Black bears typically have two cubs, rarely three. In 2007, in northern New Hampshire, a black bear sow gave birth to five healthy young. There were two or three reports of sows with as many as four cubs but five is extraordinary. I learned of them shortly after they emerged from their den and set myself a goal of photographing all five cubs with their mom, no matter how much time and effort was involved.
I knew the trail they followed on a fairly regular basis, usually shortly before dark. After spending nearly four hours a day, seven days a week, for six weeks I had that once in a lifetime opportunity and photographed them in the shadows and dull lighting of the evening. Due to these conditions the photograph is a bit “noisy” as I had to use the equivalent of a very fast film speed on my digital camera. The print is properly focused and well exposed with all six bears “posing” as if they were in a studio for a family portrait.
I stayed in touch with other people who saw the bears during the summer and into the fall hunting season. All six bears continued to thrive. As time for hibernation approached, I found still more folks who had seen them and everything remained OK. I stayed away from the bears as I was concerned that they might become habituated to me, or to people in general, as approachable “friends”. This could be dangerous for both man and animal. After Halloween I received no further reports and could only hope the bears survived until they hibernated.
This spring, before the snow disappeared, all six bears came out of their den and wandered the same familiar territory they trekked in the spring of 2007. I saw them before mid April and dreamed nightly of taking another “family portrait,” an improbable second “once in a lifetime” photograph. On April 25, 2008 I achieved my dream. When I showed the result to a woman who had purchased a print of the cubs a year earlier she exclaimed, “I have never seen such an extraordinary photograph”. When something as magical as this happens between man and animal Native Americans say: “We have walked together in the shadow of a rainbow.” And so it is with humility and great pleasure that I share these photos with you.
Sincerely, Tom Sears