Sisters

March 27, 2021

There is a story that goes with the photo of these two yearling Alaskan Brown Bear cubs, and to mean anything at all, it requires being told completely and in sufficient detail, which can be a bit long for Facebook posts, but I think it’s worth telling and reading.

It happened on a day In July, 2012, when Cindy and I were in Alaska on a day trip to the Silver Salmon Creek resort at Lake Clark National Park, to photograph Alaskan Brown Bears.  They are a grizzly gear, although somewhat different in color and about 30% larger than the Rocky Mountain grizzlies.  And boy, did we come to the right place to meet a few.  We flew down from Anchorage that morning on a bush plane, which landed on a narrow beach.  Looking out the window on letdown, it was almost like a feedlot scene in Nebraska, only with bears instead of cows.  The wide mud flats in this area, caused by the monstrous tides, leave a huge area for the bears to dig for clams.  And the great part is that they are so interested in clamming they have no interest in the humans following them around and making photographs.  Provided, of course that you use a modicum of good sense and don’t get so close as to interfere with the clamming.  In which case, you’ll fly home in a horizontal, as opposed to vertical, position.

Also, it’s a good idea, in fact absolutely necessary, to be in the company of an experienced guide familiar with the local bear population and their behaviors.  Our guide was a neat young guy by the name of Scott, who along with his wife, Sage, spent the summers at Silver Salmon Creek, where he’d been visiting since he was a teenager.  The rest of the year, they were both teachers in Seattle.

At a certain point in our wandering around on the mud flats, Scott got a call on his hand-held radio and then turned to us and said, “Let’s go back over towards the lodge.  There’s a yearling cub high up in a pine tree over there, who climbed the tree when a male bear tried to catch and kill her yesterday evening.  [Yep.  Sorry Disney fans, but they actually do that].  Apparently, her sister is on her way to get her down and join up with her.”

Sure enough, after we had walked maybe fifty yards and could clearly see the bear in the tree, the sister broke out of the forest, obviously headed for the treed bear.  She blanched and stopped when she saw us, and Scott, in a calming voice, said, “It’s okay.  You’re fine.  Just come on.”

Amazingly, she did, and by that point the treed sister was scrambling down from her lofty perch.  When she reached the ground, the two touched noses and gamboled a bit, and then were off, not to hunt clams, but to graze on the ample sedge grass that grows on shore there.  It was obvious that the sister who gathered up her treed sibling was larger and most likely the leader of the pack of two.  Scott said that the two yearlings, whose mother had in the spring turned them out on their own, would den up together in the fall and then then in the spring, split up and raise cubs of their own.

But on that day, that was all in future for them, and for the time being, the two would be practically inseparable.  As we watched them graze on the sedge grass, Scott said, “I don’t think the smaller one would make it without her sister.”

As we watched them there that day, I knew I had witnessed something I almost certainly would never see again, and once again, I was struck by how much alike all the world’s creatures are.  Including the humans.

 


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