Does A Bear $#&% in the Woods?
I can’t tell you that answer for sure, but I do know they catch salmon in a river.
We had been kayaking for about ten minutes when our expedition leader, Laurie, got word on her walkie-talkie that a brown bear had been spotted at the mouth of a river. We just had to see him. What an experience that would be to see a brown bear in the wild with our very own eyes! Rick and I paddled in tandem, and with each determined stroke bringing us closer to the beast, my body warmed with exertion and excitement, and I could feel the sweat beads drizzle down my temples. I started to regret wearing so many layers, but there was no way to do anything about that now. We were on a mission to see a bear.
We shifted to whisper mode as we approached the river. When we were about fifty yards from its mouth, we held our formation, and we all scanned the banks for the bear. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Laurie’s arm shoot out and to the right. She had spotted him. My breath and my heartbeat started racing each other, and I had to bite my lip to not let out a yelp of anticipation.
I couldn’t concentrate on what I was doing. My hands became all fumbly as I reached into my PFD (personal flotation device) pocket for my ziplock-covered camera. Stupid plastic. I tried to help Rick maneuver the kayak with one hand on the paddle and the other gripping my camera, like a python grips its victim, so it wouldn’t fall into the water. I was a useless hot mess. Finally, Rick and I agreed the he would captain this vessel so I could focus on shooting my prey, with my camera that is.
I think Rick was having a bit of a struggle because the current of the river was so strong. He had to battle against all that aquatic energy while jockeying for position with the nine other kayaks challenging him. I had my camera almost fully zoomed, and every few seconds, gigantic heads would dominate my screen. I felt ridiculous yet strangely justified in my frustration: Get out of my way! Don’t you know I’m trying to take a picture of this bear?
The bear seemed oblivious to us—more concerned about his next meal than the presence of a rainbowed flotilla of kayakers. His massive body moved gracefully on the land, on the rocks, and through the water. No movement was wasted. His gaze moved across the water, scanning for his next meal.
As yet another kayak passed in front of my vision, I heard a huge splash and the awestruck gasps of fellow kayakers. I craned my neck and made twitching body gestures like sign language Rick should have understood to mean, “Steer to the right!” But we weren’t fast enough. The current had pushed us too far back and too far left for us to see the bear enjoying his tasty treat.
We persevered. Minor frustrations are no match for the patience of a kayaking pack of city slickers with cameras in hand at their first bear sighting. Time was our only enemy, for we soon would need to return to our ship and venture off to new frontiers.
After about thirty minutes spying on this animal and having capturing several decent (and many absolutely worthless) shots of the salmon-stalking brown bear, Laurie silently signaled that it was time to leave. None of us wanted to abandon our setting. We all pleaded to her longingly with doe eyes, like children in front of the TV set saying, “Please, Mom. Just five more minutes.” While she didn’t actually relent or say no, some of the kayakers eventually stopped paddling against the current and allowed themselves to slowly drift away from the live nature show. A few of us naughty children lingered for just a bit longer to get a few more photos (click on thumbnails to enlarge photos and to launch slideshow).
And thank goodness for that. I kept the video rolling on my camera and got what I had been waiting for with restless anticipation: the bear catching a salmon.
The whole time I was filming him snatch and then chomp on his prey, my mouth hung open in utter amazement, with hardly a breath entering or escaping. I had just witnessed what was, to me, one of the most amazing displays of raw skill and instinct. This coastal brown bear was a truly talented fisherman. And while for him, this was just another day on the river, fishing for his lunch, for me, this was a moment I will never forget.