Greetings from Katmai National Park & Preserve

Just over two years ago, my boyfriend (Andrew) and I were in the midst of planning a trip to Alaska to view grizzly bears in the wild at Katmai National Park, when our plans were abruptly derailed by my cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. I was 31 years old. I’d heard here and there of how fortifying it can be for cancer patients to have a goal or a reward - something to look forward to, to keep one going through moments of suffering both acute and habitual. So when Andrew arranged a fundraiser to help me with my medical bills, he added that we also wanted to raise money to enable me to go on the long-anticipated trip that now had to be put on hold. Skip ahead to June of 2013, and what was supposed to be a “reward” for getting through cancer treatment became something else when I was diagnosed with a recurrence a month before embarking on the trip. We decided not to postpone it again. And as it turns out, it was exactly what I needed.

On our last night in the park, around sunset, we decided to walk up to the part of the beach where the bears sometimes gather. We encountered several. One walked by right in front of us, framed by the splashes of orange and pink, and continued along the shore as the sky faded to purple and then blue. I felt utterly at peace. This must be what was meant by purple mountains’ majesty, I thought to myself. This will be the happy place that I’ll go to during my surgeries and infusions and scans. This will be the image I will call to mind when I find myself searching for a reason to persevere. Luckily for me, Andrew managed to memorialize that image, as you can see here.

Before we left, I decided to leave some feedback on a comment card for the park service. In it, I said, “One could easily assume this place is a mystical paradise in which bears and humans coexist peacefully, but I know it is the hard work and dedication of the park service employees that makes it so. For this bear lover, being here has been indescribably wonderful.”

No matter what else happens in my life, I believe I will die happy for having communed with the grizzlies at Katmai National Park and Preserve.


Katmai National Park & Preserve

President Woodrow Wilson established Katmai National Monument in 1918 to preserve the "Valley of 10,000 Smokes," so named when the Novarupta Volcano filled the valley with a 100- to 700-foot-deep ash flow.

State(s): Alaska

Established: 1918

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