Bears. That’s something Rye didn’t touch on a whole lot, other than the ones in the Pine Lodge lobby that asked where Adam was. He makes impressions on people and animals wherever he goes, what can you say. Growing up in south Jersey my only experiences with bears involved the Philadelphia Zoo and the occasional meeting between the Eagles and the Bears of Chicago. I did have a run-in with one a long time ago with my brother up in New Hampshire, but that don’t really count. Anyway, western Maryland was the first place I got to see bruins in their “wild” habitat. Generally speaking, in and around Deep Creek/McHenry/Oakland the bears have turned into multi-hundred pound raccoons bent on getting to the trash that gluttonous vacationers toss out in marginally secure trash cans and dumpsters.
The first time I encountered them there was a pair of cubs running past the house where I was staying. The second, the two cubs’ mother was moseying down the street at dusk. The third involved an overturned “caged” trash recceptical and a pile of scat the size of a manhole cover. The fourth was when I’m rolling with KG near the uppermost stretches on the Savage and a big sow is wandering down the road. Kevin decides to give hot pursuit and she heads up the hill. Last summer I was fishing with a Glock on my hip and Don had the 12 gauge on his shoulder as we fished the upper Taylor Fork, a valley boasting one of Montana’s most dense populations of brown bear. Didn’t see one. The most recent, and one that truly counts as an encounter was last Sunday.
In the little brookie drainage on the other side of the hill from where KG tried to run momma bear down, Rye, Greg and myself were exploring how the stream was recovering after 4x4s and atvs were banned from the trail this year. Rye and Greg fish on up from where I was and I have my mountain trout zen time. An hour or so passes and I figure I had better catch up to the other two and see what they’ve got into. I’m walking up the old trail underneath the changing autumn leaves and come upon my angling buddies crouched down on the trail. “What’s up?” I asked,
Greg puts up five fingers and points and lets out a nearly inaudible “bears.”
“WHAT!? I ask.
That’s when I saw the first cub run up the hill, I look back at Greg and Rye and they motion to me to get down and shush. I oblige.
Holly shit! I drop my rod, unhitch my pack and fumble around inside to get out the camera, and change out lenses to the 300mm telephoto. They motion me to get closer. Now, simple request, but, I had on cleated rubber soled wading boots, which when on an old gravel trail, ain’t quite stealthy. Damn Maryland felt ban! As I do an awkward duck walk, I see momma bear slip down into the stream bed, blocked from our view by the burmed stream bank. That’s good. Is mom going to go see where her cub went or confront that goofy looking two legged thing that scared her kid. I press forward at a slightly faster clip. I get up to where Rye is and see poppa bear grazing on nuts and crab apples, oblivious to us in the still, windless air.
I begin trying to snap photos through the thick brush, capturing a black mass and foliage. Two other cubs take off, Dad must have been more concerned about is hunger than the kids. I keep snapping away. Ryan is trying to get pics too and some video. In hushed tones we consult as to how to get better pics. I turn and look back, and Greg is still crouched on the trail. Good, he didn’t get eaten.
Poppa bear is edging closer to the trail about 50 yards up from us and I’m leaning on a tree to brace my self and get some better pics if he gets out in the clear trail. The smallest of perceptible swirls of airs hardly moves the leaves. Poppa bear stands up to figure out what that funny smell is around him, that smells like BK breakfast food. I’m firing shots like crazy. The bear turns and looks straight into the camera and I keep snapping away. Thinking that what he smelled wasn’t a big deal, he drops down and continues his forage. I’m stoked and start scrolling through the pics and walk over to Rye to show him what I got. I step on some loose gravel making that sound of an aluminum jon boat hitting a rock jetty. Bear pops up, sees me walking, then runs off to find the rest of his family. At least he ran away, instead of towards us. Rye peeks down into the streambed and momma is long gone too. Bear encounter over.
I never really thought wildlife photography could be all that exciting this side of Africa, but when you’re eye to eye with a black bear through the lens of a camera, it’s a rush. They are fascinating creatures, bears, and I’m stoked to have gotten the shots I did. With the fishing being just ok last weekend as Ryan said, meeting and observing this family of black bears was truly the highlight of the weekend.
As the stranger in the Big Lewbowski said, “Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you.”