The mist swathes its thin veil, soon to be dissolved by sunlight, around the towering pines in the Swedish Lapland summer night. We are waiting for the bears, inside a warm, safe and mosquito-free hide, in the forestland of Swedish Lapland.
The bear has fascinated humans throughout the ages and it has always been surrounded by mythology, awe and wonder. In Sami mythology, the bear was considered holy, with supernatural powers and abilities. To be protected from its forceful energy, you had to look at it through a brass ring.
“There is, still to this day, much mythology surrounding the bear. It is highly intelligent and you can sometimes get the feeling that it’s reading your mind”, says Mikael Suorra.
Mikael is our spotting guide from the company hide & see, he has Sami roots and amongst other things he is trained in finding injured bears. One of his life goals has now come to pass.
“I want to make nature accessible. Everyone who is fascinated by wild animals should be able to see them in their natural environment, in safe, comfortable conditions.”
The camera is our tool and we have set up inside a rugged log cabin in roadless country. As we walk the last bit of the way to the hide, through a portal of dense shrubbery, it is almost impossible to not feel one’s pulse rising. Along the way, Micke stops and shows us bear droppings and a clawed stump where the bear has been looking for ants. Suddenly, we can see a bright glade, surrounded by pine heath. Once there, we are welcomed inside hide & see’s hide, pleasantly warm on this cool, early summer evening. Here, the beds are already made, Swedish fika (coffee and pastries / snacks) has been prepared and our vantage points are waiting.
Once inside, we must be silent and preferably without perfume or aftershave. Going outside to answer the call of nature is strictly prohibited. At hide & see you will find a modern indoor toilet, with cleverly devised ventilation to keep the animals from catching our scent.
Micke has considered everything. The delight is in the details. For example, each photo opening has its own separate shelf that won’t move because of someone else’s movement when you are taking pictures, one of the simple, yet clever solutions along with footrests for the height-adjustable spotting chairs. There are Sami engravings on the platter that is used to serve soft flatbread, suovas (lightly smoked reindeer meat) and home baked buns with handpicked lingonberries. As the hours pass and your mind and eyes begin wandering, you can find yourself looking at interesting, unexpected details here and there, or reading interesting literature about animals and the natural environment.
Micke has considered everything. The delight is in the details.
Bear spotting means waiting. Hours of relaxation and meditation, perhaps rare in your everyday life. As you wind down, it all becomes an interesting time for self-reflection.
“You can’t set an alarm for a bear. It comes whenever it pleases. I’ve laid out plenty of treats for it though”, whispers Micke, pointing towards the carrion outside.
“There’s a female with two cubs, they sometimes come here and I have seen what they like. It’s my own secret recipe”, he smiles.
A female with cubs? Isn’t that dangerous?
“Of course, you must show respect towards all wild animals. A female that considers you a threat to her cubs will of course react, just as I would if someone threatened my children”, explains Micke.
He says that it depends on how you act, on assessing the bear and the situation. In our case, the bear knows very well where we are. When you are out in the forest, you can be sure that the bear knows about you long before you are aware that it’s there. There are many misconceptions about bears, the claim that they whistle as a warning for instance.
“The whistling sound you can hear from a bear is a result of it sniffing and breathing through the nose. The suggestion to play dead when you meet a bear is also a bit of a myth, that would at most be taken as a sign of submission. The bear has a sense of smell seven times more sensitive than that of a bloodhound, it can sense the level of adrenaline in your body, you cannot trick it”, explains Micke.
The heavy door and the rugged log walls feel extra safe now. We are happy that we will not be going outside to answer the call of nature.
Time passes and during the evening and the night the sounds in the surroundings change. Your own breathing and the nocturnal serenades of the birds lull you into a calm, yet still alert state of mind. A fox comes by and steals some of the bear food. The raven caws. We are told it lives in symbiosis with the bear. Where there are ravens, there are often also bears.
As our eyelids become heavy, Micke pulls out a trump card to raise our blood sugar. Solar cells power a refrigerator, a freezer and provide electricity in the hide. Vanilla ice cream with warm cloudberries has never tasted as good as this. We enjoy, in silence, with a cup of coffee to further revive us.
Then, suddenly. There! There, something’s moving. Is it…is it really?…nah…yes, YES, it’s a bear! Calm and seemingly resolut, it towers between the trees. It lumbers forward towards the laid out food. Its brown fur shines in the midnight sun as it passes a sunbeam streaming through the pine branches. It sniffs, huffs, looks up towards us as if it thought to itself “a-ha, there you are, ogling me”. It calmly walks around the feeding spot, scratching with its claws, picking favourites and working frantically to dig out the treats, skillfully hidden, allowing us time to take pictures. It licks its snout, looks up, keeps eating and sniffing around. It is in no hurry. We look on in awe, camera shutters frantically clicking, immortalising our encounter with this fantastic animal. At last, it walks out amongst the pines, onto the surrounding mires, seemingly full and satisfied.
Its brown fur shines in the midnight sun as it passes a sunbeam streaming through the pine branches.
We just sit, beaming. We have met a bear, at a safe distance, so calm, beautiful and wise. With a feeling of euphoria in heart and soul and memories that will last a lifetime, we sleep soundly in lovely beds. Micke wakes us and treats us to breakfast before we leave the next morning. We leave the hide the way we came, this time, carrying an amazing experience in our minds. We take one last look back at the glade. Doesn’t it feel like someone’s watching us? Hmm…
Text: Anna Bergström
Photo: Maria Åsén