A&E » Arts

Face to face with the great grizzlies

Local artist ventures into the heart of grizzly country to see her subject matter in a new light


Text by Holly Fraughton, images by Lynn Pocklington

Lynn Pocklington's renderings of wildlife are incredibly vivid and detailed - one of her many portraits can contain thousands of brushstrokes just to create the coarse fur of a grizzly, and even the minutest glint of light in the eye is captured with a deft dab of white. Somehow, this Pemberton-based artist has managed to capture the essence and spirit of a range of wild animals - bears, wolves, cougars, owls and more - through photographs. Recently, however, Pocklington decided it was time to check out her subject matter first hand, so with the help of an experienced guide, she headed into the heart of grizzly territory.

The Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary is the only one of its kind in the province. Located about 40 kilometres north of Prince Rupert along B.C.'s northern coast, the 45,000-hectare space, which is managed by the provincial government and the Tsimshian Nation, is richly populated by other at-risk species like moose, wolves, migrating owls, Harlequin ducks and 40 to 60 grizzlies. During their four-day trip in mid-May, Pocklington and her husband along with other members of the tour group headed into the wilderness for a chance to encounter these majestic creatures in their own natural surroundings. They ate and slept on a 71-foot sailboat with guide Tom Ellison, exploring the estuary in a 19-foot hard-bottom inflatable boat during daylight hours. When they came across a bear, they would pull in and observe the awesome animals from a safe distance, happily snapping away with their cameras.

"(Ellison) knew the bears, because he's been doing this for 20 years, and they would just eat their grass, look and scratch and be themselves, which you don't really see." Pocklington added, "Normally when you see a bear, it runs, but these guys were relaxed. They knew we were there; we didn't pose any threat. We were all quiet and calm, and I think they sensed that."

A smile spreads across Pocklington's face as she recalls the bears' surprisingly playful and curious demeanor when approached by their convoy.

"The bear would look up and all you could hear was, 'click, click, click, click!'" she said, "...And I swear, she was 'on' every time we were there."

They encountered many young bears, which interacted with one another, playing and wrestling along the shores of the estuary, or diving into the water for a quick dip.

"Everybody's sort of kept in check by this one big bear - we call him Brutus. He was probably about 1,500 lbs and we got real close to him, I got some great shots of him!" Pocklington said with a grin.

She soon realized that each of the bears had a distinct personality and appearance, and by the end of the trip, felt she had a far greater understanding of the animals, which are often thought of as vicious and solitary.

"They have real relationships, because there was this one girl who came on the scene about two years ago and there was this lonely male bear and she befriended him, and they've been together ever since. They frolic, and they cuddle, and they eat together," said Pocklington

Pocklington returned from Khutzeymateen after encountering about 15 different grizzlies with hundreds of photos to cull through.

"I used to purchase photography because I wasn't able to get it myself. But now, I have a different outlook because now I actually saw the bears, I spent time with them," she said.

Now, after selecting her favourite shots, she's eager to create a new series of paintings from her own photographs and memories of this experience with the grizzlies of B.C.

"With a new realization of the needs and vulnerabilities of these beautiful bears, it is my hope to help break the misconceptions surrounding the grizzly bear. This experience showed me that mutual respect and trust between man and bear will conserve this living symbol of freedom."