Pushing Thirty

and shedding pretentions

Bears are Nuts!

I was in a convo last week with a good friend. Somehow we got on to bears. That topic usually turns into a lively talk because bears are notoriously crazy, and everybody has a better and better crazy bear story.

I was the first to reference Grizzly Man, the documentary about that guy that roamed the Alaskan wilderness with grizzly bears. He spent 15 summers with the bears before one ate him. I guess that means that bear attacks can be driven down to a pretty low percentage if you know what you’re doing. But here’s the salient point: it only takes one to make you wish you’d pursued computer engineering in college.

That last line is partly from Bill Bryson’s A walk in the Woods. He spent a year hiking the Appalachian trail, and an entire chapter in his book about it on his fear of bears. There are plenty of stories about dumb people, like the parents in Smokey Mountain National Park who put honey on their three-year-old’s hands so that they could get a picture of the black bear licking them clean. That ended badly. My friend had a story about people feeding bears who decided that they could take the food with them back into the car and drive somewhere else to feed other hungry bears. That also ended badly.

Those kinds of stories make us gawk at how stupid people can be, but I’m sure that their mistakes are on the same brain-dead level as when you reach for a butter knife to dig your charred bagel out of the toaster. They clearly weren’t thinking. But those stories aside, there are plenty of stories where bears attacked in response to a more subtle mistake. Like when a camper accidentally brings a candy bar, still wrapped, into their tent and a bear mauls them for the chocolate in the middle of the night. Or worse, the cub scout who has hot dog juice on his mouth from hours earlier and wakes up in the dead of night to find a black bear standing on him. And his friend. I think everyone knows that you’re supposed to put the food high in a tree, but somehow that doesn’t solve hot dog breath, which also seems to trigger a bear’s voracious appetite.

But nothing to me is more terrifying than the scenario that for a bear is an unpardonable sin: walking into the space between a bear and its cub. I guess this is kind of like flipping bears the bird, because it makes them go ballistic. If there is only one fact you can remember about bears, remember not to do this because it’s the most sure fire way to get yourself torn into little bits. There is absolutely no coming back from this mistake, even if it’s the cub that scampers in a way that puts you inadvertently in the trajectory. You’d better run for your life.

But of course, you can’t outrun bears, which is another terrifying reality. (The conversation gets fresh wind at this point). They can go something like 40 miles an hour, but it might as well be light speed because it is so much faster than you can run on foot through dense forest. If you try to out run a bear, you won’t even have enough time to remember whether your survival guide book said that bears couldn’t run up hill or down hill, or whether the black bear or the grizzly bear was a proficient tree climber, or whether the latest trend in bear attack defense advises you to be loud and intimidating or to play dead. The dawning realization that you are living your last few nanoseconds won’t even come quick enough for your life to flash before your eyes. From what I’ve read, trying to run from bears that have been enraged from the cub thing results in a death with a swiftness that rivals bullets.

There’s just no real good way to run into a bear in the woods. They kind of get mad at nothin’, especially if they’re surprised. If you’re hiking in wilderness with grizzlies, you’re supposed to yell as you go, or blow whistles, or have a parade because that will alert the bears of your presence so that you don’t accidentally sneak up on one. The only draw back to this strategy is that you will alert the bears of your presence. This pleasant little irony rests on the same statistical principles that gave us Russian Roulet: while Grizzly bears are generally known to not hunt people, there have been cases where they have. One in every so many hundred Grizzlies breaks the do-not-hunt-us rule. Some of them have even been caught hunting in packs, another activity that they generally don’t partake of. So if a Grizzly in the wild is of the hunting persuasion, he’ll follow the delightful sounds of shouting and whistling right to a delectable feast.

At the tippy-top of the terror pyramid is the Polar bear, a bear that has been known to stalk people for hundreds of miles. These efficient hunting machines will follow your days-old tracks by picking up the spiramint scent from the gum stuck to your snow boot and they’ll track you all the way to the door of your igloo. Yeah– you don’t mess with polar bears.

So, bears are nuts. They just exist to eat you, and they’re the best reason not to go romping off into the great out doors. They are just so crazy, you have to laugh– otherwise you might have to cry yourself to sleep just knowing that there really are monsters in this world. And don’t even get me started on alligators.


December 19, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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