Bears first entered my thoughts in a serious way when I went camping not too long ago, upstate New York, in a park that had a pretty serious bear population. We were required to sign a waiver, whose last bullet point read something about not wearing the same clothes to bed in the tent that you wore to dinner. It was much colder than we expected. We were unprepared. By dinner I already had on every article of clothing that I brought. Pretty sure in the middle of the night I heard a bear roar.
The other night I had an hour to kill before I was supposed to meet my friends. I decided to watch National Geographic’s documentary about the Appalachian Trail. The AT has a lot of bears.
I’m pretty sure I just closed Netflix and hopped out of bed, and on my way to beer (I initially wrote bear) drinking and dancing to music with my friends didn’t think about the documentary much more. That’s the thing with riding the train for me: I can either sit there and wonder, or I can pick up a book and close myself off. But that night, I had a nightmare about bears, about riding through the country with my friends and bears attacking our vehicle, jumping in, biting us. There was one point the bear even grabbed hold of my arm. I think my cat (who has been looking like a bear now to me recently) even made an appearance. It was a funny thing to wake up to.
The even funnier thing was that I was pretty sure I had cancelled my Netflix DVD account. Turns out I had, but they continue sending you dvds until the billing period is over. I have no recollection of even putting this in my queue, but Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man was on my table with my name on it. It, of course, is about a man named Timothy Treadwell who lives with grizzly bears in the Alaskan wilderness for thirteen consecutive summers. I had seen the film before, but this time it was extremely moving. This man actually co-existed with grizzly bears, so peacefully and successfully that there’s even an unbelievable scene of him essentially warding off an attack by what looks like traditional discipline–the bear gets a bit aggressive towards him, Timothy says no, the bear doesn’t really stop, Timothy hits him with a smack the type your mother would if you talked back, and says no again, and the bear goes away. The footage is so beautiful and touching in its warmth, and heartbreaking in Timothy’s unwavering devotion and naivete.
As far as the ending goes, it is perhaps no surprise that unfortunately Timothy (and his girlfriend at the time) meet their demise and the claws and teeth of a particularly aggressive grizzly bear. I can’t imagine a worse death–not just being mauled to pieces by a ferocious animal, but being betrayed to death by something you thought was your friend, your ally. The tape of his death goes on for at least six minutes. He was alive and conscious to process what a terrible thing was happening. After getting to know his character throughout the film, you realize though that perhaps what his is most afraid of–other than his and his companion’s death–is how this bear will be treated afterward. We know that the bear as well died that day.
I watched this before going out with friends too, but this wasn’t really something I could stop thinking about. Maybe because of that, I decided (on a lighter note) to be a bear for Halloween! If funds and time permit, what kind of bear should I be?