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In the Bush: Outdoor columnist watches some playful bear cubs … with a sharp eye out for mama's return

'They tossed and tumbled as you would expect to see puppies or kittens playing'
black bear cub

On our way home on the trail after a wonderful afternoon clearing portages, we heard some very odd screaming. 

It came from the direction of a small creek and waterfall where we know the suckers run.

Was it some sort of bird? A few days earlier we saw a bald eagle and a turkey vulture leave the scene as we approached. 

That time, I hopped out of the boat to see if the fish were still in the little pools under the falls, and indeed they were. 

So today we heard this screaming sort of sound. As we neared the end of the portage, we walked slowly and quietly. What could it be? Through the trees we could see a couple of black things right at the bottom of the creek. 

The portage is some distance from the creek, so the black things did not see us. And I’m sure they could not hear us over the noise of the waterfall.

Two tiny black bear cubs seemed to be playing on a log at water’s edge. They tossed and tumbled as you would expect to see puppies or kittens playing. But they were also screaming. Was Mama nearby? 

I sat down by a tree at the shore to watch. 

The cubs disappeared and ran back to the pools. Quiet for a moment … did they find Mama? No, the crying started up again. We heard their piercing voices as they moved through the forest along the far shore. 

We saw them poke out to the shore again, then back into the woods. Again a few moments of silence, then the crying again.

They went deeper into the woods, then came back toward the creek and crossed over above the little waterfall. We heard them calling. We got our hopes up that

Mama heard them calling too. I wanted to see her. I wanted to see them together. The crying continued.

We pushed our boat out from shore and drifted toward the creek.

Back to the lake they came, back to the pools below the waterfall. They kept very close to each other. They took turns standing tall on their little back legs and crying their hearts out. No one came.

They looked out toward the lake, looked right at us and for a moment I thought they were going to swim out and climb into the boat. They were so small, and so lonely. 

We drifted, and watched, and listened. They went back to the pools where a few suckers were likely still spawning. The baby bears would not be able to catch them. The fish are more than half the size of the bears. Where was Mama?

Viki Mather has been commenting for Northern Life on the natural world and life in Greater Sudbury since the spring of 1984. Got a question or idea for Viki? Send an email to