If you go down to the woods today …….
Dark eyed, tired, seemingly bored with life, they lumber salivating out of the forest dark, enticed by the sound of the tractor and the scent of one hundred kilograms of salmon hidden under logs in four caches.
Ursus arctos may have a muzzle like a dog, but it also bears some resemblance to us. That’s why we infantilise them, find them endearing like characters in children’s stories; Teddy Bear, Winnie the Pooh! They can stand upright, but they walk on all fours, not like dogs and horses that spring on tiptoe as it were, but the way we might walk on all fours. Bears have proper feet and knees in the same place as us. And they use their hands in the same way as we do, as tools, pulling logs away, leaning on their elbows to hold their food, sitting on the ground and scratching themselves. They have cute round ears positioned like antennae at the top of their broad heads, their eyes are close together in the front of their face, giving them a short sighted binocular vision and their mouth, seen from the side, is set in a permanent smile. No wonder we find the thought of them cuddly and endearing. They are anything but. Their body is massive, at least 200 kilograms, and has a hump like a bison between the shoulders. Dark of pelt and intent, one swipe from those big muscular arms could knock you unconscious, their long claws could rip your stomach open and a hug would crush the life out of you. But they are shy creatures. They avoid humans unless they get between them and their cubs or I suspect, their food.
Only the males are present at tonight’s feast. The females, smaller and honey blonde, come earlier in the season, attracted by the scent marks the males leave on the birch trunks. Couples even make love in the restaurant; and believe me, the earth truly moves. But then the females go to have their cubs and don’t return with them until the next season. If the cubs tagged along, the males would attack them. I doubt if they ever took any of their feast back to the dens in the forest; they seemed too intent on gorging themselves. Maybe the males have little to do with cub-rearing anyway. In any case, it seems likely they are so seduced by salmon, they no longer protect their mates and young, though family groups are seen in the forest. .
Left to themselves, bears tend to feed at dawn or dusk or night. And they eat everything, leaves, berries, hay and carrion. They rip open ants nests for eggs, hives for honey. They will fish for salmon in the rapids like Kodiak Bears in Alaska, take young deer and have even been known to attack an elk. Bears are such massive animals, it must be difficult to get enough energy and nutrients. With no males to help, how do the females get enough food for the survival of the next generation?
The season is soon over. Arola is on the arctic circle. The first snow comes in September and before that the hunters. Eero stops feeding them at the end of the July. They must learn to survive and avoid the guns. Then as the snow begins to settle more thickly, they trudge across the frontier under the soldiers’ watch towers and hibernate in Russia.