Now that you’ve seen our favourite images from 2020, here are the images you liked the most. It’s always interesting for us to see what images you enjoyed – and that the algorithm liked (look, the same image twice!) – over the past year. And what a year it was…
Like most of you, our travel was heavily restricted in 2020. We were very fortunate to have squeezed in our most productive trip just before the pandemic hit, arriving home on the day the NBA suspended play. For most of the spring, we were stuck in our apartment, editing Nature Labs and trying to figure out how – or if – we could finish our field work for the project during a global pandemic.
In mid-May, BC Parks – our incredible Nature Labs partner – invited us to resume work in Mount Robson, but we had to commit to self-isolation before, during and after our trips. That meant we had to be completely self-isolated for two weeks prior to our first trip, the entire time while we were making trips, and two weeks after our final trip. And then while in Mount Robson, we couldn’t exit our vehicle.
We created a system where we lived in our vehicle – eating nothing but meal bars; sleeping in the car – while doing very, very long day trips to and from our apartment (often leaving in the night to arrive by sunrise in Robson and leaving at sunset to return home). We’d then crash for a full day and rinse, repeat. It was brutal (and we became very sick of plain pasta while in self-isolation very quickly), but we were very grateful to have even had the chance to continue our work, albeit delayed.
During this time we had some incredible encounters with fox, wolf, and bear – but not with the bear we needed to find for Nature Labs. A grizzly known as Chocolate was to be our ‘main character’, helping us tie together our various stories. But pandemic closures meant we missed picking up his trail in the early spring and with the TransMountain pipeline construction allowed to continue during COVID-19 restrictions, we had no idea where animals had moved to in order to avoid the noise and disruption.
But we kept searching and hoping we’d find Chocolate until finally, in June, we were told – accidentally – by multiple federal employees that Chocolate had been killed and had been dead for over a year. There are still many questions surrounding this bizarre tale (we still haven’t received formal confirmation of his death), including who knew what when – and why we were told on multiple occasions that Chocolate was alive, when he was known to be dead. It seems now that they’re answers we’ll likely never receive, but the news alone was devastating on so many fronts.
In the early summer, we tried to focus on what we could control, like searching for new stories – including the swift fox recovery – with pandemic restrictions easing. And while we searched, BC Parks brainstormed ideas. Equally shocked by Chocolate’s death, they were determined to find a solution and thanks the extraordinary efforts of one BC Parks hero, Natasha Ewing, they did.
Natasha identified the story of two sibling bears – a male and female – who, despite conventional wisdom, refused to separate after being run off by their mother. For three years, instead of becoming competitors, these bears have spent every waking second together – grazing, hunting, denning. Playing. They’ve learned to survive in an increasingly complex world for large carnivores by helping each other thrive. It allows us to build on Chocolate’s sad story and a create a perfect metaphor for how we can find a better balance in a changing world: by working with each other – with unlikely allies in unlikely circumstances – we can find new solutions to old problems.
We spent almost all of August in isolation, waiting for news on the whereabouts of the these bears and hoping for permission from the BC government to spend the time needed to document them while adhering to strict COVID-19 protocols. By month’s end, we were in the field and across three weeks, we were able to safely document the sibling bears, getting most of what we had to get to complete Nature Labs.
Since our return, with the second wave of the pandemic upon us, we haven’t travelled or taken a single image and we have no idea when we will be able to safely travel to document wildlife again. But that’s okay. For so many, 2020 was horrific. But for us, we have our health and despite the setbacks and hardships, here we stand with the finish line for Nature Labs finally in sight.
2021 might be equally as hard as 2020 and we will undoubtedly face more setbacks. But for the first time since we started down this road in 2017, we aren’t relying on nature to cooperate, or for people to agree to interviews, or hoping that different school boards will agree on non-partisan funding sources we can pursue, or if a government agency will give us permission to film in a park (or communicate the death of a bear or, heck, return a phone call or email or letter), or even if we’ll have a roof over our heads and food on the table. Now it’s simply a question of how fast two people can produce 80TB of content into the various lessons for Nature Labs, while meeting curricula goals and sparking students to think critically and creatively about the challenges we face.
This is possible because of you. Every image you like and share helps us get our message to a broader audience and its for that reason we’ve been able to grow our Patreon community.
Without our Patreoners, there is no Nature Labs and we wouldn’t have been able to get through 2020. Period. But because they enabled us to persevere, we have been able to work with BC Parks.
Because of BC Parks and their remarkable team, we have overcome obstacles, been able to work in the incredible and beautifully stewarded Mount Robson Provincial Park, and can now see the finish line thanks to the three remarkable bears. And while Chocolate may no longer be with us, his legacy will live on through Nature Labs, and the two sibling bears who walk with grace in the enormous paw prints he left behind.
So, thank you. For everything. Here’s to 2021 and the better adventures that await us all.
- Simon & Jill