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The Haunter of the Woods

Those who have packed far up into grizzly country know that the presence of even one grizzly on the land elevates the mountains, deepens the canyons, chills the winds, brightens the stars, darkens the forest, and quickens the pulse of all who enter it. They know that when a bear dies, something sacred in every living thing interconnected with that realm… also dies.” — John Murray

Grizzly Bear, Atnarko River British Columbia

The other day, I came across the Greek word Nemopilist, which is defined as a haunter of the woods; one who loves the forest and its beauty and solitude. While this meaning may be meant to define a person or human personality, it made me think about my love, awe, and reverence of bears and what they represent to both me and my photography. That in turn led to this current blog, an homage to bears and the 14th of my series so far.

Black Bear & Cubs, Yellowstone National Park

Every time I travel into the wilderness, these words keep going through my head – beauty, solitude, reflection, nature -- and bears! If I am deep in grizzly country, and in the dark woods, not necessarily in that order...

Grizzly, also on the Atnarko River

All of us have triggers that prompt us to think about more than our day-to-day life. For me, walking along a trail or stream, watching a bird, wolf, or even a chipmunk takes me outside of myself and thinking in larger terms that often include religion, God, and my place in and responsibility for this world. Those times are what I draw on when I am back in the real world. I hope that keeps me sane and makes me a better person.

But seeing a bear is a big trigger and what really makes me come alive! Aware, alert, in-the-moment, and connected in place.

Cubs in Fiordland Conservancy, Great Bear Rainforest British Columbia

Black and grizzly (North American and Coastal Brown) bears define nature and wilderness for me. In more recent years, having the opportunity to just be in proximity to these apex predators is an experience and an honor that never goes away. Being able to get a photo is just icing on the cake – although it is so valuable to sharing and remembering my trips.

Griz in Fall Colors

When in bear country, I always remember to keep safety and that reverence for bears center-framed in my mind. A long lens, awareness of my surroundings, an understanding of bear habits, motivations and warning signs are all important. What an education to sit along a river and understand that grizzly fish by roaming up and down the banks while black bears come in from the sides, grab a fish, and retreat to the woods to eat and stay away from the larger bears.

Inland grizzly bear, Denali National Park

In my experiences, I have had plenty of “oh crap” moments, but I have never been truly frightened. I do feel much more comfortable photographing coastal bears during salmon season. Probably because I know I am not on their menu.

Cub in Grass

Getting a picture of a bear has always been on the top of my list. I often go on photo shoots to capture different landscapes and wildlife, but if I do not see a bear, I am hugely disappointed. I have a number of bucket list sites I want to visit: Kodiak Island, Katmai, British Columbia’s Khutzeymateen Provincial Park, and Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula (some day). Amazing that every place on my list is a great place for bears as well.

Mother & Cub, Saloompt Creek, British Columbia

And of course, as many trips as necessary to the Great Bear Rainforest in hopes to see (and get photos) of the ever-elusive Kermode or Spirit Bear, the official mammal of British Columbia. The Great Bear is one of my favorite places both for bears and coastal wolves, and while I have been in that area several times, I have had no luck with either wolves or spirit bears. Yet.

Coastal Wolf tracks, Great Bear Rainforest

It is also my deepest wish to see a grizzly bear here in Washington’s North Cascades, but there are estimated to be less than ten in this entire area. There is hope, as the North Cascades is one of six grizzly bear recovery areas being studied in the US. All others are in the Rocky Mountain area, including the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem which was the focus of my last two blogs.

Bear Reflection, Bella Coola

Bears keep me humble. They help me to keep the world in perspective and to understand where I fit on the spectrum of life. We need to preserve the wilderness and its monarchs for ourselves, and for the dreams of children. We should fight for these things as if our life depended upon it, because it does. — Wayne Lynch

End Notes:

  • For additional images of black and grizzly bears, go to my bear page.

  • For a link listing the six recovery areas noted above, go here.

  • For recent news on bear recovery, read this article.

  • For information on grizzly bear recovery in:

  • The North Cascades, visit Conservation Northwest.

  • Great Bear Rainforest, visit Raincoast Conservancy.

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