Fireweed

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“Just to let you know. There’s a bear hanging around down there,” the nice sounding dog walker in expensive casuals says while pointing at a field of flowering fireweed that seems to stretch to the Mendenhall Glacier. I smile back, thank her, and walk onto the meadow. A bear is never far from you anywhere in Juneau this time of year.

2

An electric-orange plastic fence blocks the trail but the note stuck to it warns of erosion, not bears. Last week the ice dam that backed up water on the glacier at suicide basin broke, flooding the lake and raising the river to a record flood stage. Charged with fast water, the river undercut the trail, making it unsafe for travel. The little dog and I move onto a gravel “work around” trail and spot matted vegetation where a bear had slept and many bear sized trails through the five foot tall fireweed plants. Panting from the heat, Aki collapses in a patch of shade near some fireweed stalks and pants. I think of the cool forest the trail would take us through if we preserve, if we risk the bear. It’s not worth it. We turn back to the trailhead, arriving as a family with small children, all on bicycles, pedals to their car.

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