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An Unexpected Connection to Another Nursing (Non-Human) Mom

On Sunday morning I packed up the car and the kids and we drove to Gold Beach, a town on the southern Oregon Coast I’ve written about before where I’m doing research for two other articles.

James’s dad gave us his unused GPS. I followed its directions, and we ended up going over the windy twisty not-maintained-in-the-winter Bear Camp Road.

This route is famous for the wrong reasons. A few years ago a mom, her two kids, and her husband traveled on it and got stuck because the road was impassable. A snowstorm kept them inside their vehicle and they were running out of food after six days of waiting for help. The husband, James Kim, left to get help and died of hypothermia. The mom, Kati Kim, nursed her baby and 4-year-old daughter and they managed, miraculously, to survive.

I drove extra cautiously, thinking about the Kims the whole time. We found snow at a look-out point where you can see the Siskiyou Mountain range for miles. The kids slid in the snow and threw snowballs. The baby squeezed it in her hands. The snow was a cold treat on an otherwise sweaty ride, since our air conditioning is broken.

Then yesterday, on a boat tour down the Rogue River, we saw a mama bear. She had two fluffy cubs with her and they were foraging at the river bank. She and her cubs started up the hill away from the river when Leone, who’s seven months old, started to fuss. The mama bear stopped stock still and turned around. She had heard the call of a baby in distress and was turning to find her. I shushed the baby and the bear and her cubs moved on. Again Leone cried out. Again the bear stopped and turned towards us to see what was the matter.

She could have been interested because Leone is edible. I’m afraid of running into a bear or a cougar when I’m hiking with my kids because the kids look so small and juicy from a predator’s-eye-view. But this bear wasn’t thinking about eating my daughter. She was responding, as any nursing mother would, to the call of a baby who needs help.

The mama bear and her two cubs (they are about 4 months old) foraging on the hillside

The mama bear and her two cubs (they are about 4 months old) foraging on the hillside

The mama bear looking back intently after hearing Baby Leone cry

The mama bear looking back intently after hearing Baby Leone cry

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Tags: Bear Creek, black bear, black bear encounter, Gold Beach, GPS, humans and animals, Jim Kim, nursing mama, road trip, wildlife

Comments (16)

Wow, how interesting is that? I remember years and years ago when a baby fell into a gorilla cage. Everyone thought the gorilla would kill it, but instead, she treated it like her very own. I have to go google that now. .-= Almost Slowfood´s last blog ..Easy Dinner: Bacon Wrapped Monkfish Fillets =-.
What a lovely bear encounter. Thanks for sharing it. The Kim's story affected me so much for a long time. My first born was only a few months old at the time, and I remember hoping and hoping that they would be rescued.
I was really affected by the story of the Kims too, Myra. It was so haunting and upsetting, and I feel so badly that the dad died trying to rescue his family. .-= Jennifer Margulis´s last blog ..The Mastodon Theory of Writing =-.
Almost Slowfood -- here is the link to a New York Times article about a 3-year-old boy who fell into a gorilla exhibit at a zoo in Brookfield, Illinois: http://www.nytimes.com/1996/08/17/us/gorilla-at-an-illinois-zoo-rescues-a-3-year-old-boy.html This story, which I heard on NPR, made a big impression on me too. I have a friend, Virginia Morrell, who is writing a book about how animals think. I think animals--especially mammals, especially nursing females--are much more aware and thoughtful than we sometimes give them credit for being. Maybe not just mammals. I know octopus are incredibly intelligent and aware, as are many other non-human animals. .-= Jennifer Margulis´s last blog ..The Mastodon Theory of Writing =-.
This is amazing and touching. I'm so glad you got a photo of her too!
When I was young I used to spend long summers in the mountains of Quebec. We would go way up to my Uncle's cabin and fish for salmon (The kind of forests with check points and if you didn't sign out on your said date they came looking for you). While there we'd encounter Moose and we always heard Black Bear. We'd be picking blueberries (GIANT black garbage bags FULL) and could hear the bear snorting and grunting and sounding a lot like cows. We were never afraid though--which I find so strange now as an adult. Maybe my Aunt & Uncle's casual vibe and telling us to stick together but keep picking berries made us relax? Not sure. :) I knew though; never tell my mother. She'd never let me go up there with them again. hahahaha .-= Claudine´s last blog ..Her Blankie =-.
Oh my goodness, that's beautiful!
That isn't an experience you have every day. Thanks for sharing it. I kinda miss having bears around. No mammals are native to NZ at all except for one species of bat! .-= Frugal Kiwi´s last blog ..Getting the Bash =-.
I remember the Kim's story as well. reading that the children survived by nursing was amazing to me. Though I remember someone around mr saying that the eldest would be 'scarred emotionally' after being 'forced' to breastfeed. I was dumbfounded. As if the situation wasn't dire enough, I'm sure the BF would have been the least of the issues the child faced.
I think I would have been petrified! I loved the story when I read it yesterday, then came back for the photos. Those baby bears are adorable, but how scary for you! Glad you and the Mama bear had babies in common. .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..What's Happening on the Outer Cape? =-.
Fascinating. I guess moms are drawn to crying babies no matter the species. Sounds like quite an experience. .-= Kristen´s last blog ..Zingy Orange Cookies =-.
Incredible. That photo of the bear after hearing baby Leone is amazing. From the telling of your story I definitely got that this was a maternal instinct at work. What an experience to witness it must have been for you. .-= Meredith´s last blog ..Part Money Study, Part The Recovering Creative: What Is Fair In Wanting and Money? =-.
That story about the Kims absolutely devastated me when it happened. How cute that the mama bear had the same maternal instincts that you have. I would have been too nervous to snap a photo!
Wonderful story. Your very own Animal Planet experience! .-= Vera Marie Badertscher´s last blog ..Road Trip Stops in Atlanta, Georgia =-.
You're amazing -- packing up your brood on a regular basis and heading off here, there, and everywhere. I have to admit I was a bit nervous before I read this post -- imagining you nursing your wee one while a big black bear lumbered up to your camp site. Love your observations re your animal encounter. .-= sarah henry´s last blog ..Berkeley Farmers’ Market Man, Ben Feldman =-.
Your black bear encounter is fascinating. Maternal instinct is a powerful force. .-= Donna Hull´s last blog ..Saturday’s scene: Going to Church =-.
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