Cold air whipped against my face, making me forget it was August. Rain pelted my cheeks, causing me to pull my black-knit cap over the entirety of my head. And, the rushing of the wind exhilarated my spirit as our boat raced through the water looking like a red blob. I was on the adventure of a lifetime.
It was my first time in Canada, but it certainly won’t be my last. Deep in the Clayoquot Sound of Vancouver Island, surrounded by nothing but trees, mountains, fresh air and water, my family and I were on our way to see a sight few are fortunate enough to see, wild black bears.
We had been warned about the bears all week-long at Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, a resort so hidden that it is only accessible through seaplane. With 20 of us traveling from all over the United States, making up half of the guests at the resort, the guides and owner were not taking any risks.
“If you see a bear, do not stare at it head-on,” said Managing Director, John Caton, in a no-nonsense attitude that forced all of us to sit up a little straighter. “Do not turn your back to it either, or they will think you are submitting to them. Instead, turn sideways and slowly give them their space.”
Wild black bears prefer to be alone. In fact, they are terrified of one another. A trait I could relate to at that moment. After four days of family closeness, it was all to easy for me to wistfully lust for a moment of alone time, a moment of peace, a moment of quiet. Alas, that was not the case. Family surrounded me, and I was a victim of their love, influence, opinions and actions. Needless to say, I was envious of the black bears.
Black bears are loners. Only a mom and her cubs stay together, and that is only for two years. Black bears prefer solitude with a wide radius. Even male bears don’t wait around for their cubs’ birth; the moms move away for fear of the males choosing a cub for his meal. Even though that aspect of their personalities didn’t appeal to me, their desire for solitude definitely did.
Black bears are also dangerous, curious mammals. We were forced to leave all our food, mints and even gum in the kitchens due to the impeccable noses of bears and their impulsive curiosity when it comes to sweet treats. I willingly handed over my five packs of gum, Emergen-C and mints all in the name of safety. No way was I going to fall prey to a hungry bear.
Nevertheless, after four days of fear, much of which we forgot in the safety of camp, we were out in search of the bears we
were told to steer clear of. We were all a little annoyed with one another, and we were all ready to put the previous night’s typical, inevitable family fight out of our minds.
Speeding atop the water, rising and falling with the waves of the Clayoquot Sound, rain pelting at us through the mist, we approached our first shore. Every other thought in my head slowly faded into the background as my eyes honed in on the sight in front of me. There he was, a black bear. He appeared a lot smaller than I imagined, but his beauty and magnificence captivated all of my attention.
“This bear appears to be about three or four due to his size,” our guide informed us.
Size was no issue. He moved onto the rocky shore turning over giant beach rocks in search of crabs. We were all taken aback by his nonchalance to our ogles and stares, but we soon learned that bears are nearsighted, so they probably didn’t even realize we were there.
The bear retreated into the forest with no success at catching a meal, and we retreated back into the ocean, elated at our first bear sighting.
It wasn’t long until we cam across another bear and another and another. Our captivation started to cease and the cold water began to come back into the forefront of our thoughts, until we saw the cubs.
They were brown. They were twins. And, they were scampering behind their mother without a care in the world.
The furry brown playfulness of the cubs sent joy soaring into my heart and a smile immediately appeared on my face. The cold and the wet disappeared from my thoughts as new thoughts emerged.
The cubs couldn’t be more than a few weeks old, yet their strength was already showing. Copying their mother they turned over rock after rock in search of crabs, eels or other “meals in hiding”.
We sat there watching them for about twenty minutes, and I couldn’t help but fall more and more in love with each tumble, leap and sniff.
Their carelessness reminded me of a much simpler time, a time when I could run around in the back yard and my biggest fear was my older brother pushing me down, a time when I could just follow whatever my mother was doing and not make any decisions of my own and a time when the world seemed so simple.
As we grow older, it is easy to turn into a black bear of sorts. It is easy to focus on only ourselves, wander the world alone and refuse interaction. We become so self-involved that all other “bears” stay away for fear of injury. In turn, we also stay away from others to avoid hurt, pain, confusion and risk.
Growth is inevitable. In two years, the cubs I saw on the shore with their mom will venture off and forget each other all together. When they see one another again, they will scamper away or attack out of fear, and their mom will birth new cubs and keep them far away from her previous kin.
Venturing away from the marvelous black bears, still turning over rocks on the shore, I looked to my left at my cousin and other family members surrounding me. As difficult, painful and annoying family can be sometimes, I know one thing for sure their love will not be forgotten as I grow older. Their acts of kindness will not erase with age. And, I will never be a lonely “black bear” forced to wander in the wilderness all alone.