I strained my eyes to focus beyond a thick network of leafy tendrils, anxious for visual confirmation of what I was told was a resting grizzly bear. As the dark figure materialized between the branches, excitement infused the core of my being – this was my first grizzly bear sighting of 2018.
Some friends of my friends alerted us to his presence – they had seen him cross the road and settle in behind the vegetation just off the road.
We all waited in hopes of getting a better view of what appeared to be a fairly large grizzly bear, but the bruin had other plans. After about 45 minutes, he rose, stretched, snorted and lumbered off into the forest, leaving us with nothing more than an obstructed view of a sizeable backend disappearing into the trees.
I was with fellow photographers and good friends Jill Cooper, Simon Jackson and Stacey Sartoretto. All of us being huge bear lovers, we were grateful for even the briefest glimpse, but hoping for a better view of a grizzly bear at some point that evening. We continued driving for a couple hours, but there were no more bear sightings.
When we stopped to grab a snack from the gas station, I decided to try tapping into something beyond my human will to ask for help.
Since my dad passed away in March, 2017, his spirit has merged with the universal source that I believe is responsible for all the gifts I see in nature. This could be Mother Nature, God, the Universe – I don’t know for sure, I just know there is something greater than me orchestrating the rhythm of our world.
As I walked to the store, I sent a quiet request to my dad, something to the effect of ‘dad, I think we could all use a better view of that beautiful grizzly bear, could you please send him a bit closer?’ When the granola bar I bought came to exactly $4.20, I knew I was heard.
About half an hour later, we watched in awe (safely from the vehicle) as grizzly bear 136 emerged from the forest, crossed the road, traversed a picnic area in front of the gas station and calmly navigated through the cars/observers watching him from the road.
What an amazing gift! Not only is he a ridiculously beautiful bear, his presence and grace navigating through the man-made obstacles in his path inspired an even greater respect and appreciation for this amazingly adaptable animal.
Human-wildlife interaction is a complicated issue – the road, the picnic area, the vehicles, the rail way, the gas station all speak to massive and complicated issues related to grizzly bears and wildlife in general. I do not mean to simplify these issues by highlighting and appreciating this grizzly bear’s adaptability.
On a more ephemeral level, however, I like to think observing his grace in a ‘less than natural’ environment could spark the compassion, appreciation and respect needed in people to do a better job adapting to him, and wildlife in general.
Based on conversations with my friends that evening about the profound impact photographing wildlife has had on our level of compassion and understanding, I believe in the remarkable power of viewing animals like grizzly bear 136. I’m so grateful to my dad for arranging this sighting for us!
If you’ve made it beyond the photos of this beautiful bear, you may be wondering, what does the number 420 have to do with my dad?
While 420 is tied to pot-culture, this number also serves as a constant reminder that my dad is always with me.
My dad was not a pot-head, but a very smart man and always looking for ways to make things easier. When he bought a used VW Van over 20 years ago, the registry was going to give him a license plate staring with 417. He specifically asked for the number 420 instead because it was easier to remember, unknowingly merging two symbols of pot-culture – the VW Van and 420.
My dad’s Hippie Van with a 420 license plate has become somewhat of a legend among our family and friends. In fact, I even told this story at his funeral. Shortly after he died, my good friend Marcy told me to be aware of the signs he will send to remind me he is still here. ‘Whenever you see the number 420, think of him,’ she advised.
Aside from the price of the granola bar, there were a number of references to 420 in relation to my experience with grizzly bear 136. On the drive to Banff that evening, I saw a couple of bill boards advertising 420 clinics (medical marijuana) in Calgary. An article I read later about 136 (from 2015) stated he weighed an estimated 420 lbs at the time. I shared a picture of him on Twitter, and the next time I checked my account, I had 420 followers.
I love having this undeniable confirmation of his presence. Being Father’s Day today, I am particularly grateful for all the gifts my father has given me.
I hope everyone is appreciating their father’s today, and until next time, continue loving life and everything wild 🙂