02 Mar The Grizzly Bear and I…

It’s a cool October morning, I sit quietly in my kayak, in a shallow back eddy at the edge of a small white water river, watching and waiting.  I’ve come for one reason, for a chance of seeing a grizzly bear in it’s home.  Sitting quietly, senses sharpened, I’m rewarded as a magnificent grizzly emerges from the shelter of trees.

I have come with a friend to assist in leading a group of kayakers on a 6 day paddling trip up Butte Inlet on BC’s wild coast.  It’s an invitation to spend time with the Homolko First Nations in their native home, and watch Grizzlies in the Orford River estuary.  On this morning we have chosen to paddle by kayak from our camp into the mouth of the river in hopes of watching the grizzlies from the vantage of our kayaks.  Seeking a different perspective, I leave the group, paddling up the river. At this place, while not exactly a whitewater river, the current proves challenging.  I quickly find myself alone.

I follow the river, muscles aching, breathing hard exhilarated by the challenge.  One bend, and a second and I find a small pool of calm water.  The sun is shining providing faded warmth, a reminder of fall, and the winter to follow.  The air is still – except for all manner of birds twittering and calling.  I sit – and wait.  Time passes, and yet I’m no longer aware of time.  And then, the reason I came…..100 meters in front of me, walking out of the forest, as it must have many seasons, and as it’s ancestors must have for millennia is the king of the forest.

The grizzly walks slowly on the gravel bar at waters edge, leisurely poking along, watching carefully for its prey, the salmon.  This ritual, the ritual that has played itself out millions of times, is dictated by a cycle of nature.  Salmon returning from their life at sea, the grizzlies waiting patiently, needing the salmon to survive a winter of hibernation.

The grizzly keeps walking towards me, seemingly at peace with the world, and I, keenly aware of my vulnerability.  As it moves closer we have full eye contact for two brief periods….At one point it comes to within 25 or 30 feet from where I sit in my kayak.  Finally having satisfied its search, it turns aside and wanders back into the forest.

I sensed or believed that this bear was at peace, I posed no threat, and there was that recognition.  The grizzly seemed completely at peace, as was I.  And so I sat, enjoying the moments….and gave thanks – in awe!   Grizzly bears are awe inspiring.  They are at the very top of the food chain…they have no competition in any way shape or form.  And as I sat enjoying what seemed liked a sacred moment, thoughts turned to the winds of change, about my change, about the wilderness change, about the bears life.

In this moment, I became aware of a powerful irony.  Grizzlies are one of the most powerful creatures on earth, they are tough, independent, and fearless.  And yet they are incredibly vulnerable in terms of being able to exist in the wilderness along side human activity.

Grizzlies need huge tracts of untouched wilderness to survive, and that wilderness is slowly being eroded through mining, logging and human expansion.  And so, as powerful as they are, they can not stand up to encroachment.  Their numbers are slowly shrinking.  One of the Hamalko guides was telling me the night before that in many places along the BC coast, they are not bearing young as they would if the environment was healthy.

There I was, face to face with this incredible, fearsome and beautiful creature, in one of few places where they can still exist as they have for millenia.  And I realize that in another generation or two, the experience I had on that October morning, might not be available anymore…..change, changed.

 

Lessons of the wilderness………

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