Alaska is a wild place. It is The Wild, come to think of it. Humans have barely made a dent in the vast natural expanses.
Even the bigger population centers of Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau have their brushes with nature danger. So, as many members of Port Heiden have reminded me, it makes sense to stay aware no matter where you are.
The towns of the Alaska Peninsula, which is vast and sparsely populated, aren’t just close to or right by the wild. Each village shares space with nature.
Bears roam the town regularly and caribou herds cross the streets seasonally. By last winter’s end, five wolves were shot close to town, three by the school. This is a real danger for Port Heiden’s residents, as nearby Chignik lost a teacher in 2010 to wolves.
I’ve tried a few different games to keep alert on walks and runs. My favorite is wide-angle vision, sometimes called owl eyes. Instead of focusing on the ground in front of me, I look up at something straight ahead in the distance. As the gaze adjusts to focusing far off, I don’t let it. Instead, I try noticing what’s going on in the periphery.
By keeping the gaze straight ahead, but relatively unfocused, so much more is apparent. Like a predator’s movement across a wide landscape, or shiny objects on a beach, it’s remarkable how much we miss while looking down.
If you ever feel the notion to experiment, the next time you’re on a walk, try taking your arms out wide to the sides. Keeping the eyes up and ahead, take in everything that’s happening in between your arms, it’s a big area to track!
It took me awhile to get used to this concept. The whole thing felt awkward and alien. But with some practice, it’s becoming more familiar and fun. Best of all, this practice might just help keep me alive longer.
Tomorrow will feature another neat tracker trick: fox walking.