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Back with the Grizzly Bears


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Back with the Grizzly Bears

Ty Burhoe


Welcome my friends,

I am very excited to be writing this entry. Some of you may know about my distant past, as a wildlife biologist & grizzly bear researcher up in Montana, but I have never written about it in any detail. So for now, I'll write about that time in brief.

I was 19 when I moved to Montana from Chicago taking a scholarship to study Wildlife Biology at the University of Montana in Missoula. It was a great honor for me at the time, since it was only 1 of 2 scholarship given in the country. Besides the standard Wild Life program, I was taken on as a research student for the Boarder Grizzly Project headed by the legendary bear researcher Chuck Jonkel.

When I arrived in Montana it was like a total rebirth. I felt that my life as an adult and as a spirit reaching for my dreams was emerging. I clearly remember stepping off the plane and upon seeing the mountains surrounding the Missoula valley, decided to walk the 10 miles into town with my guitar and backpack... I was in wilderness heaven and was there to study the one creature which had captured my attention since I was small, the grizzly bear.

The three years I spent there were deeply important years of my life and gave me a deep respect for the wilderness and the great animal beings who live and rule there. In a future entry or book, I'll write about my many experiences during that time and since with not only with bears and mountain lions, but also with my great Native American shaman teacher Robert Ghopher. But for now, I'll jump into this latest adventure which has re-awakened my old relationship to one of the world's most Noble and powerful creatures.

I was invited by my dear friend Michael Mayzel to join him on an adventure up into Northern B.C. Canada to a place called the "Khutzeymateen". He had been coming up to this area for the last 12 years finding a personal sense of peace, wonder and inspiration which comes naturally from spending any time in a place such as this. The part I don't think he realized fully, is how important the bear has been to me in years past. And actually, the part that I don't think I fully realized, is how important the bear has been in my whole life, both as a spiritual symbol and as a real part of what makes the wilderness truly wild.

So we met in Vancouver and boarded a small plane to take us up to the old fishing village of Prince Rupert. The other brave adventurer on the trip was another close friend of Michael's, John Perkins(famous author). We landed and made our way to our little hotel. It was raining hard and quite cold, not the best site seeing weather, but we had some time to walk around the town, have lunch and get to know each other a bit. I immediately liked John (who has a similar dry sense of humor ~ basically we enjoy little puns and silly jokes) and I knew we had a great mix of men, custom designed by Michael, to have a fun and yet very deep experience during this trip.

From there, we awoke very early to fly up into the remote inland waterways to meet our guide and his sailboat, the Ocean Light 2

Our float plane awaiting us on a cold and rainy morning.
Somehow a perfect start to this adventure.


First class seating on this 4 seater 1957 single engine plane.

We traveled along water filled valleys (fiords), often over
500 ft deep. Stretching out in all directions were miles
and miles of stunning wilderness.

We landed just shy of the boat and were met by a small
inflatable motor boat.


From here, we motored up the river towards the ship, but before even 5 minutes went by, we already spotted and stopped to hangout with our first grizzly of the trip. I was so excited to have such a clear and non-stressful view of a bear. From the water and with bears who really had no bad associations with humans, they really had no reason to react to us.

Our first grizzly of the trip

As we quietly drifted in closer to shore, we at least got some
interest between big mouthfuls of long grass


After 30 or 40 minutes of hanging out with him, we motored the rest of the way into a beautiful little harbor where the boat (and our breakfast) was awaiting us.

The Ocean Light 2, a beautiful 71 foot sail boat.
Our home for the next few days.

It was such a treat to step on board this amazing sail boat. Inside, it is decked out in hand crafted wood with a full kitchen, dining area, separate sleeping rooms, two bathrooms and plenty of hanging room on deck. Read about it here.

So we had a lovely breakfast with Tom (the captain) and his wonderful wife Jenn and daughter Sarah before we headed out for the rest of the day to basically find, and hangout with the bears.

Once we were out on the open water, we headed up into the narrows of the river estuary. It became obvious right away why this was named one of the world's unique wilderness treasures. It is absolutely, the perfect conditions for the grizzly bear to flourish and is at the same time perhaps the most beautiful raw nature I have ever seen. Dozens of waterfalls cascading down cliffs hundreds of feet tall, singing melodies which echo across the valley. Wisps of fog hanging in pockets of trees and the smell of rich earth and wet pine filling the air. Then up ahead, meadows of deep, green long grass spotted with lupine blue and other wild flowers. Then, within this stunning setting, we spot the rich brown figure of a large grizzly, grazing in one of the island meadows.


John's large smile as we quietly float in
to where this bear is feeding.


The bears generally go about their business and
allow us to follow them around for a while - what a blessing.


After a while, we spotted another male feeding along the other shore. So we went over to see what he was up to. This guy seemed to be focused on finding a certain tiny flower for his meal. It took more work, but he was very focused and seemed to find all the hot spots for that particular flower. Bears are generally vegetarian. They love fish when the fall comes, especially when they need to put on weight and get lots of protein for the winter months, but other wise they are expert gatherers of grasses, flowers, roots and berries.

Focused on finding those yummy little flower heads...


Then we noticed a new bear entering the scene from the other shore who was clearly in a hurry. This bear had seen a new comer to the area (a bear Tom had not recognized either) and was tracking him to check them out. So we went around the little island in time to find him swimming across the channel. Wow, that is a sight. They are superb swimmers, so quiet and graceful.

Swimming across the channel to find the new bear.


Once on land, this bear shot into a full run (0 - 35 mph in 3 seconds). Nose to the ground picking up the scent and then at a moments notice, stand up with perfect posture (10 feet tall) to locate the other bear. I would never want to be the object of such attention...

Such agility and speed, you wouldn't
realize it watching them quietly grazing in the meadows.

Again this bear swam another channel before charging
off out of sight in search of his prize.

Great shot of him shaking off.

Michael and Tom are quite accomplished photographers and had very nice gear with them. They were able to get photos worthy of books and outdoor life magazines. It is the perfect place for any professional photographer to have a once in a life time dream come true. All the shots in this diary I was able to get with my cheaper hand held canon "sure shot", so it gives you an idea of how special and how intimate of an experience this really is. Tom is such an expert in finding and anticipating where the bears are and where to observe from so the bears, if the so choose, travel towards and by us.


Michael taking photos of the bear mentioned above.

Tom standing on an old moss covered tree
to see where the bears are.

John and Michael taking a little shore break.

A bear happy Ty.

We were able to capture some beautiful photos of the bears with
stunning mountain backdrops and surrounded by wild flowers
and the tall blue lupine flowers.

Awesome snow capped mountains in the distance.

Surrounded with wild flowers and lupine.


The day continued with a quick look at a well used grizzly trail. These trails have been used daily by the grizzlies for thousands of years. In areas where the moss grows dense, you can see that each footprint is deeply compressed into the earth. We humans symbolically say, "walking in the footsteps of our ancestors", well the bears literally walk in the footsteps of the ancient bears on many of these trails.

These grizzly trails weave a web throughout the forests.
These prints are 15 to 20 inches in length and
in-dent the earth a good 4 inches.


It was hard to imagine that this was actually only our first day out here. We had spent very intimate time with these great beings and by their sheer purity and absolute innocent, wild nature, we all felt changed inside. You know, it is an interesting thing. In the Eastern spiritual tradition, the Guru is considered a being (or experience) that has great weight. The more weight a boat has in it, the deeper in the water it sits and thus the larger and further the ripples travel. There are certain people who carry this kind of presence and one can feel when they are near. But this same thing can occur within nature and indeed, the grizzly bear is such a Guru. The impact of the presence of these wild beings is truly that of royalty. They are the Kings and Queens of the wilderness and being near them molds the very molecules in our bodies.


Letting us spend 20 minutes with him while he peacefully grazes.
What a gift for us.


Then we traveled back to the Ocean Light 2 around 8pm. Of course, since we are far north, it doesn't get dark until 11pm. So before dinner, we took the kayaks out on the calm waters and spent some quiet time soaking up the feelings and images of the day. Becoming present and awakening to a greater sensitivity of what is actually happening around / within us, is the ultimate course of meditation. This whole day was a process of becoming present and it seemed that now even the nature around us was settling into a deep calm.


The calm evening bay ~ an ease of heart.

Returning from our pre-dinner kayak meditation.


The next morning we were up early for another amazing breakfast cooked by Jenn. She is actually the force behind the scenes holding it all together. Keeping the ship operating, cleaning, cooking truly goumet meals, communicating with clients and organizing their business out reach. She is the gravity holding together all the loose ends so Tom can completely be present for what no one else on the planet can do, bring people safely into the world of the grizzly.

Then we headed out for more time with the bears. By this point we were without a doubt one big happy family. Just as Michael had predicted, John and I became fast friends and found many commonalities both personal and spiritual. For those of you who do not know his work, you have got to check out his writings and maybe find a way to attend his workshop. He is an extraordinary man with years of experience in two very different worlds. One is living with the natives and shamans, deep in the Amazon. The other is being an Economic Hit man for the US government and later, writing several best selling books about the tragic truths behind what the government is actually up to. He is defiantly a man who has seen the world, inside and out. Check out his writings and interviews.


John and Ty


Within minutes of reaching the meadows we saw a beautiful blond female who was keeping track of a potential mate who had swam across the channel. He was a little more shy of us than she was. So by the time we reached her, she was entering the water.


Getting ready to cross.

Entering the ice-cold water, which doesn't seem
to bother them in the least. 

These bears are amazing swimmers.

Such beautiful, calm faces - especially these bears who don't
recognize humans as a threat, we are mostly just a curiosity.


The funny thing, is that once she got to the other side, she began ignoring the larger, shy male who was hiding in the bushes along the shore. It wasn't long before it seemed kind of familiar. Almost like we were watching a furry version of a soap opera. Even though she swam across the channel to find him, if he came a little closer, then she would walk away and find a comfortable log to stretch out on. And the more she seemed not to care, the more interesting she became to him. This went on for the next two hours.

Looking for a comfy place to lay out.

Finally settling on this nice old fallen tree.

She faces away from him, but frequently turns
her head enough to make sure he is still there.
She is amazingly good at this technique.

So good in fact, that we all start falling in love with her...

This poor guy doesn't know what to do. So he just lays down on
his own log and waits it out. A smart move indeed.


Then she gets up, takes a swim, eats some yummy grass and
then, making sure he is following, strolls down river a ways.

The "Come hither, but wait..." look.

He finally catches up and puts his smooth moves on her.

And like a teenage romance, all he does is put his head on her
shoulder and then walks away. It was very adorable.


We stayed with that couple for a couple of hours before we went exploring with some other bears. But ultimately, the very special time we spent with these two bears, watching this very complex and dramatic mating ritual was by far the highlight of the day.

We returned to the boat to do some deep water crab fishing for our dinner. These waters drop to 150 feet just meters from the shore and drops to 500 - 600 feet in the center of these narrow fiords (water channels). So the deep, cold waters are prime crab and cold water fish habitat. Jenn, John and myself went out in the afternoon and pulled up 4 deep water crab traps to find 2 large crabs awaiting. So combined with some fresh salmon, baby buttered potatoes and amazing Jenn style salad, we had a meal fit for the Gods and Goddesses. I also had brought an amazing bottle of Italian, 2001 Barbaresco red wine as a compliment for this meal and wow, it was the perfect end to a perfect day.


Captain Tom showing us some stunning photos from the day.
The Barbaresco in the foreground (if you are interested...)

The one and only 13 year old Goddess of the Khutzeymateen, Sarah!!!

She is such a joy to be around. We all hit it off right away.
Sarah with John at the dinner table.


Michael and Ty after dinner, but before dessert.
Nice position in a meal to be...


The following day we left our amazing spot and sailed back out of the Khutzeymateen valley 26 miles to the ocean. The time we spent there will forever be anchored deep in my spirit. The experience is truly a once in a life time adventure and yet, Tom and his family offer these trips to a select few each and every year. If you have any desire to experience something like this, then there is no choice really, this is the trip to take. and if you contact them, tell them Ty sent you...

However, before we left the valley, we were blessed with a quick visit with the King grizzly of the valley. This is an old male bear that in the fall easily weighs 1,300 - 1,400 lbs and stands close to 13 feet tall.

We sat close to shore and soaked in his amazingly solid and powerful presence. He really didn't care much about us, since he was busy filling his belly with the nutritious tall grasses after a busy spring of mating and establishing his position of the Alfa male of the valley.

In the tall grass, his huge shoulder muscle hump indicated
to Tom immediately which bear this was.


Occasionally he would look up at us to see what we were up to.
You certainly knew it when he had you in his gaze.

And when he became curious and began grazing his way closer
to our position just off shore, it was an easy decision to back
out into deeper waters. (telephoto lenzes do a lot huh...)


The Ocean Light 2 sail boat anchored in the Khutzeymateen valley.

Looking back towards the river meadows as we sail out to sea.

Reaching the open ocean on such a beautiful blue sky day.

The dynamic duo, Michael and Ty on the deck of the Ocean Light 2.

This is the gang ~ Jenn, Tom, Sarah, Ty, Michael and John.

Finally, when all is said and done, we are back to the lives we lead. For me, it is back to my music, practicing and traveling to visit and share with the communities of music, art and nature lovers - you all. For others it is something else, hopefully a work that feeds a hunger within as well as the outside.

I must say, that the time I have spent in nature over the years, is what gave birth to the craving to express and share through music. Without a deep relationship with nature and even more so, the somehow spiritual roughness of the wilderness, I would not have had the awakening within me to dig for the nutrition inside. I have, and will always hold the bear in highest respect. For it is the powerful spirit of the grizzly bear that will fight for the right to live. A grizzly will turn towards its wounds to come face to face with life's most intense treasures. This leaning towards our dreams and pushing forward through hard times is a quality the bear, inside every soul, can teach us.

Thanks for allowing me to wander into non-music related parts of my life. I am happy you join me on these adventures. More soon...

Deep peace to you, (and a sprinkle of some raw, wild passion as well...)

Much love,