I AM BACK FROM INDULGING IN MY PASSION FOR WILDLIFE AND HAVE RETURNED AS A “DIFFERENT PERSON.” I am “without a heart.” I have lost it to a region in the world that I thought never existed…a superbly pristine region that exists today only because of the tireless efforts of people who dedicate their lives to its preservation.
Tucked away in this “secret place” is a land of serenity and indescribable beauty!!! A place so quiet that, at times, the only sound that can be heard is the sound of your beating heart…punctuated by the sounds of the natural world going about its daily business of surviving.
Bald Eagles quietly soar high above you. They quickly descend to your eye level to fish or hunt. They pass right before your eyes giving you the opportunity to clearly see their distinctive white head and tail feathers. (Such regal and beautiful creatures – the majestic symbol of our country, but with a Canadian accent, “eh” 😉 Their white feathers, of course, indicate that they are adults. (Immature eagles have brown heads and tail feathers.) Sometimes, these powerful raptors perched themselves, with wings spread (done mostly by the immature ones), on low branches to warm themselves. Sometimes they were easy to spot, sometimes they were not. Their camouflage is PERFECT!!!!!!!!!!! Most of the time, with the aid of binoculars, they were visible and easy to spot. They perched high atop or in the middle portion of the tall trees. At times, however, I had a little difficulty “locating” them in the trees. I soon found that if I listened quietly for their distinctive but unusually quiet, high pitched whistle-like call, I could “pinpoint their location.”
These “sentinels” kept a vigilant watch over their domain. They protected their young and were always scanning for food, which, at this time of the year, is predominantly the life-giving SALMON.
Great Blue Herons also flew by, and you are awestruck by their immense wing spans, and of course, their beautiful blue/gray plumage. You wonder how such large birds can take flight with such ease, but then you stand reminded that Mother Nature has planned it all SO PERFECTLY!!!
Sometimes there were “aerial traffic jams” because so many different species of birds “took off at the same time,” but they seemed to have a fantastic Air Traffic Control Center there. It kept them all collision free…(at least when I was there anyway.)
Many other birds also “competed for our attention by expressing their feelings” via unique calls, which we became familiar with after a few days.
BUT NOW COMES THE PI’ECE DE RE’SISTANCE……….SUDDENLY AND QUIETLY, appearing out of nowhere from the woods was A SINGLE, MAJESTIC, POWERFUL GRIZZLY BEAR. OH MY GOD!!! MY DREAM HAS COME TRUE!!! This is reality! This is not the “Nature Channel.”
This grizzly bear had unknowingly graced me with the privilege of seeing it in its natural environment. It slowly sauntered out and exposed its huge muscular body, accented at the shoulders by the familiar “hump.” Cautiously it “scanned” the area visually, then sniffed the air for what I call “current conditions.” With its incredible sense of smell, it most likely had already detected our presence but it did not seem to acknowledge it. (It did not perceive us as a threat largely due to the efforts of the people of Knight Inlet Lodge.) It sometimes paused to scratch an itch or stand on its hind legs to “get a better view” of its world. It knew we were there, but it chose to ignore us. Thank God!! (We were always in a protected stand…but Thank God anyway.)
We were all instructed at orientation to walk slowly and softly and to remain quiet at all times. Avoiding any possible eye contact was imperative, but remaining quiet was especially difficult, especially since your adrenaline had increased and your heart was racing with excitement at the sight of the bear. Little squeals of excitement inadvertently slipped out. With your mouth now covered to avoid any further “faux pas,” you hope that “you have not been discovered” by the bear…By now, cameras whir and click. Sometimes the squawk of the radio (that is normally turned down) scares the life out of you, but thankfully, the bear has not been scared off and you are relieved… The bear goes on about its business of finding food.
Soon the real “fun” starts. When the bear spots the “perfect” salmon – one that is attempting to go upstream (prematurely), the chase begins. Splashing wildly in the clean, clear water seems to be the “technique of choice.” I found it to be the most entertaining. It pounces, it paws the water, it stops suddenly, it changes direction, it pauses, stands, shakes off the water, and continues until it catches the elusive but delicious salmon. This goes on for hours, and witnessing the expression on their faces is priceless. When unsuccessful at catching anything, some bears show noticeable “disappointment” through their “adorable” body language. It was during these moments that I actually felt sorry for them…but at the same time, down deep, I felt a sense of relief that the salmon had escaped.
At first, I wondered why these apex predators were unable to catch a salmon every time they “fished” since there were hundreds of thousands of them swimming all around them. However, with the present dry conditions, the majority of the salmon are forced to wait in sporadically spaced pools until the rivers rise. Thankfully for the salmon, these pools (although relatively shallow) are still too deep for the bears to successfully fish. Bears wisely conserve energy, and being opportunistic, they wait, instinctively, for “easier pickings.” They know that the salmon will soon leave their “deep sanctuary” to start their final journey upstream. They will pass through shallower areas of the river, which make them extremely vulnerable. I would estimate that, with the recent rains in Canada, the water levels have now risen enough for them to start their journey up river – through the “bear gauntlet.” Then, giant claws, sharp teeth, and powerful jaws will make quick work of the hapless salmon. But it is a natural phenomenon that I must accept. It will allow the grizzlies to gorge themselves in preparation for their long sleep ahead. This bounty of salmon will enable them to survive another year in their dangerous world filled with uncertainty.
As always, human arrogance poses the greatest threat to their safety and existence….trophy hunting is still allowed. This area is not a protected sanctuary. Knight Inlet Lodge has started a unique campaign to “STOP THE HUNT,” and I am PROUD to be a part of it. They have even paid outfitters for their bear tags to save the life of the Grizzly. They are attempting to repeat this noble task yearly. With continued financial support from visitors like us and public exposure of the dire circumstances of the MAGNIFICENT GRIZZLY, they hope to someday soon stop the slaughter. The process is painfully slow!!!!!!!
I hope that you have not been bored by my “short notes” of my journey to a place where time seems to have stopped…I have many more stories to share……My favorite being the one about the mother bear and her temporarily lost cub that caused her to become extremely DEFENSIVE AND DANGEROUS in her quest to be reunited with her precious baby. Her vocalizations and movements were quite intense and scary…And then there is the lone wolf (with an attitude) who taunted a grizzly and was chased when it got too close. They were most likely “playing,” but harassing a grizzly is not a good idea.
My adventure goes on and on and on….IT IS ONE THAT I WILL CHERISH FOREVER AND NEVER EVER FORGET! I HOPE TO RETURN THERE SOON.
Until later, take care….. God Bless you. I hope that you are soon able to go to the lodge. Many of the staff there said that they look forward to meeting you some day!
Our thanks to Karen Henry for sharing her story with us.