Mike Todd took this photo at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center outside of Anchorage. Mike told the bear that if he did not attack Mike, he promised to get the bear’s photo in the Local. (And Mike kept his promise.)

Mike Todd took this photo at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center outside of Anchorage. Mike told the bear that if he did not attack Mike, he promised to get the bear’s photo in the Local. (And Mike kept his promise.)

by Mike Todd

“I think I’ll take a little walk and explore the neighborhood,” I said, not realizing that I could get mauled for suggesting such a thing.

“You’ll need to bring bear spray,” replied my brother-in-law Kris, reminding me that even mundane activities are slightly less so when you’re doing them in Anchorage, Alaska.

“Never mind,” I said, settling back into my chair. Evening strolls could resume once I’d returned home, where, as long as you don’t count the mosquitoes, I rest comfortably atop the food chain. Besides, bear spray doesn’t work like bug spray. You actually have to hit the bear with it, which I’d find difficult to do while going to the bathroom, which is what I’d be doing (involuntarily) if a bear attacked me.

My wife Kara and I had ventured northwest with our two sons and Kara’s parents to visit Kara’s sister Jill and her husband Kris, who have been living in Anchorage since last summer. Jill and Kris moved to Alaska for the same reason everyone else lives there: because they angered an evil ice queen who banished them from regular civilization for eternity.

Just kidding. They vacationed there once and decided they’d live there someday. Then, rather than continue dreaming about it, they actually did it.

“Wow,” I said as we left the airport. The allure of Anchorage is obvious from the moment you arrive, especially if you arrive in July, when your nostrils don’t freeze together. As we drove across city blocks with flowering baskets hanging from lampposts, snow-dappled mountains loomed in every direction. I’d expected everything to look more like the inside of the fish counter at the grocery store, except with more salmon.

“It’s weird to me that everyone is carrying on like we’re still in America,” I said to Kris.  He smiled and cocked his head, and I could tell that he was wondering how much attention I’d been paying in fifth-grade geography.

I know that Alaska is as much a part of America as apple pie, diabetes and owning an arsenal of guns, but still, it felt strange to fly 3,000 miles past America and still be there. Seemed like there should be more campfires and fewer fast-food chains.

When you first arrive in Anchorage and you drive past grocery stores, strip malls and schools, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the rest of Alaska is full of people, too.  In fact, 40% of Alaska’s population lives in Anchorage. The other 60% were eaten by grizzly bears last year. I am wildly exaggerating, of course. Some of them were eaten by wolves, too. No, in all seriousness, very few people get eaten by the wildlife in Alaska, though they do need to be mindful of their politicians, who fly around in helicopters firing high-powered rifles at things.

In Anchorage, though, the city feels so normal that it’s easy to forget you’re right on the edge of wilderness. Sometimes that wilderness wanders into the city, which is why you can’t just stroll out of Jill and Kris’ townhouse without strapping a canister of ursine tear gas to yourself. Apparently, it’s fairly common to see bears walking down the sidewalks near their neighborhood, which can be quite a dangerous situation, since bears, especially when protecting their cubs, are notorious jaywalkers.

It’s also important to point out that while we had a wonderful time in Alaska, we are back home now, so if you are a burglar, you already missed your chance. The only thing worth stealing was the iPad, anyway, and we brought that with us in the hopes of entertaining our two kids on the 20 hours of flights. That plan didn’t work, but I’m not ready to joke about it yet.

Mike Todd, who never goes into a swimming pool because he is afraid he will be attacked there by sharks, can be rescued at mikectodd@gmail.com. Our humor columnist has been honored for each of the last two years by the Pennsylvania News Media Association with a Keystone Press Award as one of the top columnists in the state among community newspapers.