Alaska Shorts: Wildwood, 
by Tanyo Ravicz

Tanyo Ravicz
While in Kodiak, I also buy a box of cracker slugs. These
are shotgun shells that when fired will explode downrange and frighten an
animal without hurting him. The brown bears at the north end of the island have
reportedly been aggressive all summer. Two bears have been shot and killed. At
Wildwood I see brown bears regularly. I met a mother and cubs one day on our
trail and I stood tall and spoke aloud to them, moving my arms through the air.
The mother bear rose on her hind legs and scrutinized me, and unimpressed, she
lowered her bulk to the earth and went on munching her salmonberries. I
The bears will always have the right of way at Wildwood.
These ancient trails were their trails first. It doesn’t slight my pride to let
a bear go ahead of me, and it’s prudent, too. The mounds of bear scat are
everywhere. There’s a feverish dynamic in the air, a hot-blooded electricity.
The cow parsnip lies crushed, the tall grass is tunneled, the berry thickets
are broken as if barrels were dragged through them. My four-wheeler stalls one
day in the trail and I work to restart it, hemmed in by the dense greenery of
alder and elder and devil’s club. Fox sparrows chuck softly and nibble the
fungus in the alder branches. As I work, the air becomes warm and humid, almost
rancid to my senses, and I notice, on raising my head, that the fox sparrows
have vanished. The hair bristles on the back of my neck, my nostrils flare, and
my body knows in its animal way that a bear is near. On a separate occasion I
hear a loud repeated thrashing, something similar to a humpback whale’s
smashing the water with its tail, but what I find is a commotion in the
cottonwood trees, a fierce huffing of breath, and a bear cub caught halfway up
in a tree while a bigger bear tries to dislodge it by violently shaking the
My census of the local brown bears is as follows: an
adolescent; a pair of orphaned or independent cubs, quite large; a sow and two
grown cubs; a sow and two yearling cubs; a sow and three spring cubs; and the
big boar. This massive male bear tramps out of the silvery willows at the back
of the homestead one evening and heads west down the old survey line, his steps
driven by a peculiar urgency, not of fear — he’s indifferent to me — but of
appetite. Clearly he has some quarry in mind, something carnal. That a mature
boar is ranging through Wildwood in the middle of so many sows and cubs makes
for an explosive situation and the bears themselves are on edge.
One day the two orphan cubs approach too near to my
worktable, which is simply a sheet of plywood resting on paint-stained
sawhorses on the south side of the cabin. When it comes to wild bears, forty
feet is close enough, thank you. I love for the bears to be here, and I think I
know what the Biblical shepherds must have felt whenever a supernatural being
graced the emptiness of nature by visiting them in some lost pasture. Being a
man, though, I am a great betrayer, and it does the bears no good to come to
trust me. They mill nearby, indifferent to my words, and when even my yelling
has proved unpersuasive, I fire one of the cracker slugs over their heads, and
the noisemaker does its job: the second bear literally bumps into the rear end
of the first as they flee.
One of my projects at Wildwood has been to blaze a trail
along our eastern boundary and to link it to the old survey line on the south
and to the trail I’ve already cut on the west — a sort of circumnavigation of
the homestead. I want to know the extent of my little world, and with this goal
in mind I lay out a route, remove the obstacles, and build sturdy log bridges
over the creeks. They aren’t the Golden Gate or the Pont du Gard, my little
spans, but they are sound enough. There’s a ravine at the back of the homestead
with a few inches of water running in it, and here I dismount the four-wheeler
and look across to the opposite bank. The ravine is unbridgeable, too deep and
its banks too irregular for my bridge-making abilities, but I am confident,
surveying it, that I can cross it on the four-wheeler. Yes, I can do this, I
know I can.
Tanyo Ravicz grew up in California. He
attended Harvard University and settled for many years in Alaska, mainly in
Fairbanks and Kodiak. His novel-in-progress, Wildwood, draws on his experience
of homesteading with his family on Alaska’s Kodiak Island. His books include A Man of His Village,
relating the odyssey of a migrant farm worker from Mexico to Alaska, and Alaskans, a selection of his
short fiction. He has a certain number of iTunes promo codes to distribute for
free copies of his ebooks for publicity and reviews. Interested readers please
contact him at tanyo (at)
In Wildwood, the novel-in-progress
from which this excerpt comes, Jason and Brenda Everblue, a couple since their
student days, grapple with their troubled marriage by moving with their two
young children into the wilderness of Alaska’s Kodiak Island. At Wildwood,
violent weather, wild bears, illness, isolation, and the intrusion of poachers
are among the challenges they face, but they will learn much about love and
courage and the bonds of family. To read more of the excerpt, download a free copy of the
Alaska Sampler 2014
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