Okay, now that I've made a few posts to this blog and gotten some information out there, I feel like I can safely give you the abridged version of my story and fill you in on how all of this came together.
My fascination with bears began in the summer of 2008 when I took a seasonal job in southeast Alaska and, being an avid reader, decided to brush up on some of the local literature. Thus, into my hands landed the infamous Alaska Bear Tales by Larry Kaniut, a collection of bone-crushing, blood-spilling true stories that make Jaws look like Finding Nemo. It didn't take long - maybe only a third of the way through the book - for me to decide that I was never going to leave the house again, certainly not to venture out into the wilderness.
But being an outdoor enthusiast - and being in Alaska, where outdoor adventure is a must - venture into the wilderness I did. I think I mastered every hiking trail near the town of Skagway, though I expected all my limbs to be violently ripped off at any moment every step of the way. Can you imagine my puzzlement when that did not happen? I never once saw a bear in those woods - though I did occasionally see signs that they were nearby somewhere - and I began to feel more and more foolish as time went on. Even so, my dreams were haunted and I awoke more than a few times in the middle of the night to see large, dark silhouettes lumbering up to my bedside.
Being stuck in Alaska for so long, The Edge became one of my favorite movies to watch and it inspired me to look into the full story of Bart the Bear when I returned home....just to see how anyone could work that closely with such a vicious creature and live to tell about it. I watched the "Legacy of Bart the Bear" video that I posted a link to in an earlier post and it completely blew my mind. Now it seemed like bears were just one big walking contradiction. That video never left me, though, and began to linger in my memory even more than the horror stories did.
Now interested in bears mostly because I wanted to know which side of the story was true, I stumbled across the work of Charlie Russell and his book Grizzly Heart, still the greatest book I have ever read. That ended up being the perfect place to start, simply because of the ideas that it presented and the things that it made me think about; things that I had never heard said about bears before but that somehow made complete sense to me. That led to more reading, all the internet research I could muster, and plenty of personal musing...and this is where it's brought me.
Now I obviously haven't done any work around living, breathing bears and I'm not a scientist (and I'm not sure I would want to be, especially in this field of study), but I've seen enough evidence to completely change my stance from bear hater (I often wondered why we didn't just take the initiative and wipe these "monsters" off the face of the earth) to bear lover. Now I look at the work that's been done with gorillas and killer whales and I see how far we've come in our understanding of those animals and I wonder what's holding us back from accomplishing the same thing with bears? What is it that scares us so much? Why is it that we have no problem ascribing intelligence, emotion, self-awareness, and humanity to primates, whales, and dolphins, but we lash out in hostility when someone says the same about bears? The reason is because bears are a trophy animal, heavily hunted and heavily poached, their organs and bile worth thousands of dollars on the Black Market, a practice that would be abolished if people began to see bears in a more humane light (Charlie Russell's bears were slaughtered because of that). The reason is because the hunting industry has planted a backwards idea of wildlife management in our heads to keep their coveted trophy animal legal. The reason is because bear biologists - the people who are supposed to be for the bears - subject these animals to much of the same cruel treatment in university laboratories as poachers do in bile farms in Asia, justifying it by saying that the bears are machines without thought, feeling, or emotion. Even poor Lily the Black Bear and her cub have to be closely watched from a distance to ensure that some psychopath doesn't decide to get his 15 minutes of fame by sticking a shotgun barrel in her den live on the internet. That is a sad, sad world.
The good news is that the tide is slowly turning. Right now the number of revolutionary books on bears that are available can be counted on one hand, but judging by the list of books set to be released over the next year, that number is set to skyrocket. Beyond that, it's just a matter of hoping that people will listen and make the attempt to unlearn what they have learned.
Folks, that is the purpose of this blog, to do whatever I am able to do to help keep that snowball rolling. Most people will disregard the information here, calling it unscientific and anthropomorphic (the hopeless is what we'll call them) and others will embrace it (the hopeful) and learn from it and pass it on to someone else or make a donation to conservation work. If even one person does any one of those things, then I've done my job.
So let's keep that snowball rolling.