Ursinine Behavior

Ever since I grew up watching Kermit the Frog reporting for Sesame Street News, I have plowed into journalism with a singular goal. I crafted my education, careened up several career ladders, and enhanced my résumé with the intent of holding a baby bear cub.

I finally accepted that my dream was some cruel mirage, the one unattainable fantasy from my dorm room days. But then I brushed so close to my dream that I could smell it!

Which is, admittedly, not very close. A bear’s scent shades more acreage than a solar eclipse. If you could hear a bear’s odor—and I’m not saying you can’t—it would sound like busted speakers playing Tom Waits on a dubbed cassette tape through the PA system in the Astrodome.

bears1But I still came close enough to uncover that holding a black bear cub is a real, honest possibility for a journalist with friends with sedatives. Mere weeks ago, a newspaper that runs this column featured a piece about precisely that. (The paper must remain nameless, lest the paper’s Editorialista regret not reassigning the story to me.) (The journalist shall also remain nameless because I’m not speaking with her ever again until she shares more pictures.)

bears2And boy, are there pictures. One reveals the journalist cuddling the cub inside her jacket. With shots like that, she will never again have to change her profile picture until at least Halloween.

This journalist may be lucky, but her luck’s not dumb. She enlisted a team of scientists to tranquilize the mother bear. To justify their grant money, the scientists busied themselves pretending to weigh the bear, count its teeth, and glance nervously at their watches, only this last one was not make-believe.

The botheration is, I was available at the very moment someone decided to go into the wild, sedate a bear, and squeeze its cubs. I don’t have any idea what I was doing at that moment; but, to fulfill my lifelong aspiration, I would drop practically ANYTHING so long as it wasn’t another lifelong aspiration. And those don’t come along but once a week.

Yet I did not receive the editorial rose. Never mind that I have survived all my past encounters with wild bears—once would be luck; twice must be talent! And speaking of talent, I have four little sisters and never once changed a diaper. Isn’t that precisely the wherewithal you want on a cub-hugging expedition?

At first I was wounded deeper than any startled bear could gash me. But I gradually realized that I’m not that kind of writer—which is to say, one motivated by such unimportantries as “deadlines” and “facts.” Also, I am re-evaluating my dreams.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJudging by the photographs, bear cubs are the size of old Volkswagen engines. One of those has got to leak more than the other; I don’t want MY clothes finding out which. And I can totally hold that much weight without grunting, but I have too much respect for wildlife.

Like, this one time in college, we heard a screeching from underneath the porch. My neighbor and I armed ourselves with police surplus floodlights to locate the source: an abandoned, terrified, and ferocious baby cat. Wearing thick leather gloves, we waited until the modern-day Crocodile Hunter next door came home and rescued us.

The way I see it, there are only two reasons for exposing your flesh to a wild animal: 1) You are a trained professional; 2) The situation presents an Educational Opportunity, wherein you learn not to expose your flesh to wild animals.

trainOr there’s the Canadian way. Parks Canada researchers are mounting extreme-action-capturing GoPro cameras on locomotives. To guarantee their grant money, these researchers decided to study how grizzly bears react to oncoming trains. The premise of the study is that EVERYONE reacts to oncoming trains. You can’t not wave, or twerk your head like you’re watching a one-way tennis match, or time your imaginary self dashing across the tracks at the last moment.

Apparently, the grizzlies don’t react appropriately. The researchers hope to develop Educational Opportunities so they (the bears) stop getting in the way of friggin’ trains already.

Their scientific method is indubitably awesome. However, these researchers miss the primary point of photographing wildlife, which is human safety.

For instance, the nameless paper’s photographs saved me from my own ignorant desire to cradle-rob a mama bear’s den. The journalists courageously hugging cubs out there are raising all kinds of such awareness. Such as, something about feeding the bears, something something, a good idea to leave garbage on the front porch.

Check out my rockin’ reportage! I ought to earn my trenchcoat and microphone any day now.


This Fool’s Gold appeared originally in The Durango Telegraph and subsequently in the New Mexico Mercury and The KC Post.

(Featured image of bear cub copyright Florida Fish and Wildlife/CC. Sedated bear and nameless journalist cuddling bear copyright Jennaye Derge/The Durango Telegraph.)


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