Story and photos by David Lee Drotar
When humans go bear watching where the salmon are swimming in British Colombia, Canada, what do the animals think?
It was early September and the sun was shining brightly on the calm, deep blue water when I saw the humans drop from the sky. You’d think an old grizzly bear like me could take a little nap under a Western red cedar tree in the remote British Columbian rainforest before starting my winter hibernation. But no…
A noisy machine that sounded like a swarm of honey bees in the distance woke me up. Even though my eyesight isn’t perfect, I could see that it had giant, puffy balloons on the bottom. It circled around the mountain, came soaring deftly through the notch like an eagle, splashed onto the fjord and finally taxied up to the shore.
Ten people spilled out of the machine onto these wobbly, wooden platforms that were floating on the water, and there were little buildings floating there, too, that they called the Great Bear Lodge. Imagine that. I knew right away this meant trouble.
The people were talking and laughing like no one was around, but I could hear every word they said. They came from Australia, England, India and the United States and wanted to see and learn about bears in nature. But get this: There was some dude who carried a notebook around and said he was going to write a travel story but never even asked us bears. Well, I just want to set the record straight.
I’m a divorced dad. I’d like to play a more active role with the child-rearing, but Mama Bear thinks I’m too rough and might eat the kids. OK, well, I did once, but only because there weren’t enough berries that year and I was really, really hungry. Now the ladies stay in groups and keep me away. Sometimes we hook up in the spring, but we just can’t live together anymore. You know how it is. I’ve heard the humans have similar habits.
Anyway, those humans think they’re so smart. A long time ago, a bunch of stinky males used to come into the forest and cut down trees and then trade them for little pieces of colored paper that were made from other trees. If they traded the trees to people in the United States, the paper was always green. Then the humans traded this paper for other things like food. It all seemed kind of dumb to me. Later on, my ex will tell you how us bears get our food and, even though it’s tough sometimes, it’s a hell of a lot simpler than cutting down trees. We require about 40,000 calories a day to maintain our body weight so we need lots of food. And not many people know this, but we keep growing until the day we die.
But getting back to the humans. In order to get the trees out of the forest, they needed trails, so they cut down even more trees to make clear areas. They called these paths “logging roads” because they moved the logs over them.
There’s an old logging road that runs along the Neekite River. It starts at the Great Bear Lodge and goes about ten kilometers (six miles) into the woods. Tom and Marg, the owners of the lodge, keep it clear. I like walking on it, too, when no one else is around, especially in the spring when I can rub my scent all over the trees and keep the other male bears away. Sometimes I even like to roll around in the mud.
Tom is actually a pretty clever guy for a human and has figured out how to live way out here and how to take care of the visitors that come to see me. He’s got a fancy piece of paper that says he earned a degree in electrical engineering. I don’t know exactly what that is, but there are wires and panels and tubes all over the place. These funny looking contraptions somehow get energy from the sun, wind and moving water and allow people inside the lodge to cook food and have light after the sun sets.
The humans are really fussy about what they eat. Tom and Marg had to hire a crew of young people to live there and cook special food three times a day for the visitors. Every day at the crack of dawn, Cindy gets up and makes whole wheat pancakes with flax seeds, broccoli and mushroom frittatas and other ridiculously nutritious stuff. Really now, couldn’t these spoiled guests just get up and eat some grubs like I do and be on their way? As if that weren’t enough, the lunches and dinners are even more lavish. Heather makes gourmet dinners like king crab legs and she even bakes cookies every day. There is one food, however, that humans and bears can agree on. We both like salmon.
That no-good louse of a bear. Here I am with two rambunctious toddlers who can’t be left alone for one second or else they will wander off and be attacked by a wolf. And where is their father? Typical male, he struts all over the forest and never once lifts a claw to help with the kids or bring home any food. After I got pregnant with the twins he didn’t even stick around for their birth.
Truth be told, it was a pretty easy childbirth and I’m better off without him. I gained a lot of weight, but slept it off during my hibernation last winter. I was roused out of my deep slumber in February when I felt a little tickle down there. The little buggers practically slid out on their own. Still a bit groggy, I just curled up and let my babies nurse while I went back to sleep for two more months. No crying, no whimpering, just cuddling—what more could a Mama grizzly ask for? I’ll admit I can get a little ornery when things don’t go right, especially if a human gets in my way. But Kuruk and Miakoda have been a real joy. I wish they could have stayed that small forever.
When we woke up and left the den in April, however, my baby bears sprouted up like sedge grass in the estuary and it’s been go, go, go ever since. There’s so much to teach Kuruk and Mia and so little time. Here it is September already and the three of us have got to fatten up to make it through another winter. I worry that Kuruk is still a little immature and won’t be ready.
Mostly we hang out along the Neekite and Piper rivers so we can catch the juicy salmon when they’re swimming upstream. It’s really pretty down there by the water with the spruce trees on each side towering up to the sky. There are lots of smooth, rounded rocks in all different shapes and sizes, from about the size of my big toe up to sea gull size. The fish swim between the rocks and sometimes they even jump over them, splashing back down into the river.
That’s where we see the humans most often. They’re very lazy creatures. It’s only a few kilometers from the lodge, but they don’t walk down to the river when we’re fishing. Once in the morning and once in the early evening, they get into a big, metal box with windows on the sides and wheels on the bottom. The box bounces along the logging road and when it stops, the humans get out and move slowly into another box perched above the rushing water. This second box is made from wood and they call it a “blind” because they think we can’t see them. They’ll sit quietly in there for hours.