I am partway up Bear Paw, one of the many ski runs on the north face of Whistler Mountain, when I spot the familiar chocolate hue of Jeanie’s fur in a small island of trees. She lies in the cool shade of the firs on this late May evening. The ground is damp from a recent rain and the air is heavy with the scent of pine. It is dusk; there is just enough light to make out the distinct cream patch on her chest.
I know it is Jeanie in an instant, for we have met on this mountain many times before, but this is the first time this year. She is only recently out of her winter den, and I’m excited to see whether she has cubs with her. A branch cracks behind her, and then another. And then a cinnamon cub tumbles Winnie the Pooh-like out of the tree above her head, landing on her back with a squeal. She gently shoves him to the side, only to watch him rear up on his hind legs and leap at her head. He wants to wrestle, and she is happy to oblige.
Over the years, I have spent time in the company of many bears, from the black bears of Whistler to the great browns of Alaska and the winter-white polar bears of Churchill. Jeanie, however, still holds a very special place in my heart.
Jeanie was a resident of Whistler Mountain for 20 years. She became the icon for the resort, as local residents and school children followed her life story.
She was an extraordinary black bear who left a paw-print on the souls of all who encountered her. Jeanie will be forever remembered as an ambassador for her kind. In her willingness to accept the presence of humans, she allowed Whistlerites and international visitors a glimpse into her world. Being very tolerant of observers, she also became the star of the bear viewing tours.
Thanks to Jeanie, we now have a richer understanding of bears, their strengths and weaknesses, their individuality and the depth of mother-love. She showed us that bears have unique emotions, quirks and personalities, and that perhaps we are more similar to bears than we imagined. Jeanie brought joy to all who were privileged to spend time in her company. She is truly missed.
Jeanie was killed on October 20th, 2011 as a result of preventable negative encounters with people. Her daughter, Jeanette, spent the winter at Critter Care Wildlife Society in Langley, BC. She was released to the wilds of the Elaho forest in June of 2012.
It is for Jeanie, Jeanette and Jake and wild bears everywhere that I advocate on their behalf. My experiences with Jeanie and dozens of other bears have allowed me to look through a small window into the lives of bears. Education helps to promote a deeper understanding of these intelligent and vulnerable animals, one that transcends the unfounded fears based on years of misinformation, sensationalized media stories, and exaggerated campfire tales. I hope people who read my books and peruse our website (bearsmart.com), many of whom may never have had the opportunity of living or recreating in bear country, will gain even the smallest semblance of the true nature and essence of the bear – one of the most amazing animals on planet earth.
Books by Sylvia Dolson:
A Whistler Bear Story
Bear~ology: Fascinating Bear Facts, Tales and Trivia
Joy of Bears