By Joan Larsen
These bears are seldom asked to pose for their pictures. I would guess that they have never seen humans before either. Still hidden from the world we know, the world’s largest population of brown bears roam freely – in a place called Kamchatka.
There are still just a few places left on our Earth that are so pure, so untouched, so stunning, as this peninsula – a place of beauty and wonder.
In my own search – for a lifetime – to find the world’s most remote places, Kamchatka, with its lure of bears and its never-ending line of volcanoes, had turned out to be a kind of heaven.
The grizzlies in Alaska already proved that they seek me out. But these brown bears are definitely bigger than any I have seen. I have heard that they can weigh over half a ton. In Denali, the bear stood on his hind legs in front of me to show me just how big he was. But, at Kamchatka, the brown bears will actually walk on their hind legs for distances – with no one around to impress.
Until the sockeye salmon in the millions come down the bear’s own private rivers to spawn, they seem content to be vegetarians, munching a wild assortment of berries and greens that lie in abundance just for them.
But – in August – all the brown bears, large and small, can be found in the lakes and rivers, gorging on their gourmet feasts, until they are so fat that they just play with their food – much like spoiled children. Winter comes early so soon it will be time for hibernation.
The scenery on Kamchatka is gorgeous. Definitely vying with the brown bears for attention are the enormous string of over a hundred volcanoes that mark the peninsula’s length. Eruptions occur far more often than I have seen in any other place in the world, but we never read about them. Twenty-nine are active volcanoes that could erupt at any time. Last year, in fact, there were four that erupted at the same time, leaving splashes of color behind that would be hard to beat.
PBS has had a series called Living Edens. . . and, as you might imagine, the almost secret wonders of a place called Kamchatka was very high on their list. Consider it “an hour of wonders seldom seen”, and narrated so magically by Linda Hunt, that you might just want to see it!!
In this singular place – just across from Alaska’s Aleutians – I have personally found that combination of the wonders of a world of the most unusual wildlife – and another, of our own living, changing earth in its erupting volcanoes — together becomes one that plays out over and over again in my mind . . . and yes, in my heart.
Our thanks to photographer Igor Shpilenok for the most beautiful photographs even taken of Kamchatka.
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”