24 July 2008


They tell you that when you encounter a bear in the wild you're supposed to make yourself look big, make noise, stand your ground. If one actually charges you, fight back with all you've got, or play dead. There seems to be some disagreement on the matter.

Here's what I think. You're not going to win a fight with a bear. The bear is going to kill you and eat you. If you fight back, at least that will get your adrenalin pumping overtime. That will help your endorphins to kick in. And then it won't hurt as much when you are being eaten.

Or, if you are really lucky, your feeble attempts at fighting the bear will result in the bear killing you quick, rather than toying with you. And that's gotta be better than being eaten alive.

This is on my mind because tomorrow I am going to Montana. To a place where they have grizzly bears. Oh yeah, and I came across this article (click on the headline to read the whole, horrifying story): MAN EATING BEARS KILL TWO SCIENTISTS AND LAY SIEGE TO SURVIVORS TRAPPED IN REMOTE FOREST BASE.

Civilization has been a long, arduous march away from the woods. And I like to think of myself as a civilized man.

I once flew for three-and-a-half hours in a single-engined plane, not too far over unbroken forest canopy to a mud landing strip in the highlands of Central Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo. At one point we flew over the wreckage of an identical plane that had crash-landed onto the tops of the hundred or more foot tall trees.

None of that made me nervous. The two day trek along a well-kept path in the jungle to a remote longhouse of the Kenyah tribe, was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.

I nearly died of fright when a snake flew overhead.

That's right, flew. It was a bright blue snake, poisonous of course. It actually glides from tree to tree by flattening out its body and catching air. The other people in my party were delighted to catch a glimpse of this wonder of nature. I just felt inadequately armed and armored.

The last time I went camping was around 1977 or '78. My then girlfriend Chris, and I, went to the Stanley Basin in Idaho. Even I will admit that it is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. We spent the day fly-fishing. Well, she did, I'm incompetent at that sort of thing. She caught dinner and I cleaned it and cooked it. I'm good at that sort of thing. (But I must confess that I don't like trout, no matter how fresh. I prefer saltwater fish.) We went to sleep in our bags under the trees - no tent, but we were near the car.

In the morning I was woken up by a terrible chattering. I looked straight up into the gaping maws of doom. I shrieked, rolled away from the tree, broke from my sleeping bag and made a mad dash for the safety of the car. Chris, terrified by my reaction, quickly followed.

It was a squirrel. Clinging upside down to the tree, staring into my face and nattering on about something or another. Hey, maybe it was a rabid squirrel.

I don't like the woods. They scare me. I realize it's illogical, but drop me off in the middle of the most violence-prone, crime-ridden urban neighborhood in the world and I might be wary, but I'm comfortable.

I know full well that bears and squirrels and flying snakes don't carry guns; and that I'm about a thousand times (or more) more likely to be shot to death by a fellow human than I am to be eaten, poisoned or scratched to death by any other animal. But that's just the way it is.

Those of you who like the woods should be glad. You don't have me around to mess them up for you.

1 comment:

hikernb said...

Have a great time in Montana! And remind me to tell you about my bear encounters at Mt. Whitney and in Alaska some time!