LIVED THROUGH THIS
Never Run from a Bear
For way too long, I responded to danger by freezing
“The worst thing you can do is the thing you’ll want to do most,” the park ranger explains.
I’m standing with three friends under a tent at Apgar ranger station in Glacier National Park, allowing mosquitos to dance around my legs. To backpack legally through the most grizzly-bear-populated park in the lower 48 states, we are required to listen to this sermon.
I hang on every word.
I’ve never backpacked before. I’ve never even been to Montana. A woman died from a grizzly bear attack just a week ago, a few hours away, when his 400-lb. body mangled her tent looking for food.
“People walk by grizzlies all the time without knowing it; they blend in with the scenery,” the ranger continues. “But if you find yourself in a bear’s space, you talk to the bear. You keep your eyes on the bear. You walk away from the bear. But whatever you do, no matter what your gut tells you, never, ever run.”
Most of the time, bears in the wilderness see humans as equals, not to be bothered with. But when humans become moving targets, the bear’s predator brain is triggered. He follows.
Even the fastest human can’t outrun a grizzly.
I already knew some things about bears, having lived with one much of my life.
Like the Glacier grizzlies, my bear wasn’t always in predator mode. My bear was smart, articulate, and surprisingly sensitive. My bear could be thoughtful and cuddly, make me laugh like no one else could.
But when the bear was unhappy, I felt it in the hairs on the back of my neck. I learned how to tiptoe and hide when he was having a bad day. I learned how to speak in soothing, apologetic tones, how to not express my opinions too emphatically.
I learned that domestic items can be useful deterrents. Fans could be used to drown out shouting. Large meals, his favorites, could make the bear drowsy and easier to manage. The home itself, kept nice and tidy, could give the bear plenty of free space to roam and explore life paths, expensive hobbies, experimental drugs, or whatever else the bear thought would fix his…