Connecting with the Spirit Bear

Living With Spirit Bears

Jeff and I fell in love with Spirit Bears many years ago. In fact we fell in love with bears of all kinds. But Spirit Bears found a special place in our hearts. They are a very rare color phase of black bears. Black bears come in many colors, from brown, to blonde, to blue, to black, to white.  

We had a dream to go and live with the Spirit Bears on their remote wilderness island on the coast of B.C. We planned to live there for two years and  make a film for the BBC about the life of a Spirit Bear. Our journey was to be made even more interesting because we would be bringing our six month old daughter Chelsea and our good friend Charlie Russell with us. Charlie had worked with us when we had made a grizzly bear film for the CBC. He was renowned for his work and studies about living with bears and understanding their behaviour.

Jeff and Charlie went out to the island first and made a tent camp. They put up three sleep tents, a cook tent with a propane stove and fridge, wood stove, and even a sink with running water. We had a shower with heated water on demand from a propane boiler. After the guys had finished setting up the camp, Chelsea and I travelled over two days by car, ferry, float plane, and our little aluminum boat to make it to our remote camp. It felt like the beginning of a big adventure.

Chelsea and I would go out filming with the guys on some days and other days we would stay in camp. There was a lot to do as all our cooking was from basic supplies. I made all our bread. I washed all of our clothes by hand in a little tub. I only took cloth diapers out for Chelsea and sometimes it would rain for ten days at a time. This made it really hard to get them to dry, even with hanging them in the tent with the wood stove going steady. About once a month we would have supplies brought in. We had a two-way VHF radio to communicate with the outside world but saw few people because we were in such a secluded location. 

Chelsea and I spent a lot of time exploring the forest and creeks of the coast where we lived. Chelsea was most contented when she was on my back, riding in her pack. She loved moving and seeing everything that was going on. We often went kayaking together, sticking close to shore and searching for sea creatures in the intertidal zone. Chelsea was also fascinated with bears and wolves. There were both black bears and white bears that lived all around us as well as a pack of black wolves.           

I loved that Chelsea’s first experiences in life were in a pure wilderness setting. Listening at night to the rain on the canvas tent roof, hearing the wolves howling in the forest around us, picking huckleberries, playing with sea weed as it washed in and out from the shore on the tide. Every direction was a child’s delight, always something to catch the imagination.

The animals had never really encountered people before so they had no fear of us. I think they could sense the trust and respect we had for them and responded with the same back to us. They would come right up to us, interact with us, or just go about their business of making a living. We often sat with them on the creeks when they were fishing for salmon. The white bear that we spent a lot of time with would purposely come to us on the creek. He was a young bear and would often get pushed off of good fishing spots by older more dominant bears. He found that when he was with us it gave him more status and he would have access to better fishing. He would also go walking with Jeff and Charlie in the forest and would sleep beside them, resting in the cool moss on a hot afternoon.  These experiences changed Jeff, Charlie, and myself forever. And I’m sure it had a huge influence on Chelsea’s life even though she does not consciously remember living there. The feeling of having a wild animal completely accept you into their world was a huge privilege. It’s a connection to nature on a very profound level. I think it’s living more truthfully to who we really are, and how we are meant to connect to the natural world.

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