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The Bear Who Crossed The Freeway

by Doug and Andrea Peacock Exclusive

A pale illumination creeps across the mountain meadow towards a wedge of moon just rising over the high peaks of the Gallatin Range. It is a few hours before sunrise, still cool in these early days of summer on the northwest corner of Yellowstone Park. At the base of a lodgepole pine, a grizzly bear looks out to the west. He lifts his head at the sound of a distant vehicle shattering the silence of the night.

The bear is a young male, having slept through five winters. He knows where he is going: some fifty miles southwest to the land where he was raised as a cub, a hazardous trip across major highways, open river bottoms and two small towns. To remain where he is would be precarious: it is the mating season for grizzlies. Three days ago, a larger boar attacked him and bit him viciously on the flank.

The bear rises from his bed and stretches. He moves down off the bench, across the sagebrush studded flat, toward the willow bottom and the road that runs along the river. He crouches in the tall sage while a lone vehicle passes, then breaks into a lope and dashes across the asphalt, down the grade into the willows. He pushes through to the river, wades across the shallows and continues loping all the way to the forest beyond.

Soon he is negotiating snow banks in the rolling uplands of the southern Madison Range. The high country is dotted with lakes now shedding their skin of winter ice. The grizzly, all 325-pounds of him, stops to feed; sedges emerge from the raw earth. He grazes, and then claws roots out of the snow-free ridges.

A creek tumbles west off the alpine shoulder. A hiking trail snakes along the drainage. The young male bear is accustomed to using these trails and avoiding the people who walk them. Humans don’t hike much at night.