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The California grizzly bear and the Pacific salmon

Written by: Troy Chafin

Published on: May 6, 2015

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Designed and hand painted mural, reflecting our culture of ambition, and a reminder of an awe inspiring relationship in nature

When I sought out to design and paint a mural for our new San Francisco office space, I wanted to create something that was a reflection of our people and something to inspire them. Beyond is full of ambitious, energetic people. I wanted to reflect this ambition and energy, and tap into these powerful symbols in nature, the bear and the salmon.

A tech escape to nature

We all know San Francisco and the Bay Area is a mecca for all things technology. We also know we can’t get enough of nature. Why wouldn’t we? Within hours you can drive to Big Sur, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Santa Cruz, and Point Reyes. And a little nature every now and again helps you refresh and self-reflect on the big questions in life. Will the Apple Watch turn us into anti-social robots? Will it ever rain again in California? Will the impending Internet apocalypse finally fulfill my dream of becoming a blacksmith? All important questions to never think about when sleeping under the stars out in the wilderness.

Stay hungry and stay fierce

At Beyond, we solve design problems for clients. We are passionate about what we do, and how we fight for the people that use the products we create. If we’ve made a small part of someone’s life a little bit easier or more enjoyable, that puts a smile on our faces and makes it all worthwhile. We have amazing people here. Not only in San Francisco, but in London and New York as well. And as totally cliche as it sounds, this bear and salmon analogy, and their struggle for survival is just a little reminder for us to stay hungry and to stay fierce. Some of us are more like the opportunistic bear, and others, the “swimming against the current” salmon. And we mustn’t lose sight of how important nature and our outside environment is to our sanity and overall well being.

The California grizzly bear

California was once known as “the Bear Republic”, back when it was an independent nation. When it joined the United States, the national symbol became the state flag, and California became known as the “Bear State.” Sadly, the California Grizzly bear subspecies has since become extinct. Thankfully, North American grizzlies — a closely related subspecies — still roam in large numbers along the Pacific coast, especially in British Columbia and Alaska. Hopefully, with the help of conservationists, one day the grizzly population in California will return, and we’ll be able to see these ferocious animals once again catching salmon in rivers and streams throughout the Golden State.

To ensure a thriving grizzly bear population, the Pacific salmon population must also thrive. Grizzly bears are opportunistic hunters, foraging on nuts, honey, moths and other low-hanging fruit found in the mountains and forests. But salmon are crucial; no other animal is more important than the Pacific salmon for their ultimate survival.

The Pacific salmon

Salmon along the western coast of North America, can be found from California, to British Columbia, up in Alaska, and even in the Arctic Ocean. Each spring, half a billion salmon leave the saltwater Pacific ocean and travel 5 thousand kilometers to the freshwater rivers and streams where they were once born.

How do the salmon know how to find their exact freshwater spawning grounds from miles of open ocean? While this phenomenon remains relatively unknown, scientists have discovered that the salmon’s brain acts as a magnetic compass. It contains iron, that connects with the magnetic forces of the earth, and helps guide the salmon where they innately need to go. And to think that a 5 thousand kilometer journey wasn’t enough, salmon swim upstream, even up and over waterfalls.

For the many that finally reach their freshwater spawning grounds, the Pacific salmon that fight their way there, past the hungry bears and steep waterfalls, die in the same waters that they were born, after they reproduce. Their dying bodies even provide food for their eggs in the water. Talk about a cycle of life.

Over 200 species of animals (birds, mammals, plants and insects) depend on the salmon. The salmon is at the core of the forest ecosystem. One of the most amazing things is that the dead salmon’s remains that the bears, wolves and other animals carry back to the forest, provide valuable nutrients — nitrogen, carbon and phosphorous — for the surrounding trees. Eighty percent of the nitrogen in many species of trees comes from the salmon, whom have brought these nutrients from the ocean.

It’s argued that the Pacific salmon, along their journey from ocean to inland freshwater, feed more life than any other living species on earth.