"Do not leave the group, under any circumstances," warned our guide as we walked through the tall grasses. "This is 'home' to a lot of bears. You're just a visitor. Don't forget that."
Katmai National Park and Preserve lies on the edge of King Salmon on the southern peninsula of Alaska. "Most Americans aren't even aware this national park exists," commented our guide, Jim. I took a deep breath and clenched my brand new camera eagerly.
We fly fished on our way up to Brooks Falls, vigilantly watching for brown bears interested in our catch. As we approached the overlook of the waterfall, I was blown away.
Thirteen brown bears stood there, each contentedly doing their own thing — one fishing, another eating, another one splashing around. Below the falls was a group of three cubs, waiting patiently as mama bear went fishing for lunch. I could have stood there for hours just watching.
Mama bear made fishing look easy. Up jumped a salmon; down clamped her jaws. Simple as that. She started her way back down the falls when she noticed him — a hunk of a bear eying her cubs.
We held our breaths as he lunged towards the bear cubs. But Mama wouldn't have it.
Barreling down the waterfall, she let out a fierce roar, putting the male in his place.
She ran over to the shore, firmly nudged the cubs behind her, and stood guard for the next ten minutes.
"Female grizzlies will not mate while they have young cubs, so males often attack cubs," Jim explained. I saw firsthand why they say not to get between a bear and her cubs.
Eventually Mama decided it was time to move along. She turned to the cubs and nudged them along, remaining alert as they moved downstream.
No, nature is not tame. But that is a part of its beauty. That is its draw. It's fierce; it's rugged; it's magnificent.