Something special was afforded me on our Canadian fishing trip this time. Not only did the four of us (dad and sons/brothers) get to spend time together, as a photographer I got to snap over 1500 photos in 5 days.
But perhaps the best part of it was when long-time guide Brian (Parker) at Halley’s Camps/Kettle Falls came up to me at the end of Fishing Day 3 with a proposition. It was one I could not refuse….
A few of the Camp guides have been working the bear population for the hunting season. In so doing, they set out popcorn for the bears in strategic spots. One of those spots have been found by a sow and 3 cubs.
This is no ordinary sow bear. She has a cream colored stripe down her back, making her very unique and a rarity. Let’s hope she lives a long life and does not find a wall to showcase her beautiful fur.
The sow’s cubs number three. Usually, cubs are born in twins. This sow has two black cubs and one cinnamon color cub. Let’s hope they grow strong and live a long life as well.
Brian’s offer to me, since he knew I had no ordinary shirt pocket photography equipment on the trip, was to sit me across the cove and within 60 yards of the popcorn feeder. I would then have the chance to snap off a few pictures if and when they came looking for an evening snack. I would be by myself and on my own. “Heck yeah!”
I quickly ate my lodge dinner and then took to the cabin to ready my gear for the shoot. Tripod – check, telephoto lens – check, 1/2 strength on my battery – oh sh#t, lots of room on memory chip – check, get as camo’d up as possible – check.
Brian, Benji and I took off for the cove. It was about a 5-10 minute boat ride down river. When we arrived, nothing was said. Brian pointed to a spot about 15′ (nearly) straight up from the shoreline in amongst the brush – that’s where he wanted me. He bumped the shoreline with the bow of the boat and out of the boat and onto the land I scrambled. It was at this point, climbing up a loose rocky terrain, that I was thankful I was 66 pounds lighter than I had been just 4 months ago. I was in the spot in no time. Brian backed the boat away, then went to the feeder across the cove to put fresh popcorn in the buckets. He then backed out, looked at me and waved. The boat was in the cove no more than 2 minutes. And then (and there) I was, by myself, in the woods of Canada, waiting for a mother bear and 3 cubs…with only a flimsy tripod and an ability to swim as my only defense in case something went weird.
I’ve always loved the out-of-doors. I was a Boy Scout growing up. My family always camped, hunted, fished, and the like. This seemed only natural for me to sit in the brush and wait for just the right moment to appreciate nature and wildlife.
Nature has and makes peculiar sounds when you stop and listen, especially when you’re by yourself, in a strange place, nervous, apprehensive, and anxious. I sat quietly on my rock ledge. Then, the sound of leaves rustling and twigs breaking was coming from behind and above me. It was starting to mess with my head. “Oh geez”, I thought. What if momma bear and cubbies come down to the water right next to me. That would be…exciting to say the least. I then saw making his way towards me, a ground squirrel. A very loud ground squirrel at that! He came within 10′ of my shoes. When I lowered my camera to take his picture, he then scurried away, around, and to the rock ledge over my head. “Oh great. Now the little loudy will be pushing dirt and stones down on me…or maybe spit, or worse on my head.”
I looked down to the water’s edge (I found myself contemplating an escape route more than once while sitting on my rock). There in the water, starring up at me, was a beaver. He probably wondered “what in the world are you doing up there?”. He kept on swimming once he knew I knew he was watching me watching him….
Then came the bears out of the woods. My heart started to pound, my breathing was short and quick. I couldn’t hold my camera still….
The bears feed on the popcorn for about 20 minutes. The cubs were quite entertaining to watch. They would climb the tree, get into the cans and spill popcorn on the rest of them on the ground. Momma was active – kind of a nervous gait to her walk: feeding, then pacing to the left and then back to the right, then down to the water edge. She looked right at me 3 or 4 times. She either knew I was there and didn’t care, never saw me in the brush, or maybe it was just me being nervous in thinking she would come charging at me any minute.
Fortunately, she didn’t come get me. The four of them moseyed off from the direction they came, and then 5 minutes later, they were back to the feeder for another 10-15 minutes. All in all, I got 584 pictures taken of this family in 71 minutes of rock sitting. It was, as FD called it, my National Geographic moment…mind you the pictures are no way near that quality, but the time spent was incredibly exciting.
Benji came to get me right before sundown. It was a lively conversation on the boat ride back.
Check out several photos posted on Flickr: Halley’s Camps Bear Kettle Growling