Soon, the forest opens and we discover high cliffs, the ideal shelter for eagle owls and peregrine falcons. A vulture soars in the grandiose landscape. One flapping of its wings would be enough to take it across the distance up to the Rouglan barn, the place where Canelle was killed. This is the trip’s final destination. Rick wished to see the crime scene and meditate.

In the Pyrénées with Rick Bass (June 2008)

Extracts from a “green and vagabond” chronicle

Editions Rivages 2009

In Arbas, with Rick Bass and François Arcangeli (left of the bear)

The church of Cominac (2008), with François Gavillon and Rick Bass

With Rick Bass at Francis Chevillon’s cabin

Photography credits : Antonin Borgeaud,

François Gavillon, Florence Thinard.

Once Upon a Time in the Pyrénées…

The church of Cominac in 1906, with bear-leaders

The following day,

in the Aspe valley…

Jean-Jacques Camarra and Rick Bass

Traduction : François Gavillon


On the track of the last brown bears…

Ideas are sometimes stronger than facts. It is unlikely that we will see bears, but it is good to know that they are still there, in the mountains…

Arbas is a small village in Haute-Garonne where, they say, “bears are worshipped…” This might be true. Here is the place where Havla, Balou and Sarousse were released in 2006. This attests to the determination and obstinacy of one man: François Arcangeli, who is now serving his third term as mayor. There are values that can be shared, but it takes courage. François Arcangeli has a lot…

Cominac overlooks the valley. Barns and houses dot the slope. Around them are prairies in bloom. The sky is low and menacing. A strange atmosphere and a pleasant silence reign. Time seems suspended. We walk to that famous church where postcards recall the many events that took place there. It was in 1906. A new law had just officialized the separation of church and state. The state set out to inventory clerical possessions. Things did not go very smoothly in Cominac. The curate gathered his flock and the state collector was met with hostility. Photographs show the curate standing in front of the church, flanked by bear-leaders. The collector had to turn back…

So much beauty awaits the hiker.

The trail leads to the summer pastures. Ups and downs, yet the slope is rarely brutal. The elevation from our starting point to our destination is more or less the same, but we walk for several hours, in a single file.

We are surrounded by trees and rejoice in what Rick Bass calls “the magic symphony of  the forests.” We don’t talk much. To talk in the beech forest would be sacrilegious.

Francis takes us back on the right trail. Dung-beetles abound.They relish on scat and dead animals. They are round-shaped, a beautiful metallic blue. At some point, our friend the shepherd leans over one of the insects and confesses that he’d love to have a ring that color. A few minutes later we watch a couple of bearded vultures (Gypaetus barbatus). The birds of prey are at a safe distance but we remain silent. A hundred yards further, the forest swallows us.

Biologist Jean-Jacques Camarra has been a defender of bears for over thirty years. He knows well the bear trails and he has devised an ingenious way of measuring prints, which allows him to identify the animal.

Jean-Jacques takes us to the end of a trail; this could be the end of the world. We follow a trail which ends at the Arras pass. Jean-Jacques points below, to the place where he spotted a bear once, and I can’t help hoping that the sheer evocation of that encounter will conjure up the animal’s presence, once more, as if by magic. The place looks like a deep gorge, a fjord. Jean-Jacques imagines the sea, coming in and washing our feet. Men are beautiful when they are driven by convictions and dreams.