MARK AND THE BLACK BEAR AT GLACIER NATIONAL PARK / by Matt Clysdale

Mark, a black bear, St. Mary's Lake - Glacier National Park

I was moved to create this portrait of my good friend Mark because of his strong bond with the natural world, spending a lot of solitary time in the woods, camping in National Parks, and generally seeking the solace and comfort that wilderness has to offer. He also tells a pretty mean bear story about an encounter he had with a black bear at Glacier National Park. After hearing that story, it occurred to me that he has a lot in common with them. 

The similarities begin with the physical, starting with that thick coat of black hair atop his head, as well as overall good physical health and stamina, maintained by an intense running regimen that often takes him through local nature preserves. In terms of behavior and MO, you could say Mark's a forager, like the black bear, often wandering the woods in search of wildflowers and other native plants to photograph and share with his students (he teaches high school biology). He's also an avid morel hunter, annually checking his prized, private spots. Mark also practices what I would call a form of social hibernation, where he’ll generally remove himself from the world and retreat into his apartment and private life to deal with and process the trials and tribulations of life. It’s a way to disengage from the churnings of the world, and, in a way, conserve mental/spiritual energy. 

Now, if you ever meet Mark, have him tell you his bear story, because it’s much better in person. When I first heard it we were on a charter fishing trip and he told it with such vigor and emotion he basically became that bear for a moment. He also won the unofficial storytelling contest that day on the boat (think Brody, Quint, Hooper).

He was camping with his teenage son at Glacier National Park in Montana, and emerged from his tent one morning to the surprise presence of a rare, cinnamon colored black bear sleeping directly behind his tent. For some reason, the bear wandered into the campground and chose their campsite as a nice spot to lay down and doze off. Apparently not typical bear behavior at the park. He watched the bear for about a minute until it somehow sensed his presence, turned to see him, and then it’s fear and aversion to humans sent it bolting for the nearest evergreen. Mark says it powered up that tree with unbelievable speed and force. As he describes it, “he was climbing with such force it looked like he was pushing the tree trunk down into the ground”. It climbed about 50 feet up and stayed there for most of the day. Park rangers decided the best thing to do was just give it enough space to feel comfortable enough to climb down, which it eventually did, and then wandered back into the woods.

An encounter like that is pretty special. Despite all the time I've spent in the woods and wilderness, I've never even seen a black bear (at least not yet). That's the kind of animal encounter that stays with you for life, the kind of story you tell grand-kids years down the road. The kind of encounter that poetically affirms the idea that like attracts like. 

Mark and a Black Bear at sunrise at Norris Geyser Basin - Yellowstone National Park