Home Back Forward July 14, 1998: Tracking Bears

Chico and Maureen look at a cast print

Chico sampling the cast print

Chico's left front foot

Chico's beautiful claws


From Maureen:

When I started to think about my forthcoming art exhibition to be titled The Bears Point of View, I decided I needed a way to have a museum/gallery visitor "walk in the footstep of the bear " to transport them into the bear's world. I developed a concept last winter with ceramic artist Megan Evans of Calgary, whereby I would cast tracks in plaster this summer of a variety of bears and upon my return, we would develop the technology to print these prints into light weight tiles to create a 20' pathway ( 6' wide)People could walk on the path when entering the exhibition. A 50 lb bag of plaster came over by ship with some of our other supplies.

I've started by casting the prints of our three cubs. I gather mud from the marsh and placed a 4' swatch of it in the path the cubs use to enter camp with hopes of perfect tracks with lots of detail in which to pour my plaster. No tracks! Finally I watched the cubs and they were carefully avoiding my "mud pie". I finally lured them to it dragging a stick which they couldn't resist wanting to play with. They neatly avoided the mud. I realized that I have been so adamant about them not touching my things that they thought they should leave this "special mud " that smelled of me, alone. Finally they got the message it was OK to walk in this mud after I walked through it first!

The cubs use this trail coming to our camp for a visit about once a day. My track collection has been proceeding quite nicely but the right fore was missing from the collection. Finally I got it. When going out to collect it from the mud the cubs followed me intensely curious about this procedure. I lifted the plaster out and proceeded to wash the mud off in the nearby pool. All three cubs crowded around, almost pushing me in as they eagerly looked into the water to see if I had a fish.. Finally I pulled the track out and let Chico satisfy her curiosity by sniffing and licking it. I asked Chico, who now had the track in her mouth, if I could have it back. She ever so gently let me have it, but the toes were bitten off. I have located a wonderful mud flat on a major bear trail not far from here which I am visiting daily to collect the prints of a variety of other bears. Any front paw over 8" across the width of the palm is considered a very big bear. A large bear's hind foot could easily be a foot long and although much wider, look similar to a man's.

The front foot of a bear is amazing. Years ago I dissected a young bear and discovered the claws cover what is like the first digit bone of a human finger but obviously the bone is pointed and takes up ¾ of the inside of the claw. I never quite looked a the fingernails of my friends who managed to grow them long, in the same way again. As I watch Chico manipulate her beautiful claws with such dexterity, I am reminded of this anatomy lessen and realize that is how she controls each claw independent of the others when she needs to dig out a pine nut from a cone for example. A few weeks ago I watched Biscuit use her claws as a sieve. She scooped deep into the banks of a pond, pulling up weeds and sifting through the debris, brought out translucent ropes of salamander eggs which she seemed to find quite a delicacy.

When walking along the many bear trails Charlie and I are always speculating on the size and sex of the bears whose tracks we see. Clearly the largest are from the big males. Females with cubs and the age of the cubs is easily identified by the size of the cub tracks. Our cub tracks would fool the best trackers. Their feet are about 25% larger than the tracks of cubs their same age. We are certain they are larger bears because of the high protein diet early last summer,when we fed them sunflower seeds to accompany the wild food they gathered themselves. We wanted them to be big cubs, thereby increasing their chances for survival around large predatory males. Curiously the smallest and cutest of our cubs - Rosie has the biggest feet.

© Lenticular Productions Ltd. 1998