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Autumn Interlude: Painting Grizzly Bear Mother 399

The Famous Jackson Hole Matriarch Guides Her Cubs Around During Hyperphagia

This watercolor is very special to me because the scene in front of you here is what I saw while photographing grizzly 399 and her two cubs-of-the-year just a few days ago. It also holds personal significance because I’m at the halfway point of making a new painting every day for a year.

By now, certainly, you know about grizzly 399?  She is 21 years old and this may be her last set of cubs, we don’t know. Many people have spent the last decade observing and photographing her and her many offspring and the offspring of offspring. An era will surely be over the spring that arrives and 399 does not come out of her den. For this day I just had I am surely thankful for all the hours I have spent in the presence of this amazing grizzly bear. 

We first saw this bear matriarch and her growing cubs a couple of mornings ago near Spread Creek in Grand Teton National Park and then they ambled north across Elk Ranch Flats.  As we waited for them to re-appear—in the vicinity of hawthorn berry bushes where they’d been in the last hours of summer—luck was on our side.

Bears in the Greater Yellowstone are in that physiological condition known as hyperphagia when they are trying to take in as many calories as possible prior to denning over the long winter. How much protein and fat they consume can mean the difference between life and death.

Bears roam far and wide, going to places where they’ve found wild foods in the past.  399 and company traversed the hillsides foraging in her traditional old haunts. Then up they went into the forest and were out of sight.

We drove northwest to the Pacific Creek Road hoping she was on her way back to the meadows along the Two Ocean Lake Road where she had been off and on over the past few weeks. We sat for over an hour and sure enough here she came, walking along the sand bars, her two cubs leading the way.

They were specks in the distance. Closer and closer they came until finding the berry bushes. But the scene that really stuck in my head was this—a braided riverbed and three wild grizzlies making their way in this complicated landscape.

When I started my daily paintings last March I never could have imagined that I would have been able to keep up the schedule.  Now here I am with 184 watercolors under my belt.

An integral part of my day, if I don’t paint I feel like something is missing. Some days I see something that I know will be my next painting. Other days I wake up and wonder what the subject will be.  I head out seeking it.  As a result, I am going through these days seeing more, being aware of more, because I am consciously looking trying to dwell in moments.

We take so much for granted. This kind of challenge, of trying to literally make sense of what I see, has left me more observant and feeling more alive.
Sue Cedarholm
About Sue Cedarholm

Jackson Hole-based Sue Cedarholm is a multi-media artist—painter, photographer and maker of nature-themed, wearable apparel.  You can find all of the works in her ongoing series at Watercolor Diary.
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