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We spotted Patriciaís blond head bobbing up from the sedge grass not far from our tent. She was grazing at the far end of the Hallo Bay meadows that are closest to our campsite. Taking advantage of not having to walk over a mile to reach the other end of the meadows, which was usually full of bears, we were thrilled to see a bear so close to camp and grabbed our backpacks and headed down the trail in her direction. We would learn over the season that we were more likely to see mothers with first year cubs at this far end of the meadow, since some of them chose to avoid areas where there were lots of bears. There is a bear trail as clear as any human trail youíve ever walked on that cuts by our camp and leads through the meadows. A minute or so down the path we reached the bear, and peering through the grass we realized, with delight, that she was with two first year cubs! We also noticed immediately that she was a stunning beauty. Her long blond hair was thick and fluffy. Her belly was already quite round Ė a sign that she was healthy and robust and that feeding two cubs hadnít taken a toll on her weight. She had the most beautiful heart shaped face, her amber brown eyes and black nose standing out against a light coat of fur that was closer to white than to brown. Like nearly all the females in Hallo Bay she was a very light blond Ė a trait that I assume to be genetic, and that has led me wonder whether or not most of the females in Hallo Bay are related. If they are related, does this mean that Hallo Bay is really comprised of resident female bears which are in fact a loosely connected family unit? Are home ranges of females Ėlike those occupying Hallo Bay-really extended matriarchal family structures?
We left the path, and started to angle in closer to Patricia and her cubs. We had seen her around for several days, and she was one of three mothers, each with two first year cubs, that we had seen on this trip. She was the medium sized of the three, and this was our first chance to get closer to her and her cubs. As we approached we realized that they were in a wet depression in the meadows, and the cubs were playing in a small, shallow pond of flooded grass. Mom was busy grazing but the cubs seemed determined to forgo feeding for fun. One would rear up on her hind legs and then pounce on top of the other one. Rolling in a wet ball, legs flying, feet kicking, water spraying in every direction, they gnawed at each otherís faces and growled. Their ball of fun inevitably rolled underneath mom, disrupting her concentrated grazing. She seemed annoyed and impatient with the tumbling tikes, and hoofed at them, snorting air forcefully out of her nose. Undeterred, the cubs kept splashing and wrestling. Facing off, both reared up on tiny hind legs, they crashed their chests together, falling with a splash into the puddle. Eventually getting bored with the game, one of the cubs decided to worm her way underneath momís muzzle. Still appearing annoyed, Patricia used her snout to swipe the cub off to the side so she could continue eating. Ignoring this obvious physical gesture to move out of the way, the cub wiggled back underfoot, swatting his tiny paws at momís face. Snorting, she turned and slowly stomped off.
I canít help but see how similar she is to human mothers allover the world, who find themselves exhausted with the antics and boundless energy of their children and just needing to steal a moment alone. The cubs went back to play fighting with one another. They fell over and over again into the water, splashing and swatting their front paws at each other, until they realized that mom was wandering a bit too far away for their comfort zone. We, on the other hand, were delighted because mom had worked her way closer to where we were sitting in the tall, stalky chunks of sea grass that the bears donít like to eat. (We purposefully donít sit in the sedge grass, feeling itís only polite to avoid sitting on someoneís food). Patricia had come close enough that we could hear the chunks of grass being yanked from the earth. We listened to the grinding of grass against her large and powerful molars and the forceful inhales and exhales from that large and oh so sensitive nose.
The cubs sprinted in the direction of momís blond butt while simultaneously looking at us, the strange clothing clad voyeurs who had invaded their scene. Patricia, like most adult bears, ignored us like she might any inconsequential piece of her environment such as log or the ubiquitous savannah sparrows. Her cubs, however, were much more curious. They would run a few paces towards mom and then hesitate, glancing at us over their shoulders. Then they sprinted a few more steps, paused, and reared up on their hind legs so they could see us over the grass.
We shared eye contact with these curious cubs who were willing to sacrifice the safety of momís side for a better glimpse at the two odd creatures sharing their meadow. Once satisfied with getting a better look at John and I, they scrambled next to their mother. I smiled, thinking about how these little bears were ďhuman watchingĒ. Iím reminded that the relationship with these bears is a two way street. I felt privileged to have these cubs take interest in me. Like babies everywhere, they are captivated and curious by everything that is new.
Patricia turned and faced the cubs, her previous irritation now visibly softened. Patricia and one of the cubs paused and gazed into each otherís eyes. With pond water dripping slowly off his tiny, dark face, the cub looked up into his motherís eyes. They touched noses, held each otherís eye contact and sniffed each otherís air. Mom slowly lifted her head and did a quick visual and olfactory scan around the meadow, standing calmly and confidently beside her cub, before deciding it was time to leisurely make their way towards the berm and the beach.
© 2008 Jessica Teel