Wow. It’s been a while. Over 2 years since my last post. It’s time for a revival!
I’ll be honest, once I handed in my PhD, I didn’t really want to have anything to do with it anymore! That and a lot of things have happened in the last couple of years. I got married and became a step-mom to two wonderful, amazing daughters. I had to heal my massive back injury and get back to health. I also passed my PhD with minor revisions and handed it in with rave external reviews. I started a new full time job in my hometown and took some time to get my feet under me.
My new husband and I got married in the forest of the Rocky Mountains… the day before I saw fresh bear scat on the trail behind our ceremony site. So my bears were there too.
After all of the madness that has been my life in the past couple of years, I started to miss my bears. My current job is great, but I’m not working with bears in the same way. I’m not in the field as much, although I take every chance I get. With all of the change, I ended up depressed. So then I had to work my way out of that too. The truth is that even when a PhD hurts, it’s still more awesome than real life. I was fortunate to have a super supportive graduate committee who really empowered me to run my project. I felt like I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing and was meant to do. Then I started working full time and being a wife and a mom and things started to run away from me. I started to feel like I was losing touch with what I was put on this Earth to do.
I needed to reconnect.
Going back to the start
I reflected for some time on how to reconnect with my purpose. I realized I needed to go back in time, to where it all began. My work with grizzly bears began in 2004 with the start of my Masters degree. The K’tzim-a-deen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary is the place where I first looked a grizzly bear in the eyes and understood so much more than any amount of data could ever tell. In August, I went back for a week. Even though I hadn’t been back in 12 years, it felt like going home.
Going home to the wilderness. Entering the K’tzim-a-deen estuary was like greeting an old friend. Sure we’ve ages a little, but we’re largely the same.
One of my colleagues from my Masters now owns the Khutzeymateen Wilderness Lodge, which is where I stayed. I knew I was there after peak bear-viewing season, but seeing bears was only a part of it for me. My first boat ride down the inlet in to the estuary was like opening the front door to my childhood home, walking to the kitchen, grabbing a snack, and sitting in front of the TV. It happened without me trying. It happened exactly as it should. I felt like I hadn’t left. The landscape looked almost exactly as it had 12 years ago. My heart grew three sizes.
With my morning coffee, I would sit on the dock and watch as the morning cloud slowly revealed the forested mountains around me.
A very special thank you to the Khutzeymateen Wilderness Lodge for making this magical cup of coffee possible.
Seals would pop their little heads out of the water to see what I was up to. The air was fresh. Mother Nature permeated my every pore. It was like getting a soul massage. Talk about a cure for depression! I felt better and stronger with every breath I took.
I revisited the “Khutz” to remind myself of where I started from. To reflect on all that happened since then. And to reconnect with my bears, and in so doing with a previous version of myself. It got deep out there. I won’t bore you with the details.
Hanging out with bears again
One of the magical things about the Khutz is how you just hang out with bears. During my PhD, I spent a lot of time working with bears. But I didn’t get to hang out with them in the same way. I purposefully chose non-invasive forms for data collection because I didn’t want to disturb bears. In the Khutz, part of the magic is how you can observe bears in their natural habitat without disturbing them. This is largely because the habitat is such good quality that bears don’t really care about you. On one of my last afternoons there, we encountered this sow grizzly bear with two cubs of the year. She wasn’t one that our guide had seen that summer, but she didn’t much mind meeting us.
And there we were… me and her and her babies. And it was perfect.
As we approached this beautiful mama bear and her cubs, I was struck by the simplicity of the moment. It was just us and them. There was no aggression. No stress. Just a chill moment in the sunshine. She brought her cubs out on a rock to introduce us. They nursed a little. Played a little. She tried to coax them in to the water for a swimming lesson. It was just an average day in the Khutzeymateen estuary. I took a deep breath, I looked her in the eye, and I asked:
What do you need from me right now? What am I supposed to do now?
She looked at me with kind, deep brown eyes, and her answer was clear:
Just tell our story. Tell people how coexistence is possible. When there is mutual respect for space and resources, we can actually get along without aggression.
I left the K’tzim-a-deen Inlet and Sanctuary with a new found hope and direction. I found myself in the rain forests and in the eyes of a mama grizzly… again. I was actually there the whole time. So what’s next for me?
I came home with a bit more purpose in my step and a plan. I’ve been working more diligently on finishing my PhD publications and just sent one to my committee for review today. I’m hoping that will be published early next year.
I’ve also partnered with a good friend and amazing photographer, John Marriott, to write a book! The book will be called What Bears Teach Us and will use a combination of science, amazing photos, and stories from the field to share all the inspirational and surprising things that bears teach us, like patience, tolerance, and resiliency. Stay tuned here for more details on publishing dates, but it will be about a year and a bit before that hits the shelves.
I’ve also decided to start taking on more contract work. I’m exploring making Grizzly Research in the Rockies my own consulting business. I’ve started a profile for my business and you can also find me on LinkedIn, especially if you have a contract!
I’ve realized, yet again, that we make our own realities. If I want to work with bears again, then I should just work with bears again. Reviving this blog is part of that journey. Stay tuned for more posts about bears. As I go through contracts and writing this book, I’m sure I’ll have much more to share than just this post about beating a depression and finding myself.
Thank you to all those who have continued to read this blog, even though it was dormant for such a long time.
Me at my wilderness home. I’m BACK!