Kim Heacox is a veteran Lindblad naturalist and a former ranger in Katmai, Denali, and Glacier Bay National Parks. He’s written 15 books, including the recent Alaska memoir, The Only Kayak and the novel, Jimmy Bluefeather, the only work of fiction in 20+ years to win the National Outdoor Book Award. We asked him to share some of his memories about his time in this wild land.
We were supposed to get married that summer. Then Katmai National Park called with job offers for Melanie and me. “It’s the most remote posting in the entire U.S. National Park Service. You’ll patrol 120 miles of crazy beautiful coastline in a 17-foot Zodiac. It’s the wildest place in the world. I mean it. You’ll see bears every day. It’s the real Alaska. Oh yeah, and you’ll stay in the old fish and game cabin in Amalik Bay. But first, you’ll need to rebuild it.
We laughed. Marriage could wait. We went to Katmai and had one of the best summers of our lives.
Every evening we had all of Alaska to ourselves. We’d make dinner (pasta again?), sit on the porch, and watch bears patrol the beach 100 meters away. We gave them names, just as Alaska author Sherry Simpson would in her profound book, The Dominion of Bears. But her names were better: The Metaphorical Bear, The Hungry Bear, The Social Bear, The Fearsome Bear, The Watched Bear, The Predatory Bear and so on. We saw them all.
We ran our Zodiac everywhere, hovering off shore to watch bears dig for clams, catch salmon, wrestle in the tall beach grass, play with crab buoys, and sleep in the sun. We watched mothers walking about with cubs riding on their backs. We watched sunrise light hit them in a way that made them appear lambent, as if illuminated from within. The Luminous Bear. We lived with bears all that summer, our wild Katmai year, and came to regard them as our neighbors. And when we left, we cried.
We got married the next summer, 32 years ago, exchanging vows on handmade stationery patterned with bear prints, as if they, too, were part of our ceremony, part of our lives.
Discover Katmai, and much more, on these three wild itineraries: Across the Bering Sea: From Katmai to Kamchatka; Bering Sea Wilderness: Pribilofs, Katmai & Kodiak; Alaska End to End: From Ketchikan to Nome