Reading the North

Grizzly Bears of Alaska

Debbie S. Miller; photographs by Patrick J. Endresy (Little Bigfoot, $16.99)

The blurb: Discover the fascinating world of Alaska's grizzly bears.

Set against the backdrop of Alaska's beautiful wilderness, this book for ages 6-8 explores the lives of inland grizzlies and coastal brown bears. While enjoying stunning photographs you'll learn all about these bears, including how mother bears nurture and protect playful cubs, how young bears learn to fish, and how bears adapt to their environment. Grizzly Bears of Alaska capptures the lives of these magnificent bears in the wild.

Excerpt: Alaska's most fierce land predator appears massive, from its huge tracks and 3-inch claws, to its fortress of a body and powerful jaws. It's a grizzly bear! The hump above its muscular shoulders is unmistakable.

Grizzly bears live in wild, open country throughout Alaska. Some bears are blond or cinnamon in color, while others are dark brown. Their thick fur coat has grizzled guard hairs with pale tips, which give the bear its name.

Grizzlies have wide, round faces, small eyes and ears, and a long snout. They have an excellent sense of smell that is seven times stronger than a bloodhound's. Their nasal cavities are full of sensitive tissues that look like honeycomb, and cover a surface that is 100 times larger than the tissues inside a human nose. Studies have found that a grizzly can smell an animal carcass from miles away.

Brown Bear or Grizzly?

Some bears live along Alaska's central and southern coasts where they have a lush habitat and mild climate. While they are the same species as grizzlies, these coastal bears are known as brown bears. During the summer and fall, brown bears feed on a salad of plants, roots, berries, and a protein-rich diet of salmon. Some bears dig for clams and other creatures along the ocean shore with their curved claws.

Coastal brown bears grow much bigger than inland grizzlies because of the abundance of vegetation and salmon. A subspecies of the brown bear, the Kodiak Island brown bear, is even bigger! An adult male Kodiak brown bear can stand 10 feet tall and weigh as much 1,500 pounds, about the weight of 300 Chihuahuas.

Vanishing Ice: Alpine and Polar Landscapes in Art 1775-2012

Barbara C. Matilsky (Whatcom Museum; $39.95)

The blurb: At the heart of the Whatcom Museum's mission lies the desire to fuel meaningful public conversations about art, nature and history. What a thrill it is, then, to present "Vanishing Ice: Alpine and Polar Landscapes in Art 1775-2012," an exhibition that brings all three of these elements together in an original way, on a topic that couldn't be more relevant: the effect of global warming on our world's frozen frontiers. By exploring this phenomenon through the lens of art, history and science, we aim to expand people's understanding of the implications of a changing planet, and the role of the arts in increasing our awareness of alpine and polar landscapes.

Excerpt: Ansel Adams, Mount McKinley and Wonder Lake, Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, 1947, printed c. 1972, gelatin silver print, © 2012 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust.

Many artists have embraced the idea of an alpine pilgrimage to escape civilization and experience spiritual awareness. Ansel Adams (1902-1984) frequented the magisterial heights of the American West and dedicated his career to its preservation. Although most well known for his views of Yosemite, which he visited annually over a period of 68 years, Adams journeyed to Alaska during the summers of 1947 and 1949.

For the artist, Alaska represented the quintessential wilderness, and Mount Denali, the highest peak in North America, symbolized Earth's sovereignty.

Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska (1947), Adams interprets the mountain as a glowing, celestial form rising from the shadows of an embryonic landscape (fig. 18). The awesome magnitude of Mount Denali's 20,000-foot (6,096 m) elevation and five glaciers inspired the artist to advocate for greater wilderness protection in Alaska.

Adams took three exposures of Mount McKinley and Wonder Lake at the onset of dawn at 1:30 a.m. during a break in cloud cover. The sublime beauty of the mountain's glaciers proved a perfect vehicle for his style, which was based on heightening dramatic contrasts of light and shadow.

Compiled by Kathleen Macknicki, Anchorage Daily News.