In Native American Medicine traditions it is said the Bear is the keeper of the dream time, and she stores the teachings of dreams until the dreamer wakes up to them. Many tribes have called this space of inner-knowing the Dream Lodge.
Perhaps we should start listening to the Native Elders who provide alternative pathways to our personal and communal goals of wholeness, peace and abundance for the earth. The medicine of the bear includes a journey to the quietness of our cave where we can hibernate in silence. After dreaming we might be ready to discover the honey waiting in the Tree of Life.
This image of the bear-dream-keeper kept returning to my minds’ eye as I stood, sometimes less than 30 feet, in front of several brown bears in Lake Clark National Park.
I arrived at the Silver Salmon Lodge on the coast with 6 other photographers for a five day foray into the wilderness and among the gentle giants of the area. I never imagined we would be standing so close to them that my 100-400mm lens would be sufficient to fill my frame with their routine of munching grass and playing. Nor did I know I would hear their chewing and breathing and cub calls.
In the wilderness areas, monitored by the National Park’s system, the bears seem to recognize the humans nearby with little attentiveness. There are few people and none who are careless with garbage or food sources. So the bears go about their routine of browsing the sedge grasses and clamming at low tide until the fish begin to swim upstream. They need to eat a great deal because Alaska bears spend 5-7 months in hibernation living off body reserves.
Bears are difficult to photograph because their eyes are so deep set and surrounded by dark fur. The catch lights are slightly easier to see in the cubs’ eyes. They also seem so human like when they stand up to look for mom. We saw mostly cubs and sows and younger females. Boars and sows usually live separately except for the mating times or sharing fishing territory.
Playing cubs are like human siblings, rolling around one moment and then boxing and biting each other. After they have tired themselves out they just fall over and nap until mom has had enough feeding time and then offers to nurse them. We were so close we could hear the sucking sounds and even see the milk dribble down the face of one of the cubs. (Although still a challenge to photograph because of high grasses, merging heads and other furry bear parts.)
After one day it felt like I was a part of the wilderness. Even though there were a dozen guests at this lodge, and the same for the neighboring two camps, there was still solitude around every bend in the river and the streams between the base of Slope Mountain and the ocean’s mudflats. Lake Clark National Park is set aside to preserve this stunning beauty of volcanoes, mountains, lakes, wildlife, resources and the indigenous and local folks that share the land and water.
I suspect the important issues are grounded in the “sharing” of the natural resources. Nothing is there simply for the “taking” except pictures and memories and profound insights from our animal and elemental sisters and brothers. I have returned from these particular few days of wilderness wakening knowing I am the “learner” even behind the camera.