One artist's journey: Trying to live a creative life with grace, grit, gratitude...and a border collie.
(or perhaps I should say: greys, grit and gratitude)

15 February 2014

"Gimme Shelter"

UPDATE August 13, 2015:

Sad news today, a grizzly sow was euthanized.  It is possible that she was one of the grizzlies that I have watched, photographed and painted for over a decade. It is said that she killed a park employee who was hiking off trail without bear spray.

I cannot imagine the horror and pain that defined the last minutes of this man’s life. My heart goes out to his family and his friends as they deal, not only with his death, but with the horrific manner in which he died. As if their loss were not painful enough, they are being subjected to a barrage of insensitive barbs and rants by the wildlife lovers who insist on blaming him for the euthanization of the bear.

It does not matter if he was off trail, it does not matter if he was without bear spray, it does not even matter if the bear was protecting her cubs. A man is dead.  For those of us who choose to live in bear country, this is the sobering reality: this bear did not just defensively attack and run, she killed, fed, cached and returned to feed again. For that, the Park and bear management felt as if they had no option other than to euthanize her. Like many, I hoped and tried for better options. At least the lives of her cubs were spared...they will be sent to zoos, possibly re-habbed and released. Wherever they end up, I hope their story continues to be told.

Tears come as I write those words, for if this is the bear they say, I have watched her for over a decade as she skillfully raised a number of cubs by the roadside. She brought so much awe and joy to the countless people who were fortunate enough to have seen her. I have painted her, laughed at her antics, marveled at her parenting skills, cried for her lost cubs and admired her grown cubs as they go about their life being the bears that she taught them to be. There is a hole in my heart just as there is a hole in the ecosystem of the Lake area.

My grief and sympathy extends also to the bear management team. They know this bear and I have no doubt that it also pains them greatly to have to say goodbye.

What has saddened me in addition to the loss of this bear and the hiker, is the blame and hatred being leveled at the hiker, the park service and even anyone that did not post a dozen different petitions to save her.

The reality is that blood of this bear is on all of our hands…she dies not simply for killing and eating an ill-prepared hiker…but for all of us. She died because people, willingly or ignorantly, fail to abide by park rules and recommendations. She died because people love to see bears, get close for a few moments, take photos. Anyone who has ever stood in a bear jam or been closer than 100 yards carries some responsibility in her loss, because we helped her become acclimated to people rather than instinctively running from us. Everyone who visits the park, lives in the area or simply drives a car has to shoulder a little of the weight of her death. Because we want to visit or live in their habitat, consume the products created by destruction of wild places and allow our population to outnumber them by greater numbers every year...we threaten the wild things that we love. It is something we ALL need to think about.

I am still holding out hope that it wasn't the bear teveryone says it was...there are a lot of bears in that area.  Whether is was or not, a man was lost and a bear was lost...sad all around.

Here is the original post telling a story on one of my experiences with this bear:

There are countless reasons to spend time in the field if you want to paint wildlife...not the least of which is the chance of witnessing something truly extraordinary.  

This is the story of one of those days and one of the paintings it inspired...

It was May 17, 2011...I was driving the road South of Hayden Valley when a Grizzly with a tiny coy cub stepped out of the trees to cross the road.  "COY" is an anacronym for "cub of the year"...the wee bear beside its mama was just a few months old.

Roadside mama bears are often pretty traffic-savvy.  She waited for the inevitable stop of the traffic.

When there was an opening, she ran across first...

The cub followed...look at how TINY it is!

We had an extraordinary amount of Spring snow this particular year...and the burms created by the plows were mountains to a teeny coy bear.

Safely across the road...mama headed for the melt-off flushed Yellowstone river.  She started swimming and we wondered where the cub was...and how it could possibly make it across the wide, cold water.

Mama swam out a few yards...then turned back.

She met the cub in the water...

then turned around and waited as the cub climbed on her back.

Then she ferried the wee one across the river.

On the other side, she shook him off...

Then the two headed away from the road, no doubt, to rest and nurse.

In my MANY years of bear watching, I had never seen anything like this (and haven't since).

Throughout the Summer the cub often climbed up to sit on mama's back, much to the delight of anyone who saw them.  In watching the two later in the season, I wondered if the cub learned that behavior because of unusually late (and deep) snow.  It would be much warmer on mama's back!

The only other time I have seen a cub "ride" its mama was during the first summer that the sow with four was roaming the area south of Mammoth a few years ago.  Once in a while, if the little runt of the litter was having trouble keeping up, she would turn back and wait for it to climb on before continuing to go where ever she was headed.

These moments of discovery are simply magical...and can only be found by being out there.

"Gimme Shelter"
Oil on Gessoed Panel
9" x 12"