Besides moving about as fast as a banana slug in a rain storm, they're also kind of stupid because there is always one assigned human who knows a lot about bears and has to tell the others where to look and what they're looking at. John usually takes the visitors to the river in the morning and Blakely takes them in the evening. John and Blakely never complain or swat at their fellow humans when they ask the same dopey questions over and over.
I really don't mind the humans, however, because they don't bother us and we don't bother them. In fact, the scent of the humans keeps the big scaredy-cat male grizzlies away while us girls go fishing. There was even a scientific study that showed this arrangement actually helps the bear population because it lets the moms and cubs eat in peace.
My name is Miakoda. I'm almost one year old. I'm not a baby anymore. I'm a big girl.
I have a twin bear brother. Mama takes me and Kuruk everywhere. We like to play and swim in the river. Mama catches fish for us to eat. Today she caught a great big salmon.
I saw her splash her big, furry arm into the water. She knocked the salmon against a rock. Then she pulled it out with her mouth. The humans saw her, too.
"Good job, Mama! I called. "That's huge."
Kuruk and I ran toward Mama. I ran ahead of Kuruk. Then he caught up and pushed me down. We tumbled on the ground and wrestled together.
"Children, don't fight. There's enough for everybody," Mama said. She stepped on the fish. Then she tore it open with her teeth.
Kuruk splashed water in my face. I didn't splash him back. I didn't want to play anymore. I was hungry.
Mama held the fish for me. It was still moving.
I love to eat the fish eggs. That's the best part. Mama says they're good for me. The eggs have lots of fat. They will help me grow big and strong.
Mama says Kuruk and I must sleep for the whole winter. I'm not tired yet. I don't want to go to bed. But Mama says I will get tired and sleepy soon.
Bears, bears, bears. It's always about the bears. Humans think they're cute and cuddly, and they even give fuzzy, stuffed toys in the shape of bears to their own kids. Would they ever give a fish to a kid at bedtime? No, we get mounted and hung on the wall or put in silly fast-food commercials performing rap songs.
Let me tell you, those bears can be vicious. I've witnessed horrific things upstream in that Neekite River. Poor cousin Myrtle, God rest her soul. But that's not even the half of it. It's not an easy life being a Pacific Salmon.
The government says we need enhancement because our population took a nosedive in the 1980s. So they started the Quatse Salmon Stewardship Centre on the northern part of Vancouver Island. Sure, it sounds all touchy feely, but if you ask me, it's another name for state-sponsored terrorism against fish.
First, the technicians knock out a female and hang her up by the tail. Then they cut her carotid artery, drain her blood and extract her eggs. The guys don't get away scot-free either. The humans milk them for sperm and mix it with the eggs. Voila, new babies and lots of them. There is a 99% fertilization rate, which represents a huge increase over the 5–10% rate found in nature. Next, we're crammed into tubs and given food when we're old enough to eat. Some of us try to jump out but they've got us in lockdown mode.
When we're big enough to leave, they cut our fin off. They say it helps identify us later for tracking and statistical purposes, but it seems purely sadistic to me. Then they open the gates and we swim down the Quatse River into the ocean. At last, all appears well and our lives run deceptively smoothly with our beautiful silver scales glinting in the sunlight-dappled depths of the water. There's enough to eat and plenty of room to roam. Life is bliss for a few years. Then suddenly one late-summer day, the boys and girls begin to have urges, if you catch my drift. In fish talk we call it spawning. We have a built-in GPS mechanism that guides us back to our home town.
But talk about dastardly deeds. Those double-crossing humans made the pipes at the salmon centre just wide enough for our release. Now that we've grown, we're too big to fit through the openings so we can't return to the Centre. We've got to find someplace else to go. Most of us will go through the coastal inlets and up the rivers into mainland British Columbia to find suitable spawning grounds. We swim against strong river currents and jump over rocks. Our energy is depleted and our organs begin to shut down. Our complexion changes from a beautiful iridescent silver to a duller color -- golden tan in my case. Other species turn pink. And what's waiting for us at the end of our journey?
Bears, those damn bears.
If you go: For information on planning a trip with the ecotourism company Great Bear Nature Tours, see www.greatbeartours.com. For information about British Columbia, including Vancouver Island, see www.HelloBC.com or call 1-800-HelloBC.
David Lee Drotar's travel stories appear in Mountain Living, The Globe & Mail, New York Post, The Buffalo News and numerous other publications. He is the author of seven books including Steep Passages: A World wide Eco Adventurer Unlocks Nature's Spiritual Truths (www.brookviewpress.com).
Signs of Alien Life Among Us by David Lee Drotar
Nome and the Speed of Sound Through Materials by Edward Readicker-Henderson
Salmon and Red Cedar by Pam Mandel
Western Canada Through the Eyes of a Child by Tim Leffel
Other Canada travel stories from the archives
Books from the Author: