An Alaskan Adventure: Stories from the Bush

​“If approached by a bear, calmly raise your hands above your head. Show the bear you are not a threat and talk to it in a gentle voice.”

By: Maggie Donohoo + Save to a List

“If approached by a bear, calmly raise your hands above your head. Show the bear you are not a threat and talk to it in a gentle voice.”

I nodded my head signaling that I was prepared to spend the next several weeks in the Alaskan Bush, a term used to describe a region of the state not connected to a road or ferry. In other words, I would be living in remote Alaska, adapting to a much more primitive lifestyle while interning with a local family on their peony farm. I did feel prepared. I had my backpack brimming with first-aid and safety gear, work boots and bear spray. To top it off, I was now certified as ‘bear-aware’ thanks to my new friend, Mrs. VHS video lady.

The opportunity had actually found me at the perfect moment. I was closing the door on a job and beginning the transition to graduate school. With time to spare before the fall semester, I began looking for an internship on an organic farm in the western part of the states for the summer. My idea was that I would be able to bring fresh and fun content to a small business, advance my gardening skills and spend a couple of months working outdoors. So, I joined an online network linking backpackers with organic farmers around the world.

A couple of months later, I arrived in Bush Alaska on a ‘beaver’ float plane excited for the adventure ahead. The farm I would be interning for is located near the foot of the infamous Mount Susitna, known to locals as the ‘Sleeping Lady’ for its resemblance to a recumbent woman, with impressive views of Mount McKinley just beyond the lake. My host family’s property was made up of over 30 acres of land with 85 beds of flowers that amount to over 12,000 peony plants. The farm is also home to several cabins, a barn, a greenhouse, a chicken coop and several other structures.

My daily responsibilities would vary as we moved through the season, but generally I would be tending to the peony’s, gardening and creating content. My host mom had also recently welcomed 16 goslings into the family with the intention of raising them to control the horsetail, a nasty weed that grows rampant among the peony’s. I was fortunate to be able to help care for them during their first few weeks on the farm.

Life in Bush Alaska is not unlike a typical camping experience except, of course, that it’s a full-time way of life and you must be bear-aware, moose-aware, wolf-aware and coyote-aware. Simply put, Alaska has an impressive amount of wildlife considering its’ cold climate. On my first day in the Bush I encountered a moose with her baby, a pod of beluga whales and nesting swallows. Other interns had also seen otters, cranes and eagles.

Alaska is much further behind the rest of the United States in terms of its’ seasons. While we had broken into 80-degree weather back home, in Alaska the trees were just beginning to wake from their slumber and the horizon was still adorned with the iconic snowcapped mountains. While in Anchorage, I was fortunate to take a day trip to Flattop Mountain and a majority of the hike was still covered in several feet of snow.

As a side note, I would highly recommend that you bring proper footwear and trekking poles if attempting this climb as snow is not an uncommon obstacle throughout the year, especially as you near the summit.

On the farm, the peonies were just beginning to poke their vibrant heads out of the ground. We would need to be proactive in weeding them, removing any horsetail and grasses that had taken root during the off-season. Then we would lay drip-tape, an effective and economical way many farmers irrigate their fields. From there we would weed them a second and third time as we moved closer to harvest.

Outside of regular working hours we were free to explore the farm, go canoeing on the lake or hike the neighboring trail system. We were advised to remain ‘bear-aware’ at all times and bring our bear spray when venturing off of the main property, but otherwise enjoy the stunning landscape. The surrounding forests, though marshy in the early season, were lush with pines and greenery. While we never did see any bears, we did have a close encounter with a moose and her baby. We kept quiet and hovered close to a cluster of trees as they passed, careful not to frighten her or the young calf.

The food in Bush Alaska consists of creative blends of moose-meat, homemade breads, farm-fresh eggs and various homegrown fruits and vegetables. Most goods in Alaska are extremely expensive due to the additional transportation costs from the lower 48 states; so, naturally niche food items are harder to find. That being said, the Alaskan Bush diet is delicious and represents the innovative and native spirit of those who call ‘the wild’ home.

Life in the Alaskan Bush is unlike anywhere else on the planet. Alaskan’s are proud of their native heritage and there is so much waiting to be explored. From spectacular mountain views to the diverse wildlife, it truly is a place with unlimited opportunities for adventure.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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