We stand, eyeballing one another for a moment longer – me marvelling at her beautiful face, its fur dripping with mountain meltwater; her eyes are so endearing I find myself anthropomorphising her. She is, quite surely, the most majestic ‘woman’ I have ever seen.
“Hey bear,” says my guide Blakeley, calmly reassuring the behemoth mum and her yearling cub, standing slightly off to the side, that all is well in her wilderness, the pristine Great Bear Rainforest (GBR) on the remote west coast of Canada.
Serendipitous. Six months earlier in Sydney I stood face to face with another extraordinary woman who also calls the GBR home: Australian Marg Leehane. She runs Great Bear Lodge, located 80 kilometres by air from Port Hardy in British Columbia. She lives and breathes bears here, and while a guest in her floating lodge, you do too.
Up at dawn, guests – only 16 at any one time – head out in boats to watch the bears feeding on spring sedges (flowering rushes) and visit viewing blinds from where they can see grizzlies fish for salmon.
Which brings us, serendipitously, to the exquisite lady standing before me. Her cub has grown restless of our encounter and is mewing, like a lamb, for more food. Mum turns and, within a moment, is body deep in rushing water. Salmon splash by – flipping flashes of green, yellow and burgundy. Mother bear lunges, swipes and comes up trumps, a 50-centimetre fish impaled on her claws.
She moves to the other side of the river, drops the salmon and tears at the flesh with her teeth. The cub noses in for a feed. Nearby, a bald eagle lands then hops closer, hoping for scraps.
I watch all this mesmerised. Upstream, at a bend in the river, another grizzly appears, then one, two, three more. Mother bear turns her head, sniffs the air, and decides to move on. But just before she disappears into the forest, she looks back.
“Hey bear,” I say, bidding her farewell and reassuring her once again that all is well in her Great Bear Rainforest.
Three-night stays at Great Bear Lodge include two daily bear-watching sessions, lodge accommodation, gourmet meals and return seaplane flights. The season runs from May to October.