Widely respected Yukon artist Libby Dulac has lived in Haines Junction, population 859, with her husband Claude for over 25 years. Behind a large pond on the front yard of their three-acre lot tower the impressive Kluane Mountains that have been instrumental in their lives—to Claude as a national park ranger, and to Libby as a central theme in her art. Although Libby normally devotes the short summers to tending her beautiful flower gardens and does most of her painting in the studio during other parts of the year, she agreed to spend a few hours with me at one of her favorite spots.
When I called Libby upon arrival the afternoon before our painting date, she graciously invited us to meet after dinner. Located a few miles east of town, the Dulac’s beautiful home is filled with her paintings—and with numerous photos of the animals that have visited their property over the years. They told us delightful stories about their wild visitors, such as the barn hawk who arrived during a peak vole infestation in their garden. In just three days, Claude convinced the hawk to take the voles he caught in traps right from his hand, and shortly thereafter his partner joined for her share of the plentiful pests. Before long, Claude and Libby began to hear them “singing” for their breakfast on the porch every morning, which continued throughout the summer until the voles were gone.
Libby showed us photos of 11 black and brown bears that had visited their yard during the previous three days. One large grizzly was lying face down on a padded lounge chair, and after she snapped the photo, it ripped the couch apart! As the Dulac’s realized how naive we are about bears, they smoothly transitioned into a great bear safety “class”. They related bear-encounter stories from Claude’s work in the national park, and then loaned us each a can of bear spray for our time in Haines Junction. We learned that Dave is especially vulnerable, as bears tend to see bicyclists as running prey. Yummy!
Wouldn’t you know that the first thing I saw as I drove out to paint early the next morning was a big black bear crossing the road? Before my late-morning painting date with Libby, I was headed south on Haines Highway with the intention of painting at Kathleen Lake—the only developed campground in the Kluane National Park. Haines Junction is nestled along the Dezadeash River, and as I arrived at the Welcome to Haines Junction sign at the top of the ridge, I saw a great view of the mountain range and valley in my rear view mirror. I guess I’ll have to reserve the lake for our next trip!
As comforting as it was to have bear spray close at hand, I quickly realized it was no defense against the real menace—mosquitoes! It has been a wet year in Alaska, and although we’ve heard rumors of horrible infestations in other communities, I am convinced that most of the bugs actually followed us into Haines Junction. Remember that $20 rain gear I bought? Thank goodness the pesky mosquitoes can’t penetrate it. I totally covered myself and also sprayed my gloves and floppy hat, so they swarmed but never landed—except on my painting. Now I’m wondering if maybe that couch-eating grizzly was just pissed off because of all the mosquitoes biting him!