Old Mother Bear
Written by Victoria Miles
Illustrated by Molly Bang
First published in 2007
About the Story
I don’t illustrate stories by other authors, as I have plenty of ideas of my own. All my editors know this, but Andrea Spooner received a story she thought I might just want to read. She knew I wouldn’t illustrate it, but maybe I’d look at it. So I read Old Mother Bear and understood what a wonderful story it is. I really, really like it. I wished I had written it myself. I hadn’t written it myself.
So I called Andrea and said maybe I’d think about it. I finally decided that the only way to get out of illustrating the story was to ask for the impossible: I said I would make the pictures if I could see grizzly bears in the wild. Not in the zoo, but where they live. Victoria Miles, the author, immediately wrote back and said “YES! This is what I’ve always been wanting to do myself, and the best way to do it is to go on a boat called Ocean Light, which sails in the one patch of land reserved for grizzly bears and grizzly bears alone: the Khutzymateen Reserve here in Canada. No humans are allowed in to this huge forest on the edge of British Columbia, just below Alaska. But two small boats are allowed to sail up the long inlet where mother bears and their cubs come in the spring to eat the sedge grass growing along the shores. Let’s go!”
So Victoria and my daughter Monika and I flew on a small sea plane from Prince Rupert and landed on the water and were rowed over to the Ocean Light, where we spent the next 3 days with the captain, his wife and daughter, and three couples. The first two days we spent looking out at the land and going to places where we could see the footprints of bears, the skunk cabbage patches eaten by bears, the tree trunks where bears had scratched their backs and rubbed off all the bark. We saw one bear far, far in the distance, but no bears nearby. On the last day, the captain told us to get in the zodiac. We all climbed into the rubber dinghy and silently rowed closer and closer to shore. No one spoke a word.
Two bear cubs, about two years old, were playing in the sedge grass, fighting and pushing and snapping and rolling over each other. The mom had left – probably, said the captain, because she had seen a male and had drawn the male away from her cubs. Male bears will kill cubs when they can. Mother bears raise their young completely alone. So we got within about 15 feet of the two cubs and watched for about 20 minutes, all 10 of us as silent as still water. Except for the cameras. We took LOTS of pictures. One person, Roger Chou, had super lenses and is a great photographer. He let me use many of his pictures as a basis for some illustrations. The bears ran off into the bushes.
So I saw grizzly bears in the wild, and I knew what their lives were like. To get a better idea, my husband and I also went up to Glacier National Park and trekked over the land for several days, seeing the mountains, the glaciers, the huckleberries, the blooming bear grass and everything Old Mother Bear would have known. Now there are almost no glaciers or grizzlies in Glacier. We are lucky to have these parks and reserves where a few can still live wild and free.
copyright 2016 by Molly Bang