I pulled into my parking spot in the back alley of a lodge I was staying at in a small BC town last fall (October 2020), anxious to relax and grab a beer and a bite after a long day of photographing the vibrant fall colours of the West Kootenays.
I emerged from the vehicle, my arms loaded with camera gear and various driving ‘knick knacks’ from the back of my car.
When I swizzled my body around to thrust the car door closed with my hip, I found myself looking directly into the back yard of a house on the opposite side of the alley.
‘Quaint’ is probably a good way to describe the yard, with a brown lattice fence flanking the edge of the property, trees, flowers and various vegetation sprouting from the lawn, and a wooden staircase winding down the rocky escarpment on the side of the house.
From my perspective, the stair case was framed by layers of soft greenery, adding a mystical quality to the scene. I watched in stunned silence as two large, dark figures ambled down the stairs and made their way towards the lawn.
My brain told me they had to be large, black dogs – that is the only thing that made sense – but my gut immediately knew, of course, that they were bears.
The two black bears causally made their way across the grass, towards an opening at the back corner of the yard. I watched as their dark bodies filtered through the diamond-shaped openings of the lattice fence.
Remembering I was holding my camera, I managed to snap a photo of the larger and darker of the pair as he made his way down the cement steps. He looked at me uninterestedly before continuing down the alley with his partner.
The pair was about 50 meters away before I realized I should be surprised, concerned and maybe even a little scared.
It was 4 pm in the afternoon and I was standing in the alley of a small, but thriving, BC town. I was out of my vehicle and the bears were a mere 15 to 20 meters away.
There were houses to the left, a lodge to the right, a gas station across the street – while there were no other people in the alley at that time, human inhabitancy surrounded me.
Friends, before you continue reading, please consider this request:
Imagine we live in a world were it is universally accepted that bears are not scary, aggressive and something to be feared. They are simply animals being animals, making their way through the world, adapting to their surroundings as best as they can.
Should bears be causally wondering through small towns? Probably not – perhaps this town should be doing a ‘better’ job of deterring bears from entering the town limits. We humans undoubtedly need to do a better job of coexisting with non-human beings.
However, this story is not about highlighting the wrongness of our the world – how bears (and other animals) are forced into urban settings because we ‘selfish humans’ have taken over their natural environment.
It is a simply a story about three bears, and the profound recognition that these remarkably beautiful animals have always been with me in some form, whether in my reality, imagination or dreams, subtlety urging me to embrace my innate courage, adaptive knowing and DESTINY.
I felt no fear at all, which was odd considering this was the most surprised I have ever been by the presence of bears. I have photographed hundreds of bears, but mostly safely from my vehicle and ‘out in the wilderness.’
‘Hmmmm,’ I thought to myself, ‘maybe I should I alert someone to their presence?’
‘OF COURSE YOU SHOULD KERRI!!,’ I mentally screamed at myself.
I reported the bears to a nearby business owner and was told they were two of three black bears who had been forging in the town site for the past couple of weeks.
“They usually just come out at night,” she said, “but they are fine – nothing to worry about. The big one left me a nice present to clean up after eating from my pear tree last night.”
In the fall, when bears are bulking up for hibernation, they are not only attracted to the garbage in town sites, but the myriad of fruit-baring trees which grow so abundantly in the lush, BC climate.
While the business owner’s response jolted my psyche a bit, I understood the truthfulness of her words.
The presence of bears in human-populated settings in general should not be taken lightly, of course. But the reality is, hundreds, perhaps thousands of bears make their way through townsites, picnic areas, campgrounds, etc, every year, particularly in the fall – the vast majority of them remain unseen, unheard, unnoticed.
The bears, the reassuring response from the business owner and the peaceful energy of this quaint little BC town transported me to a blissful state of connection.
As I made my way downtown to find a restaurant, I found myself standing at the opposite entrance of ‘bear alley.’ I did not see the bears, but there was a van stopped about half way down.
Curiosity drew me towards them. I suspected they had their eyes on the bear pair.
As I approached the van, I got a brief glimpse of one of the bears scrambling down a large tree in a vacant lot between two houses before joining his partner. The pair moseyed away from the alley, out of the lot and out of sight.
“We have been driving around following them for an hour,” the woman in the driver’s side informed me excitedly. In the back sat two adorable children – a boy of about four and a girl of about six.
“Aren’t they amazing?! Have you ever seen bears before?” I asked.
“Yes, but never this close,” the mom answered.
The little girl was bursting at the seams, beaming with excitement.
“We watched them walk across the bridge then walk up to some buildings then cross the street then climb a tree then eat some apples then climb another tree then walk across the lawn then…” a number of ‘thens’ came spilling out as she enthusiastically relayed the movements of the bear pair.
“That is so cool!!!,” I exclaimed. That little girl was so ridiculously adorable!! So was her brother, of course, he just could’nt get a word in.
I was overcome with joy. Seeing people, particularly children, get so excited about bears is indescribably heart-warming. Tears of gratitude escaped my eyes as I continued on my quest to find food and drink.
Later that night, I came face to face with the third of the three bears – the ‘big one’ – and had one of the most profound experiences of my life.
More coming next week, in part two.
Until then, continue loving life and everything wild 🙂