51 1/2 by 32 inches
Oil, Oil Stick, Acrylic, Latex on Canvas
Jeannie and I encountered this mother bear while hiking in to the Absaroka Mountains in Montana in August of 2021. We were headed up to Cowen Cirque to do a bit of alpine climbing for a few days and came upon this wonderful creature about 1 mile into the 10 mile hike.
We stopped dead in our tracks only able to see her back as she had her head burried in a rose hip bush. She was probably 12-15 ft away. After a moment I yelled "Hey Bear" and she looked up at us for a split second her eyes piercing straight into our being.
Then with no sound she was gone, up the hill disappearing into the thick undergrowth.
We gathered our composure and yelled into the wind for dozen minutes telling her we only wanted to pass through and would not be a threat to her. We slowly started down the trail past where she had been only to find a switchback almost immediately taking us uphill in the direction of where she had disappeared to.
We took time again to yell out our intentions and make it clear we were just two little humans making our way through the forest. We took steps slow and headed up the hill, though a return switchback and then another and then finally the trail leveled off and again followed the contour of the hillside.
Relief flooded our brains as we headed again down the trail only to hear a rustle in the brush below us after about 50 yards. We stopped, believing the mother bear to be now below us and careened our necks to catch site of her the blood pulsing again through our veins. But it was not the mother, it was her cubs.
The cubs bounced up the hill and jumped on the trail, oblivious to us a couple of dozen feet away. Bear cubs have a way of moving which is so similar to that of a todler once cannot help but be mesmerized in watching them and we were, for an instant, and then the terror of the moment set in.
We were now between the mother and her cubs. The cubs were unaware of us but there is no doubt the mother was close, watching our every flinch and ready to pounce at even the slightest sense of danger. This completely scary situation had just turned into a moment of terror, that instant when one enters the realm of standing at the precipe of life and death.
Accutely in tuned with the world in a way only adreneline fueled survival instincts allow we took steps back slow, methodical, watching everthing all at once for the first sign of danger. Minutes disappeared as the distance between us and the little cubs got larger, everyone out of sight now and hopefully out of mind. We cleared the switchbacks and then burnt ground for a few minutes putting topography between us and the little family.
When our hearts returned to a normal pace we stopped and talked and took of our packs and ate snacks and drank water. There would be no continuing on this hike, were the bears were located was on a steep hill in a deep canyon and there was no way around them without putting ourselves straight into danger. We shouldered our packs and hiked back to the truck to go find another mountain to climb.
The bears that year were hungry and stressed from the unprecidented drought gripping Montana. They were not in a live and let live mood, the cubs were tiny for that time of the year and there was little more than rose hips to eat. I fear even now those cubs did not make it to the next season and I hope the mother did so she might try again to raise a family in the ever shrinking wild spaces in which she roams.