One of the first things people asked me (and Lissa) when I told them about my new job as resident caretaker at Goldmyer Hot Spring was “Are you worried about getting eaten by a bear?” or “Do you get to carry a gun to protect you against a bear?” I found these questions funny, ridiculous and sad. I can see why people asked these types of questions though. We are so disconnected with the natural world these days and fearful of it too. We live in artificial, climate controlled structures where we spend all day glued to technological devices. We hop in our little death vehicles and drive to another artificial, climate controlled building and spend the day working under florescent lights just to pay for those devices we are so attached too. If we do happen to go outside we are shocked by how scary and ruthless it is and we don’t like it. It’s too wet, too buggy, too cold, too dry, etc, etc, etc. We are so out-of-tune with our natural surroundings that we are blind to the fact that we are destroying the environment at an alarming rate, or if we do know, then we just don’t care enough to give up our ipods, ipads idildo or iwhatever. Sorry about the rant here.
Starting at a young age we are taught that great animals like wolves, cougars and bears are bad and scary. They are portrayed as the mean, evil characters in some of our children books and cartoons. We lock them up for their “own protection” at zoos behind steel bars and electric wire. The media portrays these foul creatures as beasts that are either going to slaughter your children or eat your hormone-ridden cattle/BigMac (some people don’t know that hamburgers come from cows, though the McDonald’s version probably contains more pink slime then actual beef). The only thing that makes it onto the news is when someone is attacked by a bear or cougar. How often do you hear the news headline: “This just in: two young men returned to civilization yesterday unscathed and unharmed after spending six days alone in the Sawtooth Wilderness. After hiking some 80 miles the boys reported that although they saw fresh bear scat they never once saw or heard a bear.” Millions of people venture out into our national and state parks, forests and other “wild” places every year and thousands of more actually go into remote wilderness areas. Out of all these people very few actually get attacked by a bear or mountain lion. According to the Journal of Wildlife Management, from 1900-2009, 63 people were killed by black bears (Ursus americanus) in North America. For mountain lions, on average about six people are attacked per year resulting in only one death. Human attacks by wolves are much lower. You are more likely to be mauled to death by a dog; 2008 saw 23 fatalities by “friendly” domestic dogs.
Back in July of 2006 while working trail crew in Rocky Mountain National Park, I came across a black bear while hiking a fire trail. She/he stopped for a few seconds, looked at me and then took off down the mountain. The encounter, although it felt like a long time, only lasted a few seconds. I didn’t even have enough time to pull my camera out of my pack to snap a picture. I’d like to think I’ve spent a decent amount of time wandering the great outdoors, many occasions by myself. This has been my only encounter with a bear. It was just as afraid of me as I was of it.
So to answer these people’s questions about if I’m worried about getting eaten by a bear, the answer is NO. And I’m not going to carry a gun either. I do hope I get to see one though. I have thought about leaving a little treat out on the back porch for one but I don’t think this will go over very well with Lissa. If I do happen to come across a bear, or it happens across me I’ll just pull out my best wolverine impression to scare it off (or I’ll pull out my switchblade if it comes down to hand-to-paw combat).
“When all the dangerous cliffs are fenced off, all the trees that might fall on people are cut down, all of the insects that bite have been poisoned … and all of the grizzlies are dead because they are occasionally dangerous, the wilderness will not be made safe. Rather, the safety will have destroyed the wilderness.”
– R. Yorke Edwards (Canadian environmentalist)