Over the last two decades, I’ve had the good fortune of watching the same bears, year-in and year-out. Names like Blaze and Murphy and Patch and Circus and Scarface have become synonymous for me with all that is truly wild.
One bear, however, I have known and documented for every year of her life.
Born to Blaze in Yellowstone’s Lake region, Raspberry – or, as Jill and I know her, Sedgie – was born in 2007 and has made her home in and around Sedge Bay.
Year after year, I’ve had the chance to watch her grow from cub (scanned slide)…
…to curious subadult on her own for the first time…
…to increasingly confident subadult staking out her home…
…to, finally, full grown adult sow.
The one part of Raspberry’s journey through life that I’m desperate to document is her first set of cubs. And it is something many photographers have been waiting for with baited breath.
For starters, Raspberry might have the most pleasant and happy demeanour of any bear I’ve known anywhere (and that includes a spirit bear that curled up next to me for a nap while I was having a rest on Princess Royal Island at the age of 15). Her mother, the Lake matriarch Blaze, will have taught her well in the art of raising cubs and I can just imagine the joy that it would be to see Raspberry with her own offspring.
And then there is the fact Raspberry has been, um, putting herself out to the world for some years now.
…and again in 2013…
…it seemed assured that her romantic (and very public) dalliances would lead to cubs.
But so far, she’s been unlucky in love (although some believe – and count me in this crowd – that she had cubs last year, but lost them at birth due to the unseasonably harsh winter combined with the poor whitebark pine crop from the previous fall).
I think her luck will change in 2015.
It might have something to do with the fact that she is bigger than ever and decided to put more time into, um, love.
Last summer, we watched her mate with three different boars and, trust me, every boar must have known what she was after, as you’ll see.
One morning, while driving out to Sedge Bay in search of Raspberry, we drove past Lake Butte Overlook and on up to Teton Overlook (I mention the specifics for those who know the area). We had been hearing that she was spending more time to the east of Sedge. Could it be because she had a crush in the area?
Why yes, I think so.
I happened to look down into one opening and find a rather large boar staring back at me.
Beside him was a non-plussed Raspberry wondering why the, um, action suddenly halted.
I felt badly for interrupting a private moment, but knew Raspberry really didn’t care about who was looking on. Unfortunately, however, the boar was a bit more private.
He looked around. And after a few (cough) false starts, decided to take cover in the timber.
Raspberry had that exasperated look that sighed, “Men!”
So off Raspberry went. Walking next to the boar. Rubbing up against him. Trying to help him calm down. And focus.
It wasn’t working.
Time to take matters into her own paws.
Raspberry drops to the ground and rolls on her back.
The boar is conflicted. He likes – and maybe even loves Raspberry (What’s not to love! Look at that coat!) – but knows he still has an audience. He can’t get comfortable.
Seeing this, Raspberry stands back up and walks away.
Now the boar gives chase.
Around and around the meadow they go, until finally Raspberry decides he must finally get the idea, and rolls onto her back (for the record, I’ve never seen a grizzly go on her back to mate before).
Again the boar is having, um, issues. He walks away.
Raspberry all but turns her nose up to him and immediately starts grubbing for food. I hear lupins are a grizzly bear’s version of ice cream.
The boar disappears for no more than five minutes. And returns.
He’s got the cock-of-the-walk look to him. Maybe he gave himself a good pep talk in front of his favourite rubbing tree.
Over he struts to a disinterested Raspberry.
She gives him a look.
He gives her a look.
Down Raspberry goes.
The boar seems to, once more, be having issues with getting down to business in front of the crowd.
He looks at us.
She looks at him.
He smiles embarrassingly.
She looks at us for confirmation that it isn’t her.
That’s it. Raspberry out!
The boar, lowers his head, retreats to the trees and crosses the road.
And Raspberry resumes eating.
We watch her grub for hours until, suddenly, she showcases her latest quirk: Evasive running. Or maybe it’s a grizzly form of P90x. Maybe she wants to look her best for the boar. (It’s not you, it’s him, Raspberry!)
Without warning or reason, Raspberry runs. Hard. Fast. She zigs left. Then she zags right. And then she stops. To resume eating.
Over the few weeks we watched her, this became a re-occurring theme. No one, including the Bear Management Team from the Lake Ranger Station, could figure out what she was doing. The best guesses I heard were that she was preparing for cubs – or she was playing. And knowing Raspberry, either option is possible.
Around 10am (having been with her since 5am), Raspberry decides the boar has had enough punishment and thinks it’s about time to give him another chance. (When will she learn!)
She disappears into the trees and, assuming she’ll follow the boar’s sent, we position ourselves down the road to where she might cross.
Out comes Raspberry, smiling and enjoying the morning sun. But instead of continuing along the animal path she’s on that would have her crossing behind us by several yards, she cuts up. To my window.
All of a sudden I have too much glass and a lot of Raspberry in my face.
Of course I’m well inside the car and after one full frame shot, I rest my camera to enjoy this close up viewing as she crosses in front of the car and walks up the hill. Of course, about halfway up the rise, Raspberry starts one of her weird evasive running manoeuvres.
Hopefully her beau boar got over himself and they had some quality private time. Most importantly though, I hope one of her romances leads to cubs next year.
She will be a great mom, for she is a great bear.
– D. Simon Jackson | GhostBearPhotography.com