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In the Company of Wild Bears: A Celebration of Backcountry Grizzlies and Black Bears
     

In the Company of Wild Bears: A Celebration of Backcountry Grizzlies and Black Bears

by Howard Smith, Michael H. Francis (Photographer)
 

Most people conjure up fearful images of mammoth-sized grizzlies with gaping mouths full of razor sharp teeth when they think of bears, but wilderness aficionado Howard Smith and internationally acclaimed photographer Michael H. Francis show another side to these massive bruins. In the Company of Wild Bears melds fascinating real-life human-bear

Overview

Most people conjure up fearful images of mammoth-sized grizzlies with gaping mouths full of razor sharp teeth when they think of bears, but wilderness aficionado Howard Smith and internationally acclaimed photographer Michael H. Francis show another side to these massive bruins. In the Company of Wild Bears melds fascinating real-life human-bear encounters with never before seen world-class photography to create a unique experience most readers have only dreamed about. Instead of scaring people out of the forest, In the Company of Wild Bears  invites them in to take a closer look at the lives of these incredible beasts.
Join Smith as he takes a Beaver floatplane to the majestic mountains of Alaska to mingle with Alaskan brown bears, treks the Teton Wilderness to get an up-close and personal glimpse of grizzlies, and almost gets bowled over by a mother black bear and cub who crash, bam, and boom through the brambles on the Appalachian Trail—literally missing him by inches. Smith’s deeply descriptive writing makes you feel like you’re right there on the trail experiencing everything firsthand as he does.
Also included are numerous informational sidebars on bear protection, hibernation, understanding bear language, sharing living spaces with bears, and more. And with the continued threat of grizzlies being an endangered species, a new light is cast on the important value of bears in the wilderness. Each chance encounter will leave your mind racing, your heart pounding, and your feet itching to get out into the woods on your own.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Smith (Yellowstone Memories) delivers a loving tribute to the Ursidae family that will delight animal enthusiasts and could even make a convert of famed (and faux) bear-hater Stephen Colbert. Smith combines accounts of his true-life encounters with bears across North America, from Alaska's Talkeetna Mountains to the Grand Teton and Shenandoah National Parks, with no-nonsense sidebars that dispense useful information for people interested in seeing bears firsthand. Supported on almost every page by Francis's gorgeous photos, the book more than meets Smith's goal of providing an account that is "representative of what it means to walk in bear country." One of the most entertaining adventures involves an exploration of Wyoming's Pilgrim Creek near Grand Teton National Park, which also features Smith's surprisingly rugged West Highland terrier. Smith's explorations also serve to counter what he calls "sensational" stories about bear maulings so he can encourage people to safely explore the backcountry. The book is best at showing that bears are "a metaphor for simply enjoying the sparkling wonder of wildness." (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781592289523
Publisher:
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date:
09/01/2006
Pages:
248
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

And then we see them.

Three huge brown humps graze below about fifty yards apart from each other. Buzzing high above to avoid any disturbance, the brown bears are feeding resolutely; they pay absolutely no attention to us. Their snouts are buried deep within emerald green grass, searching for tender shoots and yanking choice fistfuls for their pleasure. Occasionally each bear’s head rises to cop a quick look-see around before being stuffed back into verdant pasture. Only one bear bothers to look up at our plane as we skim overhead. Excitement meters peg as we realize it’s only minutes before we’re walking with them.

Gary eases back on the throttle and the great cacophony of engine roar lessens to something slightly quieter than a noisy motorboat. The Beaver slowly glides down as we turn over Cook Inlet away from a vast grassy plain where a good two-dozen brown bears are grazing. It’s almost comical to see these immense giants feeding like buffalo out in the sedge.

My mind is trying to cope with the realization that so many bears are congregated in one spot. I’ve seen photos of as many bears almost on top of each other at Brooks Falls and McNeil River here on the Katmai Peninsula. But, I never dreamed that I would have this unbelievable opportunity. At Brooks Falls and McNeil River the bears often sport white foam-flecked mouths, a sign of nervousness from proximity to other potentially lethal bears. In contrast, the brown bears beneath our wingtips show few physical signs of stress, perhaps due to the mile-plus width of this estuary meadow which enables them to spread out with room to spare—they’re often within ten yards of one another; occasionally isolated as far as a quarter-mile distant.

In part bears are congregating here because of lush vegetation growing almost exponentially in Alaska’s early summer warmth. Rich soil on these flats coupled with virtually endless sunshine provoking wild growth among sedge grasses add up to a bear’s buffet fantasy. The other factor drawing them here is the prospect of romance—it is breeding season.

For the most part they just mill around feeding. But, that doesn’t prevent a female from sidling up to a boar and nudging him a little with her head or body indicating her interest. More often it’s the boars that are pestering sows; hounding along behind females, close on their flanks.

Our approach tightens and the bears swing out of view. Now, forty feet above the coast, we curve sharply diving into a river melding with the sea and then it’s twenty feet, ten feet, and finally touchdown as pontoons grab milky glacial snowmelt throwing up spray, splash, and frothing white waves slowing our plane to a stop.

 

We’re home.

Meet the Author

Howard Smith is an inveterate wilderness junkie with a passion for anything outdoors, especially hiking, rafting and backpacking. His book, Mountain Harmonies: Walking the Western Wildernesses, chronicles his love of wild lands. He has also written 250 journal articles and six professional texts. 

 

Michael H. Francis is an internationally renowned wildlife photographer with thirty single-photographer books to his credit. His work has been published by the National Geographic Society, The Audubon Society, The National Wildlife Federation and Field & Stream, Outdoor Life and Sports Afield magazines, among many others. 

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