My Mum spotted the first bear. It was ambling through a field, on the edge of the forest and parallel to the highway, just North of Pemberton. Mr E Man thought it was a male, based on its size - and it was indeed a fine, fat, glossy, jet black specimen of beariness. We slowed down as much as the highway traffic would allow, and oohed and aahed with excitement. I was delighted to double my bear count, especially as we'd seen it from such a position of safety.
After a lovely lunch in Pemby, we proceeded South to the condo we'd rented in Whistler. Mr E Man and I have stayed at the same place a number of times - it belongs to a good friend's client, who gives our friend a preferred rate - but only during the ski season, when all the bears are (supposed to be) hibernating. The property is North of Whistler Village, and while there are new homes going up all around it, it's on the very edge of the forest and still has some untouched patches of trees immediately behind it. We often see rabbits and hares in the garden, but given the comforting presence of lots of other houses, I'd somewhat naively never thought it was wild enough that I had to worry about bears. In fact I've even walked my friend's dog - off-leash - on the road right behind the property, without a care in the world.
I won't ever be doing that again, though. Because at around 7 pm on Wednesday, after the construction crews had packed up for the day and gone home, I was sitting in the hot tub in the back garden, chatting to Mr E Man, and suddenly saw what I'd thought was a log covered in moss or lichen, situated right in the middle of the small stand of trees about 75 metres away, start... moving.
My reaction was very cool, calm, and collected.
"BEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!", I yelled.
Mr E Man didn't believe me at first, given my track record of false alarms when it comes to bear panic, but then he was forced to agree that the mossy log was indeed moving around. And had ears. And eyes. That were looking right at us.
Now, there was a construction company fence between us and the bear. But the gate in the fence, in the middle of the road that runs right by the back of the garden, was wide open. I didn't feel immediately threatened though; the bear seemed only mildly interested in us, so after alerting my parents (watching BBC World News upstairs) to the bear's presence, I came back down to the hot tub. My parents followed, bringing their binoculars, and we quickly realised that the bear was actually one of three. They were all of the species known as the black bear, but they were all different colour variants - the mother was a rich chocolate brown, with one jet black and one "cinnamon" cub. The latter was the one we'd seen first, and both cubs looked to be yearlings, in great condition. When they started to wander a little closer, we all retreated to the balcony upstairs that overlooks the back of the condo, and enjoyed almost a full hour (in the rain) of watching the bears eat plants, climb trees, scratch their backs (and arses) on trees a la Baloo from the Jungle Book (I instantly got "The Bear Necessities" stuck in my head), and generally get on with their daily lives with hardly a glance at the gaggle of humans chattering away about them just 30 metres away.
It was awesome, in the original sense of the word. What a privilege to watch three such beautiful animals, in the wild but from a position of complete safety. We all had massive grins on our faces for hours after they finally wandered back into the forest.
My camera batteries had died the day before and I'd forgotten my charger (D'OH!!!), and my parents don't have their photo uploading cord with them, so these photos are from my iPhone. No zoom, remember... these guys were close! At one point they were right in the middle of the road, but by that point I'd given up on taking photos and was just enjoying the show. Besides, my phone was getting wet.
Momma bear. The yellow fence at the bottom of the photo is right at the edge of the condo's back garden
The watchers - from left to right, one chocolate brown, one (ex) cinammon, and one (rapidly becoming ex) jet black colour variant
Over dinner I admitted to feeling sorry for the first bear we'd seen, from the car, a few hours before - I just wasn't all that excited about him any more. My Mum replied that she felt sorry for the handsome white-legged snowshoe hare that had hopped into the garden while we were all oohing and aahing at the bears from beside the hot tub - on any other day, he would have been the star attraction, but we barely gave him a glance! It's good to know that guilt and anthropomorphism run in the family...
We looked for the bears again the next evening, but it was to be a one-off performance. But what a perfomance!
Bloody typical though, really. You wait six years for the next bear, then four come along at once...