She slowly emerges from the tall grasses at the lip of the crumbling fish ladder. Her head swings from side to side as she surveys the river corridor, all senses alert, scanning for threats. For the moment, she perceives none. The large male bears–boars, as they are called–that dominate this prime fishing spot are elsewhere.
Most females with cubs steer far clear of this fishing site. It’s too dangerous; the threat to cubs from the boars too great. But this mom holds her own, claiming her spot at the top of the falls and chasing off interlopers that dare get too close. That’s not to say she isn’t wary or streetwise. To the contrary. Her usual approach to fishing this spot includes sending her two cubs high up a nearby tree, out of harm’s reach. While brown bear cubs are adept climbers, adults (unlike their black bear brethren) largely lose this prowess. Today, though, the cubs haven’t parked themselves among the branches. As the mother bear deliberately makes her way to the lip of the falls, we collectively hold our breath, hoping the babies are safe.
Then, cautiously, one little head peeks from the grasses and steps tentatively into the water. Another step, then another. And then: another little head peering out from the greenery. Mother stands atop the falls, one paw lifted into the air, ready to swat down and pin to the rocks any wayward salmon that jumps within her reach. The cubs inch their way closer to her, standing firm in the river’s flow. When they reach her side, they watch. They learn. They are yearlings this year, spending their second summer on earth with mom. Next year, they will be on their own. They are learning from her the essential skills they need to survive.
One cub, the one nearer to her, looks at mom’s raised paw. Studies it closely. Slowly, almost curiously, (s)he does the same.
We called her Good Mom.
These photos were taken (and this story witnessed) at Katmai National Park, Alaska, where I had the great privilege to spend two summers in the late 1990s. I learned so much from Katmai’s bears. I am a better person for having spent time among them.
The timing of this post is not coincidental, and I struggled with how much to expound upon it and its greater meaning today. What I will say is this:
Good Mom and her cubs were protected as long as they stayed within National Park boundaries. Likewise, grizzly bears in the Lower 48 are protected as long as they stay within a Park’s borders. Yet bears don’t know they are crossing an invisible line when they leave a National Park; it’s all just homeland to them. This leaves bears vulnerable to human threats when they venture “outside.” Fortunately, a recent court decision returned Endangered Species Act protections to Yellowstone-area grizzlies. Now these bears, including famous moms like 399 and her cubs, will be safe from hunters no matter where they roam.
In the late summer and early fall, bears enter a stage called “hyperphagia,” where they eat as much food (and preferably as much high-calorie food) as possible to build up their fat stores so they can survive winter hibernation. While humans don’t need to eat with quite the same zeal, we do gravitate towards hearty, warming, nourishing foods as days shorten and temperatures cool. This roasted pumpkin soup takes advantage of seasonal produce and comes together quickly once the pumpkin is roasted. I hope you enjoy it!
Roasted Pumpkin Soup
For the soup:
- 2 small sugar pie pumpkins (~1000 g each)
- 4 large garlic cloves (unpeeled)
- 2 T olive oil
- 1 shallot, peeled and sliced thin.
- 2 t coriander
- 2 t cumin
- 3/4 t cinnamon
- 1/2 t ground pepper
- large pinch of salt
- 4 C vegetable stock
For the crema:
- 1 T goat cheese
- 1-2 t milk
Vegan crema option:
- 1-2 T coconut cream
- pepitas or homemade roasted pumpkin seeds
- chopped parsley
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Cut the pumpkins in half, and scoop out the pulp and seeds (option: save the seeds and roast them for a delicious snack or soup topping).
- Cut each half in half once more and arrange them, cut side up, on the baking sheet.
- Scatter the garlic cloves (unpeeled) among the pumpkin halves.
- Roast the pumpkin and garlic until the pumpkin is tender and easily pierced with a fork, about 35 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat.
- Add the shallot and saute until it just begins to soften and turn golden, about 5 minutes.
- Add the coriander, cumin, cinnamon, pepper, and salt and saute 1 minute more.
- Add the stock and turn up the heat to high. Scoop the pumpkin flesh out of the rind and add it to the pot.
- Bring the soup mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.
- While the soup is simmering, prepare the crema: in a small bowl, whisk the goat cheese with 1-2 t milk until it is thin and pourable (start with 1 t and add more as needed). If using coconut cream, it should be the proper consistency already (from a well-mixed can).
- After the soup has simmered for 5 minutes, turn off the heat. Use an immersion blender to (carefully!) puree the soup base until everything is well incorporated. Ladle into bowls.
- Top with a drizzle of crema, a few pepitas or roasted pumpkin seeds, and some chopped parsley.
NOTE: if you want to get a swirl effect with the crema, use a chopstick to gently stir the drizzled crema in a circular motion.