A Nap in the Cool Dirt

This year the sockeye salmon were plentiful in Katmai National Park.  The brown bears were feasting on loads of salmon in low water levels. Easy fishing!  An abundance of salmon is good news for the bears hungry after their winter hibernation.  Even so, a mother bear’s work is never done.   She still has to nurse her cubs and protect the cubs from other bears. A mother bear also has to consume enough calories for nursing her young throughout hibernation in the rapidly approaching winter.

As I watched a mother with three yearling cubs from a safe distance I noticed some interesting behavior.  Mamma bear was situated on the side of a steep hillside with her cubs.  She started to excavate large amounts of soft dirt with her huge claws – meant for digging.  She dug with very purposeful and powerful strokes, moving multiple shovelfuls of dirt with each stroke.  The cubs were also digging with her — except for “Junior”, the runt of the litter.

Junior rests while Mom and the larger siblings do the digging.

If you are not going to help dig Junior, you may just get buried while we do all the work…

“What are they digging for?”,  I thought as I watched from afar?   Perhaps roots, or a rodent?

These “digging machines” were impressive!  In just a couple of minutes the mother bear and her two larger cubs had dug out a flat “shelf” on the steep hillside; into this shelf they dug out a depression.


Mom and the cubs dug out a cool spot in the soft dirt for nursing.

Mom laid down on her back in the recently tilled earth and began to nurse her cubs.  She looked very relaxed, and tired, as the three cubs suckled milk from her.

This was a moment of peace and quiet with her family, not having to look around for other bears which could kill a cub very quickly.

Everyone is tired, lets take a nice nap on this cool dirt.

Soon after the nursing session, which lasted about 20 minutes, the entire family napped on the soft dirt.

It was abnormally hot and humid, perfect to bring out the biting insects (white-socks, horse-flies, and mosquitos). By covering themselves up in the cool dirt they avoided many of the nagging bugs. Looking at this family sound asleep in the cool dirt made me wish I too had some cool dirt to curl up in and take a nap.

The abundance of salmon was great for getting her much needed calories — it was also attracting many other bears into a small area.   Mother bear had to remain vigilant and on the outlook for other bears.  Soon the bear family was sound asleep in their fresh dugout.

Soon enough another bear enters the picture from above… wake up Mom !

Mom and the family quickly get into defensive mode while the intruding bear retreats.

It only took about ten minutes of valuable nap time before another bear entered the scene, from up above the sleeping family.

The entire family seemed to wake up together and spring into defensive action.  Right away they looked up towards the other bear.  The cubs started to move away from the visiting bear, whereas Mom moved towards it.  Quickly the other bear turned and ran from Mamma Bear.

I did not get the impression that this “intruder” meant any harm.  Instead it was just walking through the forest and came across the sleeping family of bears.

Mom gets some well deserved rest

Now that the bear family was alone again they snuggled back into the fresh dirt to nap again.  They were lucky as I checked back on them more than an hour later and they were all sound asleep.   I am sure the mother bear relished this rest period.

Mother bears lead a very challenging life.

Happy mother bear in her newly dug out platform

As I write this article in the wee hours of the morning in the Seattle airport waiting for an early morning flight back to Alaska I realize just how much I prefer beign out in nature — than this  noisy airport.

Soon I will be away from all the warning bells and endless TSA warnings, or loudspeakers reminding people that the “moving walkway is about to end”.  Right now I wish I could just curl up in the cool dirt in a quiet forest by a river and take long nap.  ZZZzzzzzzz

Motherhood is the greatest thing and the hardest thing”  — Ricki Lake

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