Last week I did something that I’ve wanted to do for years. I ticked something off my bucket list, (not that I’m a bucket list kind of person), and photographed wild bears. Those of you who know me personally will know that of my many kinks and obsessions, photography and bears are roughly tied for first place; the opportunity to combine the two has been a dream for a long time.
The trip was to Finland, more specifically the eastern edge where the forested border meets with the Karelia region of Russia. The meeting of these forested areas; which are both protected and sparsely populated has created an area where bears, wolves, and wolverines can thrive.
Over the last 20 years a number of wildlife centres have been set up in the area. Combining hides with feeding stations gives tourists like me the chance to photograph the animals in relative comfort. It also monetises the wildlife in a way that offers them further protection from hunting and human encroachment. Changes in the way the border is managed and the fact that the region on the other side of the border is so sparsely populated mean that the animals will cross the border for the food put out for them, which means that the bears I photographed were tourists too.
You can see a pile of the photos I took on the trip here, (in an album I’m adding to as I finish the images), and some of my favourites below.
I spent four nights in hides in all, (some big enough to seat and sleep twelve, others with finite ventilation and buckets for emergencies), and I had a great time. I wasn’t lucky enough to see wolves or wolverines, but I got to see bears, a white tailed eagle, and my first red squirrel.
I was expecting to love photographing the bears, what I hadn’t factored was how much I would love photographing Finland itself. Mirror lakes bordered by deep green forest; great stretches of straight, undulating road all the way to the horizon; spontaneous mist that appears as if from a smoke machine, hugging the dips, ditches, and dells. All this is lit by a golden hour that goes on and on. I was going to write something long and florid, something that hopefully tied all of my feelings together; but I haven’t been able to, I can’t describe the way it feels to watch a wild bear amble out of the woods and sniff the air.
I booked the trip through wildlifeworldwide.com and they were ace. The centres we stayed at were the Martinselkonen Nature Reserve in Suomussalmi and the Boreal Wildlife Centre in Viiksimo which were comfy, welcoming, and staffed by friendly knowledgeable people.
My return to the UK has been interesting. While the build up to the trip was tied up in anxiety and concern about what would be possible and what I would be able to achieve, the days since I got back have been painted with a certain melancholy. I have a feeling I’ll be going back to see those woods, and the bears inside it.