His caution was impeccable, speed unbeatable and alertness always. He'd just escaped two roving boars who'd seen him as prize meal and he was flagging from the effort. Napping with his chin resting on a log afforded him a brief and guarded respite from the cruel, friendless world that surrounded him.
This is a photo I took a few years ago, while guiding in Katmai, of one of the most remarkable bears I've had the opportunity of being around and observing. The previous year, this cub and his sibling were under the protection of their full-sized and fiercely protective mother. I watched her defend them many times and once the pair sought shelter behind my camp as she fought off a hungry boar, eager to eat the defenseless cubs.
When I saw them the next season only one cub had survived winter - the one known as Max. Max and his mother were never seen apart, and well into his third season he was still suckling at her tit and living with the security of her defense.
One evening I took a group into the meadow and saw the mother and cub sauntering in our direction. Being familiar with a bear is not the same as being comfortable with a bear, so we stopped to see what they'd do. Eventually the sow lay down on her back and Max proceeded to nurse on her nutritious extract. Once he’d drunk his fill they both stood up and marched slowly toward us. The mother, mind you, was the queen of the region. She was massive and although we'd just witnessed her tremendous capacity for compassion I'd also seen her battle. She could be very intimidating.
She walked within three feet of us, stopped and began giving our assembly a full sniff down. Breathing seemed to cease and with my index finger on the pull chord of a flare, I whispered to the group, "Don’t make eye contact". After she'd taken in her information, she casually walked away with little Max in tow. Client and guide alike shared the exhalation of air and the ear throbbing surge of adrenaline as they retreated.
The next day we saw the pair again. This time however something new happened and little Max's life was forever changed. When a randy boar pursued his mother, she did not decline his offer. She was ready to mate again and the mother son bond was forever broken. The little guy had been brought up, cared for and protected by a potent mother but in an instant he was alone in the world, and worse yet, a vulnerable, easy victim within the Ursos arctos pecking orders.
For the rest of the season I watched him evolve into his new rank and position and I have never felt more certain of a creatures scrappy adaptability.
It's been a few years since I've seen this remarkable bear. I like to imagine that if he's alive he's become the Kahn of Katmai.