one around to high-five. At least I had photographic proof! I turned south again and spotted husband-and-wife team Jerry and Lisa heading back to camp. Walking over to meet them, I 'casually mentioned' seeing the bear. Jerry took one look at the photos and hot-footed it back to camp, trying to intercept the bear before it could disappear. Lisa and I chatted for a while, then she followed Jerry back to camp.
That wasn't the end of the excitement, however. Walking back to the river, I spotted a wolf on the far bank. No doubt he'd long since seen me, but right then he was watching Jerry and Lisa intently as they moved further away. Determining that they were no longer a threat, he focused his attention on the next curiosity - me. My heart was now pounding so hard that I could barely get a clear photo, because if there was one animal I wanted to see out here, it was a wolf.
I was totally okay with him trotting down the far bank, then daintily crossing the river and I even got a few shots of him looking upstream and downstream on the near bank. But when he stared fixedly at me, then quick-trotted straight for me, I started getting nervous. I thought wolves were shy creatures! This one was sizing me up for a tasty snack.
Quickly but carefully (yes, carefully, go figure!), I placed my camera on the ground and stood up, drawing the gun and standing broadside to the wolf in one movement. The gun that was so heavy had never felt lighter. Until this point, I'd been standing side on so as to better steady myself while photographing the wolf, but turning to face him afforded him a better view of me and he realised I was human.
If I'd known then what I know now, I would have handled it completely differently and ended up with some beautiful photos before scaring him off. And I would also have scored some awesome video footage as the wolf spun a swift 180 then forded the river, pushing up waves bigger than he was as he bounded back across. My mind is now the sole keeper of these images, as well as how he quickly climbed the bank, shook himself, then looked back at me over his shoulder before disappearing into the trees. Next time, my friend.
Next up: Planes from the Inside World