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About a Bear

Updated: Oct 18, 2018

This is a story about a bear. It unfolded over 5 minutes in Moraine creek, Alaska in the summer of 2018

Not for the first time in my life, I found myself in the river with a big male bear. This encounter was a little too close for comfort

I was momentarily alone on the riverbank when I spied some bear action in the distance. I crouched low to assess how best to approach. Just then, a huge male materialized in my peripheral vision and started advancing straight at me . No worries, you know what to do . I slowly backed up, sidestepping to create the widest berth possible which would allow him to pass me by. But I could only back up so far - the river was behind me, and the current was swift. I stepped into the water, ankle deep, then knee deep, then waist deep. I looked down and spied something that gave me pause . The river was thick with red salmon. Right where I was standing. They were streaming all around me, an underwater sashimi conveyor belt . Well, shit, that's exactly what the bears are after . As if on cue, a fat juicy salmon, strawberry red, breached the surface, and splashed back down with a tantalizing slap of its tail. The sound seemed to echo. I cringed. Maybe my bear didn't notice? I looked back up . Oh. He noticed . His lackadaisical saunter along the banks was over. He stopped directly in front of me, cutting off my path back to land. Ears perked. Nose crinkled. Muscles coiled. Eyes locked. I could see individual hairs moving with the wind. I could count the scars on his face . Curse you, stupid salmon . *click* might as well document this

Navel deep in the river, the current alone was worrisome enough - I wished I was 20lbs heavier, so I'd have one less hazard to contend with. The bottom of my waders searched the riverbed for any kind of foothold to avoid being carried away . Another gentle, inviting splash and a flash of red a few feet to my left. Stupid salmon taunting 900lbs of muscle and claws and teeth . Well, that was all the encouragement the great bear needed . Foooooomph!! Splashhhhh!!! Pitter patter pitter patter pitter Ohshitohshitohshit... . A massive ball of fur charges into the water. It leaps into the air, all four paws suspended for a split second, then dives in headfirst. Meanwhile, puny human, cradling his bulky camera rig, braced against the current, scrambles in the opposite direction. All under a shower of icy cold river spray . Somehow, I managed to make it to shallower water. Knees found the pebbly bottom as I swiveled around to keep track of the bear. For a rather worrying moment, I could not locate him. He must have been fully submerged . But only for a second . The spray had not settled yet when a massive dripping head broke the surface like some kind of furry kraken . He had missed his catch. He shook off the failure, and then turned his hungry gaze towards me . Were my heart and head not violently pounding in full fight or flight mode (obviously flight), I might have paused to marvel at the scene - spray settling, surface sparkling, eye level with a gorgeous half submerged bear . I noticed none of those things in the moment. But that's what photos are for . *click*

As he rose, he seemed to relax. His intense focus broke, and limbs hung loose. Eyes lazily scanned the river for signs of prey, but the salmon had scattered . He almost looked a little sheepish that someone had witnessed his failed hunt. He sat soaking in the cool water for a while . He continued to glance in my direction from time to time. I was still frozen in place, trying to anticipate his next move to inform my own. Though it soon became clear that he had no interest in me. For all he cared, I was a smaller bear who posed no threat, and was clearly bad at fishing, given my bony, fur-less frame . I had never witnessed a wild animal from this kind of proximity before (I don't think my dog Rigby counts, though those that know her can attest that she's more fox than dog). I had never felt the raw energy of a wild animal so tangibly . It was all enveloping. It was unmistakable . From the sound of paws hitting earth and dragging water, to the sensation of spray splashing on my cheek and the rippling surface from the impact, to the smell of fur and earth and river, to the detailed textures and patterns and depth in the bear's eyes . . . "You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself" . . . I had not planned for this, nor would I ever put myself in this situation intentionally, but I knew in this moment I was safe. The pounding and ringing in my head ceased. I let my breath resume its natural cycle . But no matter how calm the situation was, it was time to give him space. I thanked my bear, wished him well on his next fishing attempt, and slowly backed away . He looked at me, considered this strange creature clearly ill-adapted for life on the tundra once more . ...and stuck his tongue out . *click*


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