Tag Archives: Alaska

Under Scrutiny

Painting by Anders Björklund
Painting by Anders Björklund

Bears are often regarded as unpredictable, threatening and dangerous animals. They have the power to topple a tree, break through the wall of a house, or even tear a human to bits with relative ease. However, after years of working closely with the Kodiak bear, I’ve found them to be very intelligent and gentle giants. Numerous times, I’ve witnessed that bears are both inquisitive and contemplative, and also very tolerant.

One September day, I was filming in a forest when a large boar came meandering down the path. Bears are creatures of habit, and he probably walked that path everyday. It was like a picture from Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The boar kept a respectful distance, and I understood that it would take some luck and a bit of preparation in order to capture him on film. I decided that I would be there early the next day, set up my camera and wait for the bear to appear.

I returned to the forest just before sunrise and, with great anticipation, focused on the path. He could show up at any moment. It was incredibly quiet in the forest that morning. Only the wind whispered mournfully in the trees, declaring that winter was approaching. Birds and squirrels awoke at first light and began eagerly preparing for winter, but my attention remained riveted on the path where the bear could soon emerge.

When the day was half spent, I dug out my sandwich, consuming it without taking my eyes from the spot where I expected the bear to appear. Afternoon waned into evening, but the bear never showed up. Disappointed, I packed up and hiked back to my tent.

Why hadn’t he come? Could he have already left the area? Had I missed him by one day? Hoping for better luck, I decided to return early the next morning.

Frost glistened in the grass and the air was crisp. The spruce forest slept quietly in the darkness when I set up my camera and sat in solitary silence by the path. When the sun’s rays began to seep through the spruce branches, the forest came to life as the birds and woodland creatures resumed their activities. With each passing hour it became increasingly difficult to remain focused on the path, waiting for a bear that might never return.

Midday, I took out my sandwich. Sitting there quietly chewing, I became aware of a squirrel rushing back and forth quite close to me. He was burying seeds, mushrooms, and cones in small holes that he had dug between the spruce trees. He was so intent on his work that he seemed completely oblivious of my presence. It was entertaining to watch him eagerly filling his winter pantry.

After observing him for a while, I took the camera off the tripod and, placing it right next to one of the squirrel’s holes, settled down to wait. It didn’t take long before he was back, stuffing more winter provisions into the ground. I got some wonderful footage. Lying down across the path, I pushed the camera a little closer to the holes. When the squirrel returned with another load, he nearly jumped into my lens.

The solitude, which had begun to be oppressive, was quickly transformed into curious camaraderie. Another fascinating citizen of the forest had replaced my obsession for the absent bear. I filmed that little squirrel for about two hours. Completely absorbed by his antics, I was unmindful of any movement nearby.

I was waiting for the squirrel to return with another load of seeds when I suddenly perceived that I was being watched. Furtively, I turned my head and glanced over my right shoulder . . . and there he was! The bear stood a foot away, staring down at me where I lay stretched out over his path.

I have often lectured hunters and nature enthusiasts on how to act if you meet a bear in the woods, but this was an unusually close encounter. I concentrated on remaining calm. With my camera in one hand and the tripod in the other, I slithered over the squirrel’s pantry, keeping one eye on the bear. His puzzled gaze followed my peculiar movements. Half expecting him to pounce at any moment, I raised myself to a crawl and then, in a crouched walk, proceeded in a large half circle to return to the path about 30 yards in front of the bear.

Back on the path, I noticed that the bear hadn’t moved. I set up my tripod, but when I tried to attach the camera, my hands were shaking so badly I couldn’t slide it onto the base.

After two days of waiting, I finally had my chance to capture this bear on film. It was now or never. Exerting great self-control, I managed to still the shaking enough to slide the camera carefully onto the base until it clicked into place. With my eye to the viewfinder, I located and focused on the bear. Just as I pushed the button to start the camera, the bear began lumbering toward me. When he came close, he stopped and waited while I retreated 30 yards to set up and started filming again. We did this three times before the bear proceeded down the path to the river to fish.

I’ve often thought about that bear and wondered how he felt about our encounter on the trail. He was undoubtedly just as surprised as I was and probably also curious about this strange creature stretched out over his path. I’m convinced that he also contemplated just how to react. Bears have an unforeseen ability to think and solve problems, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he realized that I had been waiting for him the whole time.

(Excerpt from “Kodiak, Alaska – The Island of the Great Bear”. The book can be purchased from Camera Q)

Don’t miss our first ”Kodiak Scandinavian Film and Culture and Festival” on Kodiak, Alaska, November 6-12, 2017. See Camera Q for more information.

A Playful Bear Cub

The young bear clowned around outside my tent, keeping one eye on me to see if I was paying attention. He kept me company for over a weeks
The young bear clowned around outside my tent, keeping one eye on me to see if I was paying attention. He kept me company for over a weeks.

My first visit to South Frazer on Kodiak Island was in late August. Although it was quiet and deserted, evidence of the summer’s activities could be seen everywhere. The grass lay trampled and dotted with bear scat. Piles of rotting salmon lined the riverbanks below the waterfall.

I set up my tent by the lake, just north of the outlet. The fishing was great, and I lived like a king on freshly caught trout.

Waking early one morning, I opened the tent flap to find a young bear watching me from a few yards away. He studied me carefully. Then, after a minute or two, began rolling around in the grass, turning somersaults, and playing with his back paws, keeping an eye on me the whole time. He seemed to want to play … with me! Is it possible to play with a 300-pound bear cub?

The cub had dark fur, like most males. About 20 yards away, there was another cub, this one lighter in color, probably the sister of the cub near my tent. Sows, ready to mate again, usually abandon their cubs during their third summer. Left alone, not really knowing how to act, the cubs are most vulnerable. Bears are very social animals, and abandoned cubs often seek the company and security of other creatures, even humans. I’d been “adopted” before by cubs on Kodiak. While a great honor, it’s not entirely without risk.

I had plenty of opportunities to film and photograph the playful cub that stayed near me the whole time I was there. When I went down to the lake, he followed me, and when I went to bed, he laid down just outside my tent. His sister, the lighter bear cub, kept her distance.

Since then, I’ve returned to South Frazer many times and have often wondered what happened to my little friend. Maybe he is one of the giant bears that roam the mountaintops. Hopefully, he’s learned to be a little more cautious and keep his distance from dangerous humans.

(Excerpt from “Kodiak, Alaska – The Island of the Great Bear”. The book can be purchased from Camera Q )

Don’t miss our first ”Kodiak Scandinavian Film and Culture and Festival” on Kodiak, Alaska, November 6-12, 2017. See Camera Q for more information.

Kodiak, Alaska

Kodiak, Alaska

Alaska! What is it about this great, unspoiled wilderness that is so alluring to some people? It is a destination that often requires a challenging and costly journey, with accommodations lacking creature comforts like hot water and dry socks, swarming with mosquitoes and other bloodthirsty critters, and completely cut off from communication with the outside world. Why are we willing to go to great expense and difficulty for the opportunity to abstain from comforts we strived for generations to obtain? Is it a longing for a simpler life, a desire to escape from city noises, smog-laden air and bumper-to-bumper traffic or simply a challenge to see how much we can handle? I would like to take you on an exciting adventure to the Kodiak islands in the Gulf of Alaska, a place laden with history and hidden secrets.

It’s a little known fact that most of the natives on the island are descendants of a group of Scandinavian men who arrived on Kodiak about 100 years ago, married Sugpiaq women, and raised large families. This explains why so many of the natives have names like Olson, Gustavson, Haakanson and Svenson. With its high mountains, clothed in emerald green and cut through with deep blue fjords, Kodiak has many similarities to the Scandinavian Peninsula.

I first came to Kodiak more than 25 years ago to film the Kodiak bear, the largest land carnivore on earth, but I found the islands so intriguing that I have returned year after year. For a documentary filmmaker, there is a never-ending source of inspiration in the dramatic landscapes, unique wildlife, and rich cultural history.  I would like to share some of my adventures in the wilderness, my experiences with the great bear, and my encounters with history through sunken ships and archeological digs.  I found a multitude of film projects on Kodiak, and I also developed friendships that will last a lifetime. Every time I return to Kodiak it feels like I’ve come home.

(Excerpt from “Kodiak, Alaska – The Island of the Great Bear”. The book can be purchased from Camera Q )

Don’t miss our first ”Kodiak Scandinavian Film and Culture and Festival” on Kodiak, Alaska, November 6-12, 2017. See Camera Q for more information.