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Outdoors/Adventure

Bears and Alaska outhouses are funny stuff, unless you’re the one using the outhouse

“There are strange things done in the land of the midnight sun ...”

Yes, and that isn’t the only place of strange things. Alligators are freezing in the ice in Oklahoma? Frogs freeze in Alaska all the time. And sometimes bears crawl under outhouses — and bite.

The recent bear in the outhouse story near Haines is pretty comical, from a distance. I probably would not have been quite as amused if it had been me. The shock would have been when they went back and lifted the lid to see what was in there — and saw the bear looking back.

There has never been a bear in any of my outhouses, though a friend of mine sat on an outhouse seat that had been unused for the summer and found that some yellow jackets were quite unhappy with the intrusion. That woman could run, let me tell you. And holler.

A fellow commercial setnetter had his outhouse tipped over by a curious brown bear who didn’t realize the nice-smelling place was occupied. Fortunately the guy’s brother came to his rescue with a shotgun — but he was laughing so hard the shot went awry and blew the vent pipe off the house. The bear ran off.

The only time I was chased by a bear I had a shovel in my hand. I was just out of high school and was filling holes in a beach road. A black bear I had been harassing for getting in the burn barrel saw his opportunity and came after me.

I climbed the nearest spruce, which was branchless for the first 20 feet. Upon reaching the first limbs, I realized black bears can climb better than I can. Shovel still in hand, I exited the tree, swung the shovel at the bear and raced to the cabin.

Boy, could I get up and go!

One summer, living on the Maclaren River, I was off doing some project or another and came home to find my wife and daughter walking some pups on the river bar above the cabin. Not being one to pass up such an opportunity, I did a skillful sneak into the brush along the river bar and gave my best imitation of a bear’s huff.

Our German shepherd, who was along on the puppy walk, immediately cut loose with a series of very respectable danger barks. My wife yelled at our daughter to grab the puppies and “head to the house!”

Have you ever seen someone try to round up and hold a half-dozen 10-week-old sled dogs? My laughter gave the spoof away. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t think of shooting the bear but did not have those same reservations about taking a shot at me.

Alaska tree frogs freeze during the winter and then go on their merry way after the spring thaw, apparently none the worse for wear. Oklahoma alligators seem to have their own version of that trick. They are able to sense when water is about to freeze and poke their snout through. Then they go into a dormant state, though they still need to drink. When their puddle thaws, the alligators sink back into the depths and go on about the business of terrorizing tourists.

Not a single tourist has ever asked me how frogs make it through the Alaska winter. Yet every single tourist, whether summer or winter, asks if we need to worry about a bear attacking us. I bet most Florida visitors query as to the danger of alligators.

Mosquitoes are responsible for more deaths worldwide than any other critter. There’s a story about a ranger in the Togiak Wildlife Refuge in Western Alaska who once killed 131 mosquitoes in a single swat. Now that’s an incredible statistic in the Land of the Midnight Sun!

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