Let me take you to an enchanting forest where you could probably picture mythical beasts wondering around doing some stuff. It’s a great wilderness where one can look at the trees and envision a magnificent table or awe-inspiring two-by-fours being made. Beautiful, right?
But this story is of a beast you only thought was a myth. It’s about bears. To prove bears exist let’s look at the grizzly – scientific name: Ursus arctos horribilis.
Horribilis is Latin meaning “big ugly bear,” probably. We know little of the world of the big ugly bear. To help us understand we meet Fred, a big ugly biologist.
It was Fred who told me the bear was “mythical.” He said, “It’s a wonderful, magestical creature.” Ooh, magestical. “No, MAJESTIC.” Ooh, majestic.
I went back-and-forth on how I wanted to introduce you to the bear. I wondered, to myself, if I should introduce you the same way I was introduced, which was when I was young, being exposed to a cartoon of a bear singing and dancing in the woods. After viewing that shocking video, I said to myself, that could never happen.
Fred thinks maybe that is why I believed bears to be myth. Fred likes to introduce the bear by taking you to the source.
Watch Fred as he ambles along the hillside of prime bear habitat. Identify him by his furry beard and face. Just as a bear does, he overturns rocks and he searches their food sources to better understand their place in the wild. He holds his nose to the wind and catches our scent – as a bear would.
In one swift motion, Fred is on his hind legs and shows us his massive claws like those of an old man who has not clipped his claws, but only sharpened them. It’s not until he gives us this disappointed look, like we aren’t what he’s expecting, that we realize this is not Fred at all, but some class of an animal that we can’t be sure of.
Fred must be back at the office doing some science. By studying the bear – what it eats for instance – we gain important insights into its livelihood. Watching the bear eat, we can compare it, metaphorically, to ourselves. Since the bear eats about anything, if we were the bear, the world would be our all-day buffet.
Fred tells us that before human intervention: from the Arctic Ocean down to Mexico the great bear used to wonder aimlessly, but our modern ancestors were able to fix that. Now the bear wonders only in designated areas.
The grizzly of today survives only because we allow it and we can hold this fact over its head, kind of. The next time we come face-to-face with a grizzly we will taunt him with this historical fact and watch him clamor even though Fred says it’s not a good idea.
We have labeled the bear many things over the centuries from "caveman assassinator" to "tourist taste tester" and finally the "insane circus bear on his crazy ball." But the bear has always labeled us as a sort of “audacious” creature.
But I ask the bear, who is audacious? The civilized man with a camera, luring animals with steak on a string, and other fancy gizmos like my mammoth-sized tazer; or the one who goes around acting like an animal all day?
Fred says to question the bear on trivial matters is pointless and that we should listen to the bear. What? Whenever Fred hears the cry of a bear, he responds with his best imitation in low bellows and grunts. I see no indication that the animal understands, but I think Fred thinks they appreciate the sentiment. Whatever, Fred. This leads me to question his legitimacy as a scientist.
Fred does all this for the bear, but what has the bear done for us? Aside from give us a life-long nemesis to fear.
Even today, the bear stands as a symbol of the wild parts of the world. In its shroud of dangerous spirits, the bear is glamorized. It is romanticized by human portrayals of the wild beast attacking and showing its aggressive nature.
I think we might portray romanticizing better if we drew a bear at a fine dining table. By the gentle glow of a fire we see the bear with a rose and a playful smile, which makes us nervous of its seductive ways. Maybe it’s the warm glass of wine, but we haven’t felt this romanced in a long time.
But that wouldn’t be the bear we know. Instead, the bear reminds us more of my aunt Hilda, who, like a bear, can sleep the winter blues away in a dark den where she can spend winter’s entirety for all we care, surviving off nothing but her fat reserves from an autumn of gorging.
Scientists do not disturb the bear for a fear, probably, the same way we fear disturbing Aunt Hilda’s winter slumber. They do not want to be met with a wild-eyed beast that is cranky from only being half-way through her months of sleep and she has a powerful morning breath.
The spring bear will emerge when she’s ready. She’ll wake from winter hibernation looking at us like we’re a T-bone and, on the side, a baked potato dripping with butter. What the bear doesn’t realize is that we’re not a T-bone – that was only our nickname in college. But she may realize the baked potato is real, and that’s our own fault. We shouldn’t carry butter slathered baked potatoes in bear country. This point is reiterated when the bear charges.
What people don’t realize is that nine-out-of-ten charges the bear is only joking. The bear sees how frightened we are then turns and laughs, satisfied. This, of course, angers us because nobody scares us in that way but our aunt, Hilda.
Grizzlies are content to joke charge, probably, because they will eat about anything in the woods, their favorite – a nice salmon, which they eat raw and without any regard for decency. If they tried eating like that at my mom’s table it would be my sister who would scold the bear, but the bear would never understand.
I guess the bear has it pretty good. All except the polar bear, maybe. It’s an animal that you’ve never seen equaled in its sheer content to live in a land of vast icescapes. Man needs more than ice. This major difference is probably why man and polar bear don’t get along. As far as we can see, the polar bear has nothing to look forward to. Socially, it has nothing going on.
In the polar bear’s struggle to maintain a foothold in this vast land of ice water you might be asking yourself, what makes the polar bear think it’s all worth it? But under closer observation, the polar can be seen on the ice, locked with a seal, in an epic game of peek-a-boo.
They are the largest of the bear family, so they have that going for them. But they have humans to thank. Their diet of people makes them big and gives them that shiny coat. It’s their will for maintaining good looks versus our will of turning up the heat in that cold wasteland. But when the ice is gone, the polar bear will be gone. We humans can adapt to change where the polar bear cannot. So I guess, in the end, we win.
It’s a harsh environment for bears to raise themselves in. For mating rights, adult males will fight and argue over who gets the first girl they see. After a brutal fight, to the victor goes his female prize. In reality, he won a girlfriend who reminds me of my aunt, Hilda, and that makes us shudder and want to close our eyes to the world of the bear.
With the curiosity of a child, the hairiness of a hobo and the claws of a mad woman, we have to tell ourselves: we’ll never understand the world of the bear.