People have many misconceptions of Alaska and its bears. I offer these pictures because I wanted to take my friends along with me on the bear trails of Alaska. I want others to experience some of the wildest places on earth, so they may appreciate and respect nature, and wish to preserve it.
I usually travel alone, I’ll take a float plane to either a ‘Public Cabin’ or tent near a salmon stream. I carry no firearms, I do carry pepper spray and an air horn. but have never had to use it. I have had many encounters with bears and respect them. They are highly intelligent and will usually show you how they feel. If I get the feeling that I am stressing a bear, I just leave.
I started my journey to Alaska with dogs on my mind. I have been an animal lover from the start. I wanted to mush dogs in the wilderness. Actually I wanted to run with wolves, but that was impractical. So I decided running with dogs would have to do. I first went to Alaska to see the Iditarod dog race. The ‘Last Great Race’ as they call it, twelve hundred miles from Anchorage to Nome. I was so enthralled with Alaska that I called my wife and told her “we are coming to Alaska this summer”. Alaska in the winter is wonderful. Quiet, stunning and if you are lucky you might see the Northern Lights. I did not take a camera with me on my first trip, I thought it would be OK to keep the memories in my head.
I did go back with my wife that summer, and we had our first bear experience. We went to Wolverine Creek, a famous bear watching area. We were in a skiff with a guide. The bears were fishing just yards from the boat. The bears were comfortable while we were in the boat. For me, time slowed down, and it was a spiritual experience. I was hooked. I went back to the Iditarod race the following year working as a chiropractor for the dogs and mushers in Nome. I went back to Alaska several times that year. Each adventure was a little more adventurous.
After so many wonderful adventures that no one would believe, I knew I just had to take a camera. My first camera froze in Barrow, the “Top of the World”. It is Eskimo country besides the Arctic Ocean. I was photographing a Polar Bear track at @-25 degrees when my camera froze, never to work again. I needed to then buy a digital camera, and at that time digital cameras were in their infancy. Most of my pictures with this camera are of poor quality, since it was a 3 megapixel “point and shoot”.
I got my first real digital camera as soon as I could. I was a Cannon 30D, 8 megapixel camera. Many of my pictures are with this ‘dinosaur’ of a camera. Since it has only 8 megapixels I must get close to my subject; therefore, I use a short, 17-85 mm zoom lens.
As I write this I am sitting on the small porch of my cabin deep in Glacier Bay. I am watching a mother bear and her two cubs forage on the wild strawberry patch. They are about 50 yards, a mere 2 seconds away from me. They allow me this opportunity to see them, to observe their behavior and interactions, I am blessed.
Being with bears is grace. Time slows, moments have many layers. There is no timer reflection, what ifs, or what’s next. There is only Now. Here is mindfulness at its peak. This connection with nature is my path. Bears live only in the most natural places. Their presence, and the beauty of the land that supports them, makes it very easy for me to experience what Native Americans call “that which moves through all things”, or the “Great Spirit”. I feel humbled and renewed every time I enter Brown Bear country.
Roy Halpern is a chiropractor living on his farm, “Hog Heaven” in Occidental, CA. with his wife Maggie and their three corgis, Rocket, Whippersnapper and Olive.