Autumn on Kodiak Island is a beautiful time of year, but I’ll be honest, it is not my favorite season.
Once the fuchsia petals have fallen from the fireweed, the leaves turn crimson, and the mountainsides are cloaked in a Christmas quilt of dark green and brilliant red. The cottonwood, alder, and birch leaves fade to yellow, and the abundant sedges along the shoreline gleam golden against the orange rock weed. High-bush cranberry leaves turn scarlet, and the fragrant scent of the sweet berries wafts on the breeze, mixed with the pungent odor of decaying salmon.
On a sunny day, autumn on Kodiak is breathtaking, especially if you view it while skimming the mountains in a plane. Unfortunately, there are not many sunny, calm days during a Kodiak autumn. Low-pressure systems pile one upon the next and roll across the Bering Sea and the Alaska Peninsula, slamming into Kodiak Island. One such storm in late August surprised us with 60 mph winds, and when the mooring for our 43-ft. cabin cruiser broke, we were forced to jump in our skiff and chase after and retrieve it in rough seas.
Our summer trips last into late September, because the bear viewing is very good then. Some years we are lucky, but other years, we are hit with gale-force winds and torrential rains. I enjoy guiding wildlife viewers and fishermen during our summer trips, but by the time the season ends, I usually am exhausted from battling the weather and dealing with boats on windy days. If September is bad, October is worse. October is one of the rainiest months on Kodiak Island, and between rain and wind, the leaves often fall before they have a chance to turn yellow, and soon, the mountainsides are brown, the ground slick with wet, rotting vegetation.
Bears are perhaps the best part about fall. As the temperature drops in late August, bears get serious about eating salmon. They concentrate on the many, small salmon streams around the island, and for a short period of time, they tolerate each other, as they work to build their fat layer to prepare for hibernation. It seems as if overnight, they lose their ratty, light-brown summer coats and their even, chestnut fur shines in the sunlight. We see cubs that were tiny and dependent on their mother only three months earlier, catching their first salmon at their mother’s prompting. Older cubs have improved their fishing techniques and have learned to assert themselves with other bears (with mom to back them up, of course).
Another autumn perk for me is watching the young birds learn to fly, especially in our stiff, fall winds. From baby eagles to sea gulls to terns, watching young birds learn to maneuver in the wind always makes me smile. Then there’s the young foxes who’ve left their dens and sit on the beach, curiously watching us as we pass in our boat. By September, they are nearly the same size as an adult, but their coats are shiny, even, and perfect, betraying their youth.
Kodiak Island is wild and untamed and is beautiful any time of the year, and I guess autumn isn’t that bad, if you can get past the weather.