This weekend we were going through the evening routine--dinner, showers, putting away laundry--and Spencer happened to pass me in the hall and say, "Oh, I was going to go to down to the school with Joe but he says there's a bear along the bike trail there so we're going to hang out here."
Living in Alaska you get used to sharing your space with wildlife--mosquitoes drinking your fluids, moose eating your lilacs--but I have a line and the bears have officially crossed it.
It's one thing to have voles or shrews munching your shrubbery and it's completely another thing to have bears munching your children. Unfortunately the bear situation here is getting worse and worse, last summer there were so many bear attacks here in the city that I was ready to swear they were organizing against us. With their shifty bear eyes and their sneaky bear ways. . . .
One attack involved a woman riding her bike along a trail in town. She was in a race (i.e. going fast) and was grabbed off her bike by a bear and taste-tested just like he was going through a drive-in window or something. Meals on wheels. He roughed her up a bit which of course put her in the hospital but the newspaper reported she made it through without life-threatening injuries. As if that makes everything okay or something.
We've always had animals and it's so common to see porcupine, dall sheep, beluga whales or eagles here and there that you can tell who the tourists are because they're the ones stopping to take pictures when one of our four-footed friends makes an appearance but with bears it's quite another story. Because they eat you.
You'd think I'm joking but I think many people in the Lower 48 have this Yogi Bear-vision of what bears are like, as if our bears here are like the ones that come up to your car and beg for food like circus animals. Not quite. Our bears are like those bears' Asian mafia cousins and trust me you do not want to be involved with the Asian mafia. Or any mafia actually, but I think that for some reason the movies tend to portray the Asian mafia as the worst kind of mafia that there is and I'm not really sure if that is a compliment to our friends in Asia or not. It could mean that the Asian people are just that much better at everything they do so that even their organized crime is a top-notch group when it comes to terror and mayhem. OR it could mean that Asians are stereotypically scary, I'm not sure which image they're going for. Either way, Asian mafia bears? Bad.
Anyone remember Timothy Treadwell? The California surfer bum guy who was convinced that bears were his friends and that they'd been unjustly labeled as Omnivorous Depravous so he set out to prove to the world how wrong we all were? The sad part was that he dragged his girlfriend into his exploits and the two of them paid for his foolishness with their lives.
They made a movie about him so pardon me if you've heard the story before but the two of them apparently made camp along a bear path and in the middle of the night a bear that was old (ergo too old to catch normal prey and looking for easy meat) pulled Timothy from his tent and ate him before doing the same thing to his girlfriend. The horrifying, hard-to-believe part is that when the whole thing happened out of habit they pulled out the cam corder and began to record what was happening (this is of course presumably before they realized he would die) and though the tape is dark the sounds of him being eaten alive were clearly recorded and found by rescue people when their camp and remains were discovered. I guess the whole point of the story is that bears are really, really scary.
If you get attacked by a shark, they'll maim you, maybe take off a limb but the real risk is bleeding to death. If a tiger tries to kill you they'll go for the throat and the kill before setting down to eat. Bears aren't that picky. In fact, if you watch fat Alaskan bears at the end of the season along the salmon streams they'll often be so efficiently lazy that they'll open up the salmon, eat only the most nutritious parts (i.e. vital organs) then throw the rest away while the poor salmon is still gasping for air. Or water, or whatever it is that fish gasp for.
While it's uncommon to hear about a bear actually killing a person (Timothy Treadwell made headlines not only for his foolishness but because it was unusual for a bear to kill) it doesn't necessarily make me feel any more comfortable knowing that most bear attacks are just a good mauling (there's an oxymoron for you), the bear chewing on its victim until Yogi gives up and moves onto something else which really doesn't make me feel any better.
When I was a child I distinctly remember going to church one day and out in the foyer of the church there was a man visiting. He was about 60 years old and very bald, a big-chested man, and running all over his naked head like train tracks were fresh pink sutures. I watched him with fascination as a child would do (they're not afraid to stare) and he was talking to someone but as I passed him he turned and his ear had been patched back together with more fresh sutures. He'd been out hiking on one of the popular hiking trails, one I'd been on many times, and had met up with a bear who'd started gnawing on him until he'd silently prayed, "Please, Lord, make this bear go away!"
The bear immediately got up and left him alone, which probably explains the man showing up at church the next day. I think I'd be converted too.
But the point is, living with bears is just one of those things about living in Alaska. It's been strange for my husband who grew up in Colorado because he never had to worry about that kind of thing. As a kid I'd go with my family camping all the time though I never worried about bears or being attacked or anything. It wasn't until I married him and he was constantly talking about taking precautions against bears that I started to get nervous. Add to that all the recent bear attacks and I don't go anywhere where there are stretches of trees and bushes without at least a tiny twinge of "Man, I hope there are no bears around."
My feelings toward our bear neighbors are probably best summed up by a quote from a highly entertaining article that Kelly at Love Well sent me. It's from a blog called Renegade Gardener and the writer recently returned from a visit to our fair state:
With a one-hour layover before boarding my connecting flight to Homer, I wandered into the fine little bookstore within the sleek Anchorage airport, and quickly came to realize what all tourists visiting Alaska come to realize: At some point during my visit, I will be killed and eaten by a bear. One’s only prayer is that these two events occur in that order.I don't think there have been any fatalities in a while but it makes you wonder how far things have to go before people start demanding that something serious be done. I suppose I made it through all those years without becoming an h'ors d'ouevre so the odds are probably very remote that I'll ever see a bear close up. At least that's my plan, let's hope it works out.
And speaking of scary things . . . did you catch Qadafi's speech? I loved SNL's take on it. If you can't laugh at Qadafi, who can you laugh at?