The way I call it, September is the best month to be in Alaska. The whopper mosquitoes are in full retreator dead. The evenings are crisp. The aspen are butter-and-gold. And the cruise ships are reeling in their busloads of tourists, giving interior places a bit of a rest from the glare of binoculars and the flash of cameras.
Divested of those seagoing summer visitors, rural Alaskans begin to rediscover a sense of place and a lifestyle dedicated to the proposition that the woodpile must be replenished, the meat locker readied to receive wild game, and the last run of silver salmon remanded to the smokehouse.
Of all the good things to be said about September in Alaska, good flying weather is not one of themespecially in the precincts of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
Thank heavens Frans Lanting, our photographer, had more time to wait out the low ceilings and the high drizzles. Me, I got by in a rented cabin with a good novel set in sunny Italy.
On the lonely outskirts of Glennallen (population 500 and four hours by two-lane road from Anchorage), I paid a visit one evening to the Brown Bear Roadhouse"The Best Food and the Friendliest Bar," promised the sign on the door.
The message proved true on both counts.
The proprietors were a big bear of a bearded man behind the bar and a four-foot-eleven-inch
(1.5-meter-) blonde woman waiting tables. Among the framed photos on the wall was a picture of the blonde in hunting togs and a thousand-pound (500 kilograms) very dead Alaska brown bear. A news clipping beside the photograph indicated that our hostess had shot the bear on Kodiak Island, that it was listed in the Boone & Crockett Club record books as the sixth largest Alaska brown ever dropped, and that in all probability it was also the largest bear of any kind ever shot by a woman.
"We're heading north in a few days to hunt moose," the man behind the bar told me after supper.
"Why north?" I asked. "I thought there were plenty of moose around Glenallen."
"Not enough," he said. "But I'll tell you the real reason we're going: We want to get away from all the people."