Photographer to give talk on grizzly bears in Alaska

By Page H. Gifford


The Friends of the Library kick off their 2022 season with photographer Harriette Browning Fishburne. Fishburne will talk about her trip to Alaska and photographing grizzly bears in the wild.

A retired pediatrician, she didn’t get her medical degree from the University of Virginia until she was 40 — in 1991, three years ahead of her son. They even delivered a baby together. After raising three sons, starting a new career in her 40s, she opened a practice with her husband and practiced for 20 years, and then retired.

Fishburne and her husband moved on to the next phase of their life and made a bucket list.

“We decided to start exploring the world with camera in hand. Alaska was on our bucket list,” she said. They took a flight on July 4, 2017, landing in Anchorage, and stayed in the Kenai Peninsula until the middle of September. It was then that she and her husband, Cary decided to take a day trip in a small floater plane to Katmai National Park and Preserve.

“It is a wildlife preserve where generations of wildlife have never known humans as a threat. We followed a guide who introduced us to various groups of mama sows and coys, or cubs of the year, and we watched them, at a respectful distance, for hours on end while they did their thing.”

They returned to Katmai National Park and Preserve in 2018 as part of a workshop with Barbara Eddy for five days. The bears fascinated Fishburne who continued her photo essay on a day in the life of grizzly bears. She learned something from the bears as she watched them for hours on end. They have always been labeled as one of the most threatening bear species known to man. While watching she leaned from them.

“I can’t tell you that I was not afraid because I was. I was always on guard but we were trained to follow the rules and respect their boundaries. The bears do not like to be surprised or be separated from their babies. Their demeanor imparts a great deal as to their moods and tolerance of others. They seemed to be more alert to the presence and possible danger of the opposite sex than any threat from us. We were simply guests in their world,” she said and added that  the Alaskan grizzly bear can seem quite threatening but, if one learns the rules and respects their boundaries, one can be drawn into the intimacy that they share with their family members.

 “The experience for me was quite amazing, one that I will never forget. I had the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and enter a world that was different from anything that I had ever known. It was truly an adventure on the wild side.”

They are going back to Alaska and share the view that many do that one visit isn’t enough to fully engage in its natural wide-open spaces and stunning landscapes. For many it is the last remaining place in America of untouched wilderness and rugged beauty and Fishburne makes the visual statement with her photos.

“Both my husband and I found Alaska to be incredibly beautiful and welcoming. Since we spent periods of time in each location, we were drawn into the communities and made many friends. We could easily see ourselves moving there but were advised that we need to spend a winter there before making that decision.”

It wasn’t until COVID hit and she was separated from her three sons and five grandchildren, that she had the time to review her photos, edit them, and publish her book, “Our Family is So Special.”

“It has become increasingly obvious to me how similar we all are in this world, humans and wildlife alike, in our desire to protect our family unit. The endearing behavior exhibited by the grizzly bears, despite their threatening press, are worthy of our respect.”

Fishburne will give her talk on Jan. 5, at 10 a.m. For more information visit the Fluvanna County Public Library at or call 434-589-1400.

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