Damon Bowen hangs around the theater at Kenai Landing where he performs "Damon's Alaskan Frontier," a show highlighting some the state's interesting facts and oddities. He performs the on-hour show at 5 and 7p.m. every day.
Photo by Jenny Neyman
According to Damon Bowen, the variety of stink beetle that calls Alaska home survives the winter thanks to its blood antifreeze proteins. A patent has been taken out to possibly use those proteins as a way to preserve the consistency of Alaskan's favorite treat ice cream.
That gives new meaning to the flavor "black forest crunch."
Insects in ice cream is just one of many topics Bowen sheds new, interesting, funny and occasionally icky light on in his show, "Damon's Alaskan Frontier."
Bowen performs his hour-long, fast-paced presentation and slide show twice a night at Kenai Landing.
"It's neat little tidbits that you wouldn't necessarily see on the Discovery Channel or read in National Geographic," he said.
For instance, did you know a peregrine falcon can dive at speeds in excess of 250 miles per hour? Or that a type of ant in Southeast produces formic acid that some birds use as avian flea repellent and that also makes a quite palatable salad dressing?
Don't try skunk cabbage, though. Just because Alaska Natives used to eat the roots when in need of food doesn't mean it's worth the effort.
"I can attest to the fact that you would have to be very, very, very, very hungry to eat this plant. It's absolutely awful," Bowen says in the show.
Though Bowen touches on some material about Alaskans from Native substance practices to embellished sourdough and hunting tales the majority of this show is a direct outgrowth of his career as a biologist, including jobs with the departments of Natural Resources and Fish and Game and private groups throughout Alaska, his home state of Oregon and the rest of the western United States to name a few.
"I have such a love and fascination with wilderness," Bowen said.
From insects to avians, fish to forest life and minuscule rodents on up to mighty polar bears, Bowen has photos and facts about the life forms that share the state with humans.
In writing the show, Bowen said he took care to keep politics and ideologies out of the material. Biologists sometimes are stereotyped as being activists or biased, so Bowen said he strove to just include the reality about information without coloring it one way or another not always an easy task, especially with controversial subjects such as wolves and bears.
"That was a fascinating challenge itself when putting it together," he said.
His overarching goal for the show, though, was to present interesting information about a vibrant and dynamic land.
"We sometimes put value on the natural ecosystem by what we can extract from it, but there's an inherent value in it beyond that," Bowen said.
"... I'm hoping to make a sense of awe in people, a sense of wonderment."
Though the show was developed with tourists in mind, Bowen has dug up such diverse and obscure trivia that even a lifelong Alaskan is bound to learn something from the show. Some Alaskans may be familiar with the willow ptarmigan's knack for playing dead and the killer whale's strategy of "spy hopping" to scout for food , but walrus sunburns, the state's carnivorous plants and a type of snow that's flammable are likely to be news to others.
For one performance, a longtime resident brought her visiting sister to see the show but rolled her eyes when the sister wanted her to watch it, too, thinking it was "just for tourists." But each was as fascinated as the other.
"By the end of the show, she said, 'I thought I knew a lot about Alaska. I had a lot of pride and you wiped it out,'" Bowen said.
Even on the remote chance someone already knows it all, the photos Bowen shows are a draw in themselves, as is his humor that ranges from corny: Why are arctic terns always seen in pairs? Because one good tern deserves another.
To inside Alaskan jokes: What's another name for the Sliver-Bellied Gashawk? Airplane.
To contemporary: In mating season, male mountain goats get down on their bellies and slither up to females. Some ladies in our culture say, "Yeah, those guys have the right idea."
And outright bizarre: Cliff Clavin, the trivia-touting mailman from the TV show "Cheers," once said that the beluga whale has an esophagus shaped in such a way that if it could speak English, it couldn't pronounce the word "lasagna."
Though not trained as an actor, Bowen is a natural performer who tells stories with his whole body and at the drop of his brown, bent-brim hat. His enthusiasm would leave a listener wondering how he could possibly be still enough to sneak up on animals in the wild if they weren't so enthralled.
When telling about how he picked up two baby skunks, each as big as a fist, he waves two fingers and a fist in the air before concluding by saying the whole pack sprayed him because of his tampering right before he was due to board a flight to Alaska.
"I was not real popular on the plane," he said.
A story about seeing mice on a trail has his solid, compact frame hunched over with his fingers twiddling in front of his face to mimic scurrying. When telling how he once snuck up on a young deer and poked its rump, he jolts upright and glances over his shoulder with the approximate look of "what the ..." on his face that the deer gave him.
"Damon's Alaskan Frontier" is a foray into the world of marketing, self-promotion and the tourism industry that Bowen has never explored before and has found to be challenging territory, he said. The show took him two years to develop after the idea came to him in an epiphany while in the Grand Canyon.
"I just said, 'You need to take your love and you need to put it in a slide show,'" he said.
He performed the show last year in Talkeetna to glowing reviews.
"People said so many nice things about it that I'm willing to repeat and say this is a world-class show," Bowen said.
His search for a bigger venue this summer brought him to Kenai Landing, the former Ward's Cove cannery-turned-destination resort at the mouth of the Kenai River. The theater space, with tiered seating so new the room still smells of sawdust, is in the end of the building that houses Sockeye's Restaurant. Insulation and heating are not part of these rustic historic metal buildings, so visitors should bring jackets and be prepared to hear gulls shrieking and fish processors at work outside and see sunlight streaming in through gaps in the walls and roof.
They also should be prepared to be entertained and in-formed.
"I have not had a single disappointed person," Bowen said.
"Damon's Alaskan Frontier" is performed at 5 and 7 p.m. every day. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for youths under 18 and available at Sockeye's, the front desk and at the door.
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