From Our Readers... 1
For far too long news outlets have been dominated by stories that paint grizzlies as threatening and problematic. Some writers would have us believe that grizzly bears are demonic and evil. This public furor has fed a campaign mounted by politicians in the northern Rockies to remove protections for grizzlies, institute a trophy hunt, and kill on sight any grizzlies deemed to be “a problem”—ultimately with the intent of confining a reduced number of grizzly bears to wilderness areas too small to support viable populations.
Laura Simms regaling grade-schoolers
The essays posted here were sent to us in response to an invitation we extended to readers of Grizzly Times and our Grizzly Times Newsletter to correct these narratives of negativism. They consist of prose and poetry featuring an inspiring or magical experience with grizzly bears, whether through an encounter, an observation, a reading, a video, or even a dream. We hope through these contributions to not only promulgate a positive vision of grizzly bears, but also foster a community of mutually inspired people willing to speak up for grizzly bears and others who care about these animals.
“Grizzly” by Ellen Bass
She grazes in a meadow, sulfur blossoms spilling
from her jaw.
At this moment she seems so calm, she could be holy,
if what that means is something like being
wholly unaware of the good she gives,
how even her rooting tills the soil
and even her shitting ferries the seeds
and even her bathing is a joy to behold
as I am beholding her this morning
as she leans over a water hole, her shadow first
and then her reflection on the skin of the water,
then the splash as she enters, the pond opening,
rippling, and the scritch as she scrubs
her head with her paw, the great planet
of her head that she dunks and raises, shaking
the water in wide arcs, spraying
the lens of the hidden camera. And now
she climbs out, water rivering off her fur.
She is drying that huge head
in the long grasses.
And here she hunkers
over a bison carcass, slowly ripping free
the shoulder. Those precision instruments
that work with an ease that seems—yes—delicate.
Blood stains the river and stains
the snowbank and stains the rock.
Vessel carrying the chemicals of life—
hair and bone, flagella and bloom.
She carries them, lumbering forward
as she sinks her teeth and feeds.
Used with permission from Ellen Bass
Ellen Bass is an acclaimed poet who has won many awards, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. The poem “Grizzly” is in her collection of poems, Indigo, published by Copper Canyon Press.
“In Honor of Monica” by Cecelia Mink
I was raised on a farm and cattle ranch in southern Idaho. It was hard work but rewarding to spend part of my summer on a horse looking for lost calves in the mountains. My three favorite things: horses, cattle, and mountains. It was wild and adventurous. While in the lower Sawtooth Mountain range my dad made it clear to us kids that we were to leave the wildlife alone. He would say, “We are in their home”. Co-existence was mandatory. I had no idea at the time how much this experience would come full circle later in life.
I have always loved bears. They are larger than life to me. It started with Smokey Bear. Then I heard of the famous Queen of the Tetons, Grizzly 399. I was smitten.
September of 2021 changed my life forever. Word spread that a mama grizzly, Monica, and her three cubs were killed in Polebridge, Montana, after becoming conditioned to eating trash left in a trailer by some irresponsible people. When I saw the picture of Monica with a tear coming from her eye, I vowed that day I would become an advocate for these creatures of grandeur even though I had no clue what I was doing.
I am an avid hiker and backpacker and I have yet to see a grizzly bear in the wild. Every day I think of that tear coming from Monica’s eye, which inspires me to keep fighting for these precious souls. I then think of my dad and I ask myself, “Why can’t everyone just learn to co-exist? It isn’t that hard.”
John Muir offers a quote that perhaps captures our relationship with grizzly bears best: “Bears are made of the same dust as we, and breathe the same winds and drink of the same waters. A bear’s days are warmed by the same sun, his dwellings are overdomed by the same blue sky, and his life turns and ebbs with heart-pulsing’s like ours and was poured from the same fountain….They truly have a spirit that we as humans have.”
When I think of this quote, I see them as my kindred spirit.
Ceclia is a wildlife advocate from Idaho, currently living in Whitefish, Montana
"One Day I Met a Bear" by Louisa Willcox
If I had been moving any faster, I would have plowed into the grizzly bear. With the momentum of my seventy-pound pack, I fell backward. For a second that felt like forever, our eyes met. We were as surprised as we were drenched by a thunderous downpour. Then the bear wheeled, crashed through a creek and vanished in the darkening woods.
What happened? Who was this mysterious being anyway? Grizzlies became my obsession. The more I hiked in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, the more I was smitten with the animal that defined it. Learning about the ways of the bear meant appreciating its plight—the destruction of its habitat and the hostility of many who live in and around grizzly bear country. I felt compelled to act. Four decades of conservation work perhaps represent a gesture of atonement for the harm we Europeans have inflicted.
As I dug into the lives and ecology of bears, I unearthed new levels of our connections with “Bear,” a word that shares the same root word as “breath,” “birth” and “bury.” For time out of mind, our lives have been intertwined. We ferociously nurture our young, teaching them not less than everything about how to live in the world. We have long shared similar foods—bison, berries, salmon, and roots. We share a sense of intelligence, playfulness, courage, and resilience. I was not surprised to learn that one of the oldest stories told throughout the Northern Hemisphere, from Greece to Siberia, is about the Woman Who Married a Bear.
But I continue to be surprised and dismayed to find that despite much-improved education about grizzly bears, their habitat, and nonlethal conflict deterrents such as bear pepper spray, too many bears continue to be killed unnecessarily. Although we currently have more bears in Greater Yellowstone than at the time of my encounter, we have still not assured meaningful restoration of the Great Bear or ensured that there are enough bears to fill historical ecological roles. As those of us who have long advocated for bears have become grizzled, we need a new generation of advocates willing to speak up for grizzly bears and the magical wild places they need to survive.
For more about Louisa see: https://www.grizzlytimes.org/interviews-louisa-david and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qW-oX6u4f6Q
"Changing Lives One Grizzly at a Time"
by Brian Peck
Soon after moving to Montana, 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. In mid-September, in the glacier lily meadows at Glacier National Park’s Logan Pass, we saw a grizzly with a dark black coat and silver highlights down his back.
A family from Michigan arrived and asked what we were looking at. When I said “a grizzly” the mom jumped a foot in the air exclaiming, “Oh my gosh where? I’ve got to see it!” I pointed it out and invited her to look through my scope, which was at 48X for one of those “up close and personal” moments that few people ever get to experience.
Her jaw dropped and her eyes grew wide, “Oh my gosh, this is unbelievable. He’s so beautiful. This is too much.” Other family members pried her away from the scope so they could look. Tears rolled down her cheeks, and a smile stretched from ear to ear.
She told us that they’d been in the park for a week hoping to see a grizzly but with no luck. She told us that we’d made their day—no we’d made their entire trip! 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. Then I gave the family a copy of the Great Bear Foundation newsletter and urged her to help ensure that grizzlies survive. She thanked me and promised they would help.
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 was an indefatigable advocate for wildlife and a consummate educator. For decades, he was a leading voice for grizzly bears and wolves in the Northern Rockies and worked as a wildlife consultant for Great Bear Foundation, Sierra Club, and Natural Resources Defense Council, among other groups.
"Sharing the Land" by Bill Leikam
Since 2009, for the past fourteen years, I have made an annual journey up to my friend Bob’s base camp where I spend time on rare occasions watching the grizzlies climb to the rocky mountainside where they turn the rocks and devour the grubs beneath. I have watched them cross the creek about a quarter mile away moving east up along a valley that skirts the edge of Sun Dance Mountain.
Just last week I returned from my annual journey to the Badger – Two Medicine Wilderness in Montana. This year I decided for the whole time that I was in camp that I would not speak. The week before I arrived my friend Bob who owns the sacred land that camp is located on, sent me a photo of a bison not far from camp. Now that’s extremely rare and Bob wrote, “Maybe this bison is an auspicious sign.”
Be that as it may, on the morning of July 7th, 2023, I decided to take the dog Sonny off to where Bob had seen the bison. We, Sonny and I, were up on a promontory looking down on a small lake with a stream leading downhill. No bison there. I turned and looked behind myself and off to my left, maybe 200 yards distant, walking right along, was a big brown grizzly just moving along minding its own business. Sonny saw the bear and started toward it. She didn’t get far before I shouted, “No, Sonny! No! no! Get back here!” Sonny came back. The bear glanced at us, and kept right on going.
Seeing that bear that close caused a stir in me that said, “What a beautiful spirit. We can both be here and enjoy the land.”
Bill Leikam co-founded the Urban Wildlife Project that focuses on studying and advocating for gray foxes in the San Francisco Bay area.
Karin Lease is an artist and nature, animal, civil & human rights advocate who lives in Sebastopol, California.
"Cosmic Spirit of the Great Bear"
by Karin Lease
The following email was sent to us by Karin Lease in response to our request for anything written that captures the magic and mystery of grizzly bears. We publish it here with Karin's permission:
"My heart breaks with the beauty and vulnerability of these magnificent bears.
I am in tears as I read the newsletter and look at the photos.
There is so much fear and ignorance in humanity that I find it unbearable (lol oh no... I didn't mean to do that!) at times. And I feel so helpless in the face of it...
I'm sure you've seen the film that I think is called The Weir? Did I find out about it from you? To me, it tells everything we need to know about bears. It is so touching and miraculous actually. I love that film so much.
I wish I had a grizzly story to share, but alas I have never experienced any bears, excepting black bears.
Thank you for your beautiful and evermore essential work.
I am including a very amateur painting I did of two bears."