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|Seeking the Silence - Page 6|
So you might understand why I was so surprised to encounter these two grizzlies traveling together. Now, I admit, it crossed my mind to hightail it out of there, especially since in all my years of solo canoeing in the wild, I'd never carried a weapon. You can feel kind of naked standing there with nothing in your hand but a camera! But I knew better. I wasn't about to run for my canoe. No way. I'd just look like prey to them. By the time I reached the canoe, they'd have closed those 50 yards in a heartbeat.
So the question was, as they sauntered closer and closer, when would they spot me? And then what? One thing was certain—it wouldn't take long to find out. Nothing here on the edge of the arctic tundra was going to obstruct their view of sand and rock and low bushes, a small divide of water, and a conspicuous man standing by his tripod.
At this point, the bears stopped, heads up, ears alert, and sniffed the air. Finally, they looked my way. Grizzlies have really poor eyesight, but it was obvious they could see me now—hunched behind my tripod, quietly trying to take a few photos of their approach.
I put my camera down and waited to see what would happen next. To my surprise, each bear made a separate decision. The "blondie" turned around and ambled back into the woods. That was the good news. However, the second bear continued in my direction until all that lay between us was a small, shallow stretch of water about 10 yards wide, and then another 10 yards of open ground. He started across the stream toward me. Still I watched, keeping my breathing as quiet as I could, willing myself to be patient and calm—all the while never breaking eye contact with my advancing companion.
When he got about halfway across the stream, he climbed up on a small boulder and perched there on all fours, looking me over more carefully. He sniffed the rock and then he looked at me. Then he sniffed the rock again, and looked at me. I thought, "That's the rock I was sitting on just this afternoon when I was taking a bath. With my luck, it's his favorite fishing rock." We must have stood there for 10 or 20 seconds (which, in bear-staring time, is approximately a lifetime), never breaking eye contact. Then—finally—I had an idea. I remembered hearing that, sometimes, if you make yourself tall and large, you can discourage a bear from further investigation. Now, how to make myself tall and large?