I have a love-fear relationship with Alaska bears. I REALLY REALLY want to see one in the wild; I'm not leaving Alaska until I do.
And whenever I hike, I REALLY REALLY worry that one will cross my path.
All the hikes I went on in Sitka had bear warnings. A couple times, as I got deeper into the woods, I got spooked, my ears perking up at every strange rustle. The bear experts tell us that for a grizzly, humans are more a nuisance than a potential dinner; they would just as soon stay out of your way as attack. The two things you shouldn't do though, is startle them, or run. To a bear, run = chase. To avoid startling, you're supposed to make noise as you hike--talk loudly, sing--anything to give them a heads up that you're in the area. If you had been behind while I hiked this weekend, you would have heard me loudly chanting gibberish: I swear, I swear, I want a bear. Or, when I got spooked by a suspicious noise, that would become: I swear, I swear, that wasn't a bear.
I never did see any bears in the wild on this trip. But I did find my way to the Fortress of the Bear, a sanctuary for orphaned and rescued cubs, an alternative to their euthanasia. Each of the 8 animals in the refuge has a story, and I got to practice taking photographs without worrying about startling or running.
If and when one crosses my path, I can only hope that I'll have the presence of mind to freeze rather than bolt. Or at least, get one good shot before bolting...
Resident black bears Smokey, Bandit, and Tuliaan. The volunteer at the sanctuary asked me to send her my photos, because she said she has never been able to capture the three of them playing together. I think they were posing just for me...
Brown bear (also known as grizzly bear) siblings Lucky and Balloo.