[Editor's Note: Have you had a close encounter with nature? In this ongoing blog series, Nature Conservancy staff share their thrilling and unexpected encounters with nature. Read our stories – and then share your own!]
By Jay Pruett, Director of Conservation for The Nature Conservancy in Oklahoma
I was on vacation for about two weeks in the Canadian Rockies in July 2012. As the director of conservation for Oklahoma, hiking in Glacier National Park — the Crown of the Continent — was an opportunity to experience entirely different habitats and wildlife from what we have back home.
There was a river that ran by the lodge at which I was staying, and I walked on a trail along it, taking photos of a waterfall. One of my favorite pastimes is taking pictures of nature and wildlife, and I spotted a wildflower beside the trail. I squatted down to take some photos, and when I stood back up, there was a large black bear about 30 feet away on the trail.
Thirty feet — that’s like being at 1st and goal!
I have been within 30 yards of a mother grizzly with her three cubs — potentially a much more dangerous encounter — but this bear was really close. I stood up. When he saw me stand up, he stood up as well; to make himself look big, perhaps (it worked), or to get a better look at me.
I stood very still for a moment, and I knew I shouldn’t run. I tried to make myself look bigger by putting my arms out, and thought to myself, “If this doesn’t work, then I’ll start yelling.” But then the bear got back down on all fours. As it turned out, there was a small path that went off the trail we were on and up the hillside; he walked up that path instead of coming closer towards me.
My next thought was to get some photos, so I followed behind and off to the side of him up the trail for several minutes. He crossed a park road and headed up a valley. I stayed on the road to take pictures of him, and some rangers stopped with the crowd that was gathering. Both rangers said it was the largest bear they had seen in the park.
When I first saw the bear, my thoughts weren’t of panic; I knew not to act like prey. But it was an amazing encounter. We had happened upon each other in this moment of our normal — and very different — lives. I felt privileged to be meeting him in his habitat.
Seeing the bear transformed me from feeling like a visitor to the habitat to feeling like a part of the habitat. I loved watching him in this world that he knew, foraging, digging for ants. It wasn’t just the bear, but the bear in his whole environment that made for this incredible close encounter. I crossed from my little world of walking along taking pictures, into his world. Our planes of existence intersected each other for a moment, and I’ll never forget it.
[Image: The infamous black bear. Image source: Jay Pruett/TNC]