CHANGING LIVES - ONE GRIZZLY AT A TIME
By Brian Peck
Soon after moving to NW Montana in 1995, my wife and I had the opportunity to see how even a brief and distant encounter with a grizzly can transform someone’s day – and perhaps their life.
It was mid-September, and we were at Glacier National Park’s Logan Pass, an area known for spectacular scenery, carpets of wildflowers, and frequently a chance to see a grizzly in the wide-open meadows. We were there for “The Griz.”
With most of the park’s berry crop already in their bellies, many September grizzlies in the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem move to higher elevations to dig 5 foot holes for Columbian ground squirrels, or rototill an acre or two for the bulbs of glacier lilies that turned the meadows gold in June and July.
This year was no exception, and one particularly cooperative grizzly of 400 + pounds or so had been at the pass every day for nearly two weeks. I was working with the Great Bear Foundation at the time so, with a stack of their publication “Bear News” and a powerful spotting scope we set off up the Hidden Lake Trail to do some Bear Education 101.
Fortunately, “our bear” was being his dependable self and was in full view in the glacier lily meadows perhaps a quarter mile to the east. With his dark black coat and silver highlights down his back this bear was a true Grizzly Rock Star for bear viewers. Over the next hour a crowd swelled and receded around our scope as scores of hikers stopped to see this magnificent bear, pick up a “Bear News”, and ask excited questions.
With the stack of handouts down to a few and the crowd briefly thinning, a family from Michigan arrived and asked what we were looking at. When I said “a grizzly” the mom must have jumped a foot in the air exclaiming, “Oh my gosh where? I’ve got to see it, I’ve got to see it!” I pointed it out in the meadow and invited her up to the scope, which was now at 48X for one of those “up close and personal” moments that few people ever get to experience.
Her jaw dropped, her eyes grew wide, and at first she jumped back as she looked at the grizzly, which at that power seemed close enough to touch. But she quickly recovered, and glued to the scope she repeatedly said, “Oh my Gosh, this is unbelievable. He’s so beautiful. This is too much, this is simply too much. I can’t believe we’re seeing this. It’s just too much!”
Finally, other family members were able to pry her away from the scope so they could take a look, and when she stepped back there were tears rolling down her cheeks, and a smile that stretched from ear to ear. Her face was radiant. She told us that they’d been in the park for a week hoping to see a grizzly but with no luck.
They were leaving the next day and thought they would go home empty handed – until our scope and one fabulous grizzly changed everything. She told us that we’d made their day – No, we’d made their entire trip! In a rare moment of humility, I pointed out that we only brought the scope, and the real thanks should go to the black and silver bear that transformed a subalpine meadow into a lifetime memory.
Twenty years later I remember that moment like it was yesterday, and somewhere in Michigan I suspect there’s a family that still looks back on that day and smiles. Such is the power of the Great Bear to transform days and change lives if we are willing to summon the humility to look, listen, and learn.
Brian is an independent wildlife consultant with 25 years of experience advocating for grizzly bears and wolves in the Northern Rockies. Brian has degrees in Wildlife Biology from the University of Massachusetts and Natural Resource Management from Colorado State University. For 21 years Brian was a Park Ranger and Coordinator of Natural Resources and Education for the Boulder, Colorado Dept. of Mountain Parks and Open Space. Today, Brian also leads natural history trips during the summer in Glacier and Waterton National Parks for the Road Scholar program.