Answering Nature’s Call with Spirit Bears in Canada!

Janice K. Johnson

“Hey Art, Can You Go Pee Again?”

It’s an odd thing, but I’ve had some good wildlife sightings when just standing still and, uh, relieving myself. Mostly owls peering down at me, but just last month I was in the Great Bear Rainforest attempting to photography the Spirit Bear and just when I took a break, one ambled by.

I first photographed these white-phase black bears way back in 1990, long before this region of British Columbia’s coast was designated as global treasure. Now, working on my magnum opus wildlife book, I headed back to this rich temperate rainforest in hopes of seeing this ghostly bear again. We had only four days and the waiting was long. To pass the time I taught a quick class in how to take abstracts; after all, there is always something to photograph, especially when the main objective is proving elusive. We were visited by spawned out salmon, Steller’s jays, American dippers, and a very curious, very black, black bear. Spirit or Kermode bears are merely a color phase of the American black bear. They just happen to carry two alleles of a gene that turns them a creamy white, but they are not albinos.

So when the spirit bear appeared for the first time, I zipped up and grabbed my camera. That session lasted a total of fifteen minutes. My fellow travelers implored me hourly to pee again, but that charm wore thin as did my stream. The next day she regaled us with another 15 minute appearance. Half an hour in four days and we all felt very lucky. That is the nature of wildlife photography.

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