Home is a funny word. Most of us have a home we wake up in every morning; we might linger in the warm sheets on those frosty mornings, relish the smell of freshly brewed coffee coming from the kitchen and chit chat to our loved ones about the workday ahead. In the evenings, we cozy up on the couch with a book, engage in meaningful conversations with family or friends over the dinner table or enjoy a hot cup of tea in front of the fire. But home can also come to mean something different; it can be a feeling. A state of being. A sense of place. I’ve done a fair bit of traveling, and feeling like you are at home while in a new setting is not something that comes easily; it can take time, especially if you are in someone else’s home. For me, however, it happened sooner rather than later on my Great Alaskan Grizzly Encounter.
My first glimpse of the Natural Habitat Ursus is from the small window of the floatplane taking us from Kodiak to Katmai; no landing strips, just water! (This trip truly is an adventure in every sense of the word, right from the beginning!) We land wherever the ship is, which depends on the weather, the bears, the wind and many other behind-the-scenes factors. We step off the floatplane into the skiff and are warmly greeted by our Expedition Leader. We motor to the ship and immediately, upon making our way aboard the Ursus, we meet the incredible crew, are shown our cabins, and learn the lay of the land. The smell of a warm, delicious meal wafts in the air and my belly rumbles in excitement for not only the homemade dessert baking in the oven but for what lies ahead. I grab a hot drink, take a deep breath and smile. I feel right at home instantly.
Over the next four days, we have the opportunity to explore someone else’s home. Our adventures along the Katmai coast are wild, exciting and unpredictable. The bears are close, yet relaxed; there is a beautiful and mutual respect between human and animal, something that I have never before encountered in the wilderness, and am still processing. But, they are truly wild and while we hope to (and often do) see adult males sparring, the cutest cubs, salmon fishing, mothers nursing and the like, we are grateful for what they allow us to witness in their home. After all, it is we who are inviting ourselves over unannounced.
The weather is always toying with us, too—decidedly moving about and changing on a whim (something our Expedition Leaders are experts at reading!). But the one thing that stays consistent is the warmth and comfort of our home, the Ursus. After every excursion, whether sunny, rainy, cloudy, windy, wet or cold (it’s Alaska, after all!), the Ursus never fails to provide incredible, soul-filling food, hot drinks in locally-made ceramic mugs, heated rooms and cozy beds—something that as a chronically cold person, I greatly appreciate! Although I was always a bit sad to leave the bears each evening, I was excited about where I was heading. Let’s just hope the bears don’t find out about it!
By Sara Higgens, Adventure Director at Natural Habitat Adventures.