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Planning Retirement Online

Beyond the Headlines

November 2015


By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

Each month our resident writer and commentator Jeanne Davis goes behind recent news stories to comment on various ideas and subjects that have special resonance for our age group.

Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy this addition every month

To view all of Jeanne's articles visit the Interest Index.

You're Never Too Old to Go Wild

Jeanne steps out of her comfort zone in Alaska

“Glad this was the only Bear I met in the park," joked Barack Obama posing for a selfie with Bear Grylls. This was the headline above the photo of the US President and Grylls standing next to a melting glacier in Alaska’s Kenai National Park. They were there to film an episode of the TV show Running Wild to publicise the effect of climate change.

I am just back from Alaska, too. I wasn’t Running Wild with Bear Grylls, but aboard a National Geographic small boat expedition to explore the islands of the Inland Passage and its wildlife. I wasn’t worried about bears. My anxieties focused on the challenging activities featured on the nine day itinerary.


I worried that I would be slipping and sliding on a glacier, that wading ashore in the ice choked waters I would lose my balance and topple over. I had been on one of these expeditions two years before to Costa Rica and Panama. I had managed to wade ashore onto sun soaked beaches, snorkel in the calm blue waters. I had trekked on the forest paths, but more often than not sat down on a rock or stump and waited till the group went forward and then came back.

That was two years ago. I am now two years older and even more physically challenged. One ankle is hideously arthritic and at the slightest jolt, painful and crippling.

I did opt out of the first morning’s trek, still getting over jet lag, too tired to get together the knee high rubber boots and cold weather gear we had been requested to pack. I was relieved to learn it had been a good decision. My friend Alice, whom I had been travelling with for some years and is incidentally much more athletic than I am, reported that the wet landing was in mud and I would have struggled to keep my balance. And more convincing, that they were told to walk in groups of five as they explored the island trails.

Bears do not attack humans, their guide said, in groups of five. So no sitting on a stump alone and it would have been bad sportsmanship to ask the group to walk at my snail’s pace.

When I told my son about this warning to stay in groups of five, he asked if bears knew how to count. I had no answer.


Having opted out of the morning’s activity, I was feeling rather down. But most happily it is announced at lunch that the afternoon's expedition would be in a Zodiac, the inflatable dinghies that we use to go ashore or cruise the nearby waters. I had managed to climb into these before and confident I could again.

Before us now towered the Margeric Glacier, a wall of ice 250 feet high and one mile wide. The plan was to hover in front of it and if we were in luck we would see a calving. I wasn’t sure what that was until I heard a great roar. The glacier is calving. Iceberg-size chunks of ice are breaking off and plunging into the sea below. “Awesome,” shouts the youngster next to me in the Zodiac. “Awesome!”

He and a friend now lean over the side of the Zodiac to pick up the shattered pieces of ice and haul them into the boat to taste and watch them melt What does glacier ice taste like? The naturalist aboard asks. Like water, the purest of water.

My best memories are of the youngsters on our expedition. Ours was one of the few promoted for families. Of the 40 passengers half were of family groups, grandparents with sons and daughters and the grandchildren.

Perhaps because I have 12-year-old twin grandsons, I was most taken with two boys of a similar age. Most memorable was the day we spotted whales. And sped at 40 miles an hour to get closer. I was as excited as they.

And then not five feet away were six great humpbacks, a male and five females, breeching next to us, bodies and hump-like dorsal fins breaking the surface of the water. And on the other side of the boat, a family of killer whales, the Orcas, white bellies flashing as they dipped in and out of the sea. “It’s better than Sea World,” one of the boys exclaimed, “much better.”


Next to appear in our own Sea World in the Wild, the families of sea lions clustered on the rocky shores. We watched as the pups slid into the water to dive deep and snatch an unwary fish. Then to haul themselves back up the rocks to join their parents and announce with a loud bellow their success.

The last day, the last chance to see a bear. It’s the time of the salmon run when salmon swarm up streams to spawn and the bears know it. We cruise silently along the shore and are soon rewarded by the sight of a young brown bear walking quietly up the stream, eyes on the salmon leaping.

He wades into the waters, picks his way amongst the rocks, seizing the flapping bodies, and then discarding them. We decide because he’s young, he’s inexperienced. Why does he keep dropping his meal? Our expedition leader explains patiently that the bear knows what he is doing. He is looking for his most nutritious meal, a female, belly bursting with eggs

Brown bears have an exceptionally acute sense of smell, exceeding that of dogs. we are told. Our bear soon finds his female, devours the best bits, discards what he doesn’t want and then goes on to the next. Gulls hovering overhead swoop down to feast on the discarded skin and bones. Belly full, he pads off into the forest. He’s content. We’re content. We’ve met our bear.

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