"How close?" I ask.
"Close," says Ron.
"Like, fifty feet?"
I pause, then say, "Thirty, twenty-five?"
"Sometimes closer," is the answer. I catch the knowing smiles among those who have been to Silver Salmon Creek before this trip.
That gives me food for thought. And speaking of food, I wonder how people can be within thirty feet of a Coastal Brown bear and not be the entree of the day. It does not compute, in my experience.
That's on my mind as we leave the lodge following our first dinner and ride through the narrowest part of the trail towards the creek crossing. It's so narrow you can touch the branches on either side. It's also a perfect place for bears to pop out of the thick young spruce and brush.
"There's a bear!" someone behind me says. Sure enough, a bear is crossing the meadow, its back just visible in the high grass. Another bear exits the forest and walks across the trail we had just passed.
Any doubt about not seeing any bears close enough to photograph is put to rest when we reach the mouth of the creek. A large sow is heading for the mouth to fish for salmon.
"Let's move up." says Rick. I'm rooted in place. I can't believe this. Move up? Yeah, I'm good, I'm good. I'll just stay here.
"Stay together," he adds. I'm already behind the rest. The pros, so used to handling their equipment, are fifteen feet ahead of me. I'm still trying to figure out how to fold the legs of my tripod and carry that heavy lens without face-planting it or me in the sand.
I hurry to catch up, but not too fast. I don't want to attract the bear's attention. I want plenty of menu selections between me and that bear. We move within thirty feet of the bear. The rest are already set up and photographing. I remain in the back and find a narrow opening between them to set up.
|I love the colors in these photos|
What a magnificent animal, I think.
All my life, because I'm short at 5'2", I've had to be in the front row for group photographs. Tonight I'm more than willing to let the others have an unobstructed view of the bear.
Aw geez.... She's almost too close for my telephoto lens. It's retracted as far as it will go. Rick makes sure we aren't blocking her path along the creek bank. I'm still behind everyone else, shooting through gaps in a line of bodies and tripods.
|Nope, not blocking her path.|
She doesn't even look at us, just wanders a ways up stream.
Are we close? Uh, yeah.... She moves up to the bend in the river when the fisherman had earlier caught a salmon.
Rick moves us closer.
She comes back and...
...walks past the ATV that Ricks operates and the two trailers in which we ride....
...and disappears into the beach grass.
Soon, a sow known as Crimp Ear appears with her two second season cubs. She, too, has come to fish on the incoming tide.
|Mama Crimp Ear, so called because one of her ears appears to have been injured in the past.|
|The cubs, now in their second season, settle down on the beach. The sitting cub is still shedding, and her skull shows more definition. The other cub is farther along in the shedding process, giving its skull a rounder appearance.|
Crimp Ear returns to the cubs, as if to give some instructions about staying out of trouble while she catches dinner.
|Note Crimp Ear's left ear. Her left, your right.|
Then she goes back to the mouth of the creek.
|Note the heel first way the bear walks.|
The cubs remain in place.
Bears have very poor eyesight, but their hearing and sense of smell is acute. The smaller cub alerts to danger first.
Big, bad trouble this way comes.
The second cub now notices the approaching bear. The small cub sits up.
Every bear, especially boars, are a danger to cubs.
|Note the airplane on the beach. Yes, that's the same beach we landed on.|
The small cub turns towards her mother.
They start to go to her....
...but mom is already aware of danger and gathers her cubs.
They head inland so quickly that I have to lead them with my camera.
Crimp Ear looks back to make sure they aren't being followed.
And away they go, heading for the dense forest and relative safety.
Meanwhile, back at the fishing hole....
|Their reflexes are so quick. The slightest noise from a salmon alerts her.|
|Sniffing the water. Maybe tasting it, too. Searching for salmon.|
|Oops. Gotta scratch.|
Umm, hi, bear. I come in peace.
Here comes another, possibly the first bear that had gone inland.
We move back towards the mouth of the creek.
By this time, those who had lingered for dessert, as well as guests from another lodge, have joined the beach party.
|That's Rick in the hip waders and Ron with the white lens. Gorgeous Brian is to Ron's right, wearing a backpack.|
Ron and Rick are behind the photographers. So am I
Good spot for me.
|The bear heads for the forest.|
It's late and we're about to lose the light. Time to head back to the lodge for that delayed dessert.