“My Favorite Photo Model”
By Awake! correspondent in Sweden
“IT IS late summer in the north of Sweden. The sun is just setting. I am relaxing in my car, which I have parked at the end of a little wooded lane close by a bog. I lazily look at the birch trees on the other side of the bog. Suddenly, a big brown bear comes lumbering from the forest toward me.
“I quickly slip out of the car. With my camera around my neck I creep along the bog to find a good angle. The bear stops and stares at me. I glance at the car, which is a ten-second sprint away. He lifts his broad head, sniffs, shakes his huge body and sneezes. The pit of my stomach tightens.
“As he continues toward me, I slowly steal back toward the car. Again he stops, and now he sees me. Suddenly, with a powerful sneeze he starts toward me. I quickly lift my camera. For a split second I catch his eye in the viewfinder. I press the shutter release and then rush back to the car.
“What a shot! It was so good that the Swedish post office used it as the basis for the design of a postage stamp.”
This is how nature photographer Bertil Pettersson describes one of his encounters with brown bears.
“It is my favorite photo model,” he says and continues: “An encounter with this beautiful, awe-inspiring animal in the dense Swedish forests is extremely rare. Few people have caught a glimpse of one and far fewer have taken a picture of it.”
A Cautious Fellow
“Forget any ideas that the bear is a big, slow-witted, jovial fool,” Bertil explains. “It is alert and cautious and easily outwits man in the forest. It may attack and fight, though not in an upright position, as some stories tell. From time to time it stands up to survey the situation. It usually withdraws or squats in the thicket until the danger passes. By means of its good hearing and delicate sense of smell, it may detect you long before you have the slightest idea that it is there.”
“What should I do if I happen to face one in the forest?” I ask. “To begin with, do not panic. A bear rarely attacks unless provoked. Cautiously withdraw. If it grunts, hurry up, because that is its way to tell you that you are not welcome.
“Never take an unleashed dog with you in the forest. A dog may bark at a bear, tease it, and frightened by it run with it close upon its heels—toward you! You can figure out the rest yourself.”
A Real “Sleeper”
“How does your photo model spend the winter?” I ask.
“In its underground den,” Bertil replies.
“Oh yes, hibernating,” I add. “No, it simply sleeps,” he explains. “You only need to give a sleeping bear a kick to be convinced that it is not hibernating. It will probably awaken like a human and quickly become active. Sleeping bruins have been awakened by motor saws cutting down trees and have fled from the area at full speed.”
“The bear must know the seasons well,” I continue.
“Yes,” Bertil nods, “when well-fed by the end of October, it prepares its den, bedding it with fir twigs and moss. Since it is careful and shrewd, it prefers to wait until a day when it is snowing before finally entering the den so that its tracks will quickly be hidden. It emerges in the middle of April. Then it usually drags its bed out in front of the entrance and stays there for a while before finally beginning its spring wandering.”
While showing me pictures of two cute cubs playing, Bertil explains: “Bear cubs are born in the den around the end of January. Then they are as small as rats, but they grow quickly so that when they emerge in the spring, they are big enough to roll around, fight, and play near their mother.”
Cuddly Cubs Not to be Hugged
“Anyone who happens to see such cute soft bundles in a glade would probably like to join them in their play and even hug them,” I suggest.
“Oh, be careful!” Bertil warns. “A mother bear will not even let you get within sight of her cubs. That’s why it is extremely difficult to take pictures of a mother with her cubs. On different occasions during a period of four years, I tried in vain to take pictures of a bear family from a hideout in a forest. Then, one day in May at sunset, this happened:
“I was on my way to my blind 200 feet [60 m] away when I suddenly saw a large bundle near the carrion that I had put out in the middle of the bog. A bear! Soon two half-grown cubs from last year appeared at the edge of the bog. The wind was to my advantage, blowing toward me. With my cameras around my neck, I crept 60 feet [20 m] toward the edge of the bog and crouched down behind a pine—just a stone’s throw from the bears. When the cubs joined their mother, they looked on curiously as she buried the carrion. In the meantime I took a number of good pictures.
“At sunset, before the curtain fell on this spectacle, I saw what few people have ever seen. When the mother finished digging, the cubs began clinging to her. They nudged her side and bellowed monotonously. Suddenly she sat down and began suckling her cubs. After a while she turned over on her back and lifted her head, watching her cubs lovingly while they finished their supper. When they were satisfied, they huddled up next to her to sleep.
“I left slowly in order not to disturb the idyllic scene. After this breathtaking experience, I felt a humble thankfulness toward the generous God who has created these marvelous animals.”
[Full-page picture on page 24]
[Pictures on page 26]
Sniffing the forest air
Caution—mother with her cubs