Last week I took a creative adventure with the Kermode bear. Over several days, I sketched gestural and landscape sketches inspired by this interesting animal in my journal.
The Northern Amazon
My adventure began after watching a fascinating documentary on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPfanUO_gkg) over the weekend. The bear is very rare and is found only in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia, which is a province in the western region of Canada.
Like the spirit bear, the rainforest is unique; it is a temperate rainforest located along the British Columbian coast and is around 6.4 million acres, making it the largest coastline rainforest in the world (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/canada/great-bear-rainforest-british-columbia/). The rainforest is home also home to the puma, sea lions and otters, the orca and whales, salmon, and wolves, deer and many other interesting animals. For its ecological qualities, it is at times called the ‘Amazon of the North.’
The Ghost of the Rainforest
At a first glance, you may think that the Kermode bear (Ursus americanus kermodei) is simply an albino bear, for it has fur cream and white in colour, which also gives the animal a nebulous or ghost-like appearance. To me, as I observe and sketch this bear, the animal’s white fur brings out its black eyes, a contrast which gives it a soul-piercing gaze.
The bear is not an albino but in fact, a subspecies of the North American black and brown bears, as biologists have discovered. The bear carries a recessive gene that makes it fur cream and white in colour (Dybas 2018, 34).
It is believed that over many generations, this feature became dominant in the population. The bear’s ancestral line can be traced back to the last Ice Age, which ended around 14,000 years ago. At this time, black and brown bears that lived and roamed this landscape may have been separated from the Canadian mainland by ice. Over time, and through inbreeding, the white fur became more common (Dybas 2018. 34).
One can also imagine that during the Ice Age, a bear with white fur may also have had an advantage in a frozen-bitten landscape. It could camouflage, blending and disappearing into the ice.
The bear lives somewhat like a wanderer. During the cooler months of the year, the bear lives up high on the slopes, near streams (Dybas 2018, 36). Then, in spring and summer, the bear wanders down to the intertidal zone, living on berries and grasses, waiting in great anticipation for the arrival of salmon, which will provide them with a rich boost of protein.
The Spirit of the Forest
The bear plays an important role in the rainforest’s ecosystem forest but is rarely seen. As Taylor Kennedy notes (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/canada/great-bear-rainforest-british-columbia/), it takes patience and expert-skill to track and observe a bear.
The Kitasoo, who are part of the T’simshian group, the First Nations of this region, venerate this bear as sacred, call it Moksgm’ol, ghost or spirit bear. The bear
https://coastfunds.ca/first-nations/kitasoo-xaixais/. According to their creation myth, when the world was covered in ice, Raven, the Creator, turned one in 10 bears white and then told them that they would possess special powers. One of these was to lead selected people to ‘special’ locations where fish from the ocean could be found (Dybas 2018, 28). As the Kitasoo tells us, the legend reminds them ‘…to be thankful for the lush and bountiful land of today.’
Today, the Kitasoo continue to lead us, teaching us how to look after the bear’s population. I encourage you to visit their website (https://coastfunds.ca/first-nations/kitasoo-xaixais/) to learn more about the conservation and research projects and ventures they are developing.
My Spirit Bear
So, Ancient Explorers, through this short adventure, I have learned much, thanks to the wonderful resources available online, but also through the process of sketching.
I invite you to join me on a creative adventure. Each week I will post a subject on our social media pages and then, I invite you to sketch and write in your journal and finally, share your creation with us.
Until the next adventure!
My illustration of the Moksgm’ol is now available from Redbubble as a range of products at: https://www.redbubble.com/shop/ap/52043831
Cheryl Lyn Dybas, “Spirits of the Great Bear Coast.” Natural History, July/August 2018, 34-39.