In my opinion the grizzly is the ultimate symbol of North American wilderness. Grizzlies are deeply embedded into our lore, and embody the character of our wild places. For centuries grizzlies were extinguished from their home range, and are now absent from most of their native habitat. The Sierra Nevadas, the Colorado Rockies, the Wind Rivers, The Wasatch, the Great Plains, and the Black Hills, to name a few, are all much tamer places now that the great grizzlies have been eradicated. Only the legends and the ghosts remain.
I have been enchanted by the grizzly bear since I was a child. I was never into trucks and soldiers and video games, like many young boys, but by age 10 I had read every book written on grizzlies to date. I admired their ferocity, toughness, and ability to intimidate humans as much as any creature on our continent. I eventually moved to Alaska for college, mostly to be closer to grizzlies.
I will never forget my first serious encounter with a grizzly while living in Haines during my first summer in Alaska twenty years ago. I was fishing for salmon alone along the banks of the Chilkoot River around dusk. Having had a funny feeling that I was no longer alone, I turned around and stared right into the eyes of a giant female grizzly and her two cubs. As my stomach tightened into a knot, and adrenaline blasted through my veins, I wondered what I was supposed to do. Should I shout at her, play dead, jump into the river? I knelt down in submission and froze. The mother bear slowly put her head down and started grazing on sedges gradually closing the distance, with their heads to the ground, to around 25 feet. My fear subsided, and I savored this strange sensation of being at the mercy of both the scariest and the most beautiful creature I had ever dreamed of. She made eye contact with me again, studied me, and carried on upstream with her cubs. She trusted me and let me go. I was hopelessly hooked, and thankfully, this was only the beginning….