by Dave Hanks
Drip, drip, drip, the ice is slowly shrinking from around the dugout entrance. The ground is alternately bathed with warm sunshine followed by snow flurries, each competing with the other for dominance throughout the day. The air has lost its wintry chill for that irrepressible taste of spring. The mother is restless. Deep down she feels an insatiable desire to move. She is torn between the thrust to exit and savor this new time and the two balls of fur that are nestled helplessly upon the bed of pine/fir boughs. She hasn’t eaten for over four months nor eliminated either. Her body cries to rectify these two imbalances.
Laying back upon the vegetation heap, she softly nudges her precious bundles – licking them so very carefully and thoroughly all over their pudgy little bodies. They respond to seek that life giving gland, so abundant with rich, nourishing milk – second only to seal’s in butterfat content. A few days more she must follow this routine, repressing her own ever increasing needs until the cubs can safely greet the new world on the outside.
Finally the day arrives. The sun is most welcome today and it is suddenly warmer than those days that have preceded it. The twins feel it too. Frisking about the enclosure they become bolder. They poke their tiny noses through the entrance to sniff all the delightful aromas. The temptation is too great for all. Mother squeezes out of the opening and the babies follow joyfully behind. The haven that has been home for so long is soon to be abandoned.
Patches of gleaming white cover the mountainside and the bears gingerly step upon it to slide on all fours to the bottom – such fun! Then back on another patch of snow to repeat the process all over again. Green covers the ground between the white patches and mother stops to sample it, but not for long – it is still too dry. Later in the spring she will return when it has become more succulent, to follow the Elk migration back up the mountain. But now the urge is to move down toward the creek bottom. The cubs rough and tumble all the way – what exhilaration to be out and about in so vast a playground.
Toward the bottom, the cries of Ravens alert the sow to move toward where her nose has been directing. There on the bottomland meadow is a Bison. It is dead – succumbed to the relentless, unforgiving forces of winter. The bad luck of the Bison is good luck for the bears. Famished from so long a fast, it is a gift from the Gods of nature. A few swats with a gigantic paw disperses the birds and a low growl, coupled with a short charge, keeps an accompanying Coyote at a discrete distance. Gorging herself with tremendous quantities of the meat, her yearly cycle is started once again. Such a massive body has great protein requirements. This need, combined with feeding a pair of always hungry cubs, will occupy most of her thoughts for the next six months.
Finally satisfied, she scrapes a heap of leaves and twigs over the carcass in an attempt to hide it – then down to the water for a long needed drink and then back again to the meat. Once more she must dislodge the persistent Coyote. Jealous of the treasure, she will lay upon it and woe unto anyone who might stumble into its perimeter. Other bears must be taught to keep their distance. Old “Ursus” requires a lot of space and is not overjoyed by trespassers. Boars especially, must be met and dealt with immediately. A new, tender cub makes a delicious meal – little would he care whether it might be his own offspring.
A heretofore gentle mother surprises the wee ones with swats that at first cause bewilderment. It doesn’t take long for them to understand that she means business. If they are to survive, they must learn discipline. They stay within range of Mom and then dash behind her when danger appears or when hearing her low grunt. She periodically reassures them of her love when she lays upon her back in a half sitting position. They then greedily proceed to nurse and to nestle into Mom’s warm, soft body.
They will meet many new faces this first summer: Badger, Weasel, Skunk, Elk, Deer, Moose, Sheep, and many kinds of rodents – to name a few. Each must be learned. Can they be trusted? Are they good to eat? Ground squirrels abound and are so delectable – a gourmet delight is in store if they are lucky enough to catch one. They spend hours plowing up large tracts of earth to get at them as nothing is more preferred.
As the season progresses, the bottomland meat sources give out. Now it’s back to the higher country, slowly moving up as the grass becomes fresh at each level. They seek that flower with a fleshy bulb below and learn from mother how to dig and what to dig for. The young will become master diggers, as this is what the Grizzly inherently does best. The “lion’s share” of their diet will be roots, bulbs, and just plain grass. Their life is one of total freedom – wild and exhilarating. They fear nothing in their natural world. Let us hope that the human species will allow them room to retain this joyful existence. They are too precious of a commodity to lose forever!