This is a a story of the day that I met this female and her three cubs-of-the-year while out in the woods one sunny British Columbian late afternoon in 2013. The story is not special in anyway, except that it is special in every way. That is to say that this is a bear encounter that I was able to capture on film, a bear encounter with a female and her cubs, both of us caught unawares by the others presence.
Over the last 4 seasons I have spent many hours out in the coastal temperate rainforests of British Columbia as a guest of the owners of Knight Inlet Lodge. I have during my time here walked well worn trails and set up a network of trail cameras to capture bear movements and behaviours. On this day in 2013 I was driving down a logging road after checking one the furthest placed cameras when I noticed a bear trail that had opened up to the side of the road. The entrance to the trail was open and the bush had become well worn into and out of the tree line. It was the first time I had noticed the trail so I stopped the car and got out to take a look. When I returned to my car a few minutes later I saw these 4 bundles of bear fur meandering their way up the road towards me.
I made the decision to return to my vehicle (a little Suzuki 4×4) and record whatever they were up to. The bears were walking where I wanted to drive, they were relaxed: playing and feeding as they went. I didn’t want to disturb them by starting the car and driving at them, it seemed the wrong thing to do and somewhat aggressive. So I made sure they had seen me and stayed put. The rest I captured as best I could resting the camera on the wing mirror of the car (I always carry a tripod now). The footage is stable and easy to watch, I’ve edited out the jumpy bits.
The encounter took place in 2013 and I have since spent many hours working what I captured into the film work that will accompany my Ph.D thesis. I’ve tried hard to edit the footage and place it in an easy to watch sequence that follows film convention and unfolds a narrative, but at this moment in time I want to offer something else. I don’t want to lead you in some fictionalised dance of bear ecology or beautiful imagery. I just want to lay bare the footage in real time, so that if you wish you can encounter the bear with me, make your own decisions about the behaviour of the bear and safety and the fear that should accompany an encounter with a (to quote the all too common rhetoric about bears, that often originates with someone who has never seen one) ‘ferocious’ grizzly bear.
This encounter is not unique, it epitomises my encounters with bear families. I’ve often met a female with cubs out walking in the woods and against all my sensibilities and all that I learned in the media before we’ve always wanted very little to do with each other. I’ve said it before and I will many times more; bears are not unpredictable, people are. I react to the bears as they do to me, I give them space and I respond to each individual encounter assessing behaviour and thinking about my actions carefully and calmly, I certainly DO NOT PANIC.
Meet Beatrice. She walks up the hill sits a few meters away and gives me the occasional sniff and glance, she and her cubs know that I am there. She sits for a while as the family play and feed on grass and herbs then she leads the ‘charge’ back down the hill. THE END.
The encounter happens to be with a bear who has since become recognisable and is referred to by the name Beatrice, because that is easier than me saying F006 (which is her alpha numeric reference in my ID catalogue) or ‘one of the bears that had 3 COY’s in 2013′; you understand I’m not being anthropomorphic or over familiar with a wild bear, just trying to shorten my sentences when talking and writing about my experiences.
Feel free to scan through, the sequence is about 12 minutes long. All of this was shot on my old Canon 5d MKii with a borrowed 100-400 mm IS USM barrel lens with push pull zoom. Sound is recorded on the camera mic, you’ll me hear me huffing and puffing a bit along with the odd click of camera buttons. The bears for the most part were silent with only an occasional groan from a cub.
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