Thursday, June 17, 2010

Low Gear

A few years ago my dad and I sat on a park bench on the boardwalk at the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve in Fort Myers, FL. We watched a male Green Anole flaring its dewlap in the hopes of impressing a female. We spotted a Red-bellied Woodpecker excavating a rotting snag where it would soon nest and we watched and listened as a Black Racer slithered between the cypress knees a few feet below. Intermittently people would march down the boardwalk and interrupt the moment. One guest bemoaned to her partner that there was nothing to see and they continued their apparent training for Olympic Speed Walking. Our outing revealed that there is much to see if you slow down, be patient and let the natural world show itself.

The serpentine switchbacks of the Generals Highway in Sequoia National Park trace the alpine edges from 7000 feet down into the valley. It’s over fourteen miles of cliff-edged driving at 20 MPH from the largest living tree on the planet to our hotel and despite the late May snow flurries and a setting sun, we were in no hurry to leave the park. Not everyone appreciated our pace but timely pullouts allowed for us to let the speed racers past so we could enjoy the fresh mountain air, laced with a noxious smell of burning brakes. 

At one stop, a traveler had overshot the pullout and decided to stop in the road to take a photo of the landscape. A parade of cars stacked up behind it and horns began to blare along with shouts of disgust. We stopped. We waited and eventually the line of cars snaked down the mountainside and out of view.
And then the bear stepped out. This beautiful American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) had waited for the traffic to pass before it crossed the road, flat-footed as they do, walked into a meadow and then sat and relaxed. For 45 minutes we watched the bear eat grass, sniff the air and poop (not in the woods).

As I photographed the bear above I heard grunting and snuffling behind me. As I turned I noticed a bear about 15 feet away, digging for grubs to eat. 
Immersed in the moment, I later wondered why most of the humans couldn’t just shift into low gear and enjoy one of the most gorgeous nature drives around. 


  1. I agree. One of my favorite places is the cypress swamp in Highlands Hammock SP, but if there are cars parked out front, I tend to bypass it. People just don't get it... where did you see the bear?

  2. Holy cow - there was a whole paragraph missing. I just added it back in. The bear was in Sequoia National Park in California. We saw 8 that day. It was fantastic and apparently a rarity to see so many. Good to be in the Sierras in May.

  3. Lucky you! I bet it was awesome!

  4. mike@everafterarts.comJune 18, 2010 at 11:13 AM

    Getting out of the car and just walking will let you see incredible sights, even in the city. We are constantly catching glimpses of wildlife under our noses that most people miss. Everyday at lunch time an adolescent armadillo waddles past the window searching from it's own wild cuisine. The number of species of birds that fly in are also amazing and I get to see it all by just being there. Awesome!

  5. Wow - I am amazed at the number of bears you saw. We were up in Teton NP in the backcountry (aka bear country) for 4 days and saw half as many. I'm glad to hear that the bear waited to cross until after the traffic; d
    Have they learned to look both ways yet? ;)

  6. 10 minutes before the bear congress another bear and possible one of the four attending this little bear jamboree ran down and out of the woods and across the road in front of us, tried to stop, slipped on the wet surface and skidded off the road and into the woods. It was awesome. But no photos on that one. Caught us by surprise.