Shyla and I headed for a normal bike ride this morning, in sunshine and warmth. She was her usual happy self.
I started by taking a few photos of Shyla, like I usually do in the morning. Then, we set out to ride through a pine forest on a sinuous trail perched on a steep slope.
At the start of the trail, I heard some loud sounds of branches breaking, like there was a large animal right ahead of us. Just as I realized that we should probably stop, we rounded a curve in the trail - and I saw a mother bear and a cub very close in front of us.
They'd been lured to the area by the Buffalo Berries that I wrote about the other day. They are ripening now, and the bears seem to love them. There are many bushes of them in our neck of the woods.
The cub reacted to us by climbing the nearest Douglas Fir tree. The mother fled downhill and stopped about 15-20 yards away behind some low pine trees.
The mother then started vocalizing while standing still and watching me, Shyla, and her cub. Her vocalizations were not even slightly aggressive. Rather, she grunted to the cub repeatedly, just like I observed wild mother bears do last summer in MN. When a sow's cubs are in a tree, the sow often grunts to them from the ground.
However, this mother's grunts were interspersed with moans. I learned last summer that moaning is a sign of extreme anxiety and fear in a bear.
Fortunately, Shyla showed absolutely zero interest in going near the cub or the sow. She stood very close by my side.
I started talking to the sow, just like I heard my instructors talk to black bears last summer. Don't worry - I didn't believe that the bear understood my words but I wanted to display confidence and calm in my tone, to try to keep the sow calm. I told her in a soothing tone that I was going to leash my dog. Then, I calmly told her that I was going to take one photo of her cub. Finally, after what was probably only a minute but seemed like ten minutes, I told her that we were turning around and leaving.
As Shyla and I started to walk away (I had the leash in one hand and was pushing my bike with the other), the sow increased the cadence of her grunting to the cub. The cub immediately descended from the tree (we were only about 10 yards away) and ran downhill to his mother. Then, the two them seemed to vanish without a trace into the thick forest.
Here was the one photo that I took as I talked with the mother bear. Isn't that a beautiful cub? Look how big his/her ears are relative to his/her head. It's as if cubs are born with adult-sized ears and their heads have to grow into them.
It was truly a magical experience that I'll never forget.