We never successfully timed our visits to the various overlooks at Brooks Falls to catch a glimpse of any brown bear cubs. Some in our tour group did, and they also witnessed three of the cubs (out of four) getting killed by one of the dominant male bears. It was a tragic scene and I am grateful that we were not there. The life of a bear can be a difficult one - competing with other bears for food and surviving the harsh Alaska weather. A very old bear is a rare creature.
We may have missed the youngsters, but we were fortunate enough to see the oldest bear in the Brooks Falls territory. His name is Cinnamon. The park rangers said that he was 29 years old last summer. He was in such bad shape in 2010, they assumed he would not live through the winter. But he did!
Cinnamon used to be one of the big boys of the fishing hole at the falls. But now he is the senior citizen of the crowd. He ventured out of the woods cautiously, paused right underneath our platform, and carefully studied the bears assembled in the area. Once he scoped out the scene, he slowly ventured out into the river and began to bide his time.
You see, Cinnamon can no longer fish. To survive, he lives the life of a scavenger. He is not the picture of health, with a thin frame, lumpy joints, worn expression, ragtag fur, and painful gait. It was astonishing to see this old bear could still successfully meander through the turbulent current.
Cinnamon chose to stand by a few of the dominant male bears. Undoubtedly, he chose the ones that would tolerate his hovering. Whenever they caught and ate a fish, Cinnamon would stand at an acceptable distance and wait to eat any leftover scraps. Once, he got a little too close to Genghis. True to his nature as the bad boy of the falls, Genghis rose up in a fury. But the temper tantrum lasted only a few seconds and Cinnamon was unharmed from the encounter. Whew!
It was a special treat to see this old bear. His presence reminded us human visitors of how time marches on and age takes it toll. And I couldn't help but remember the wisdom of Pooh.
“What day is it? It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.
~ A. A. Milne ~
May every day we live be our favorite day!