Read an excerpt from Tom Lang’s BEAR:
I’m a big, bad Alaskan brown bear and I get a little angry now and then. So shoot me. I don’t live in a fairy tale world where the worst thing that can happen is a smelly human eats my porridge and sleeps in my bed. I live in the real world. One day you’re walking down a trail smelling the flowers, the next your head’s hanging on a cabin wall and the humans are sitting on your butt in front of the fireplace.
My last rampage started late this spring. I was eating salmon, alone as usual, along side the riverbank. A herd of cars stopped and humans got out pointing and staring at me. I moved up river but they followed me, their cameras making little insect noises. After my second salmon I snapped. I dropped the carcass and charged toward the road. The humans screamed as they raced to their cars. I banged on windows and I stood on hoods. I chewed on tires until they exploded.
“Are we having fun yet?” I growled, ripping a funny looking boat off the top of a truck and crushing it with my paws.
For the next few weeks I scared every human I could find. I shadowed campgrounds at dusk, waiting for the humans to go to sleep. Then I banged on their trailers or ripped open their tents. I sniffed along hiking trails, listening for the sound of bells and the weak squeak of the human voice. Humans always fall for the old fake charge technique. I jump out of the bushes, roaring and romping at full speed, then slam on the brakes a few feet in front of them before their smell knocks me into a coma. While the humans lie shaking, curled up in balls, I tear into their backpacks and eat their food.
Is my behavior a bit extreme? Perhaps, but I’ve been on edge since cubhood. I’m an insomniac. I haven’t had a sound winter’s sleep since I was two years old. Most brown bears catch some shuteye and hibernate for five or six months. I spend my winters lying in my six-foot-long, four-foot-wide den and staring up at my three-foot-high ceiling. I count blueberries and jumping salmon. I memorize moose anatomy. Nothing works. The few times I slip into slumber I am startled awake by my troubled dreams.
At the peak of my rage this year my brother Ted came up to me as I was sneaking up on one of those humans who run for miles for no apparent reason.
“Hey, bro,” he said. “I’ve been looking for you. Hungry?”
“I’m always hungry, Teddy.”
“I have a moose hind quarter that’s rotting away and I thought you and me could sit and feast on it.”
“Twist my paw.”
Although we live in the same valley, my brother and I don’t see each other much and we haven’t been close since we were cubs. But a free meal is a free meal. I followed him through the woods, making small talk: “…is it just me or are the glaciers melting faster this year… I hear there’s a new parasite going around…those damn wolves.”
We arrived at a clearing, a grassy moose meadow where twenty bears sat in a circle. The legendary Big Bear stood in the center while the group stared at me. Big Bear beckoned me forward with the curl of a claw. He put his big paw over my hump.
“You know everybody,” Big Bear said, his voice thunder from the sky.
The bears grunted and snorted “hellos.”
“What’s this all about?” I said, glancing over at my brother. Teddy turned away from me and looked down at his back legs.
“This is about you,” Big Bear said, first pointing at me then spreading his front legs toward the group, “and this is about us.”
I nodded and waited.
“You’re causing trouble with the humans,” Big Bear said.
The bears in the group grumbled and huffed.
“So? They started it.”
“And they’ll finish it. Humans began slaughtering our forebears 200 years ago. There were 100 thousand of us down in the lower 48 ranges back then. Now there are only 1,000 left. We still have 30,000 brown bears in Alaska and we want to keep it that way. Your behavior does no one any good.”
“I can’t see what difference my behavior—“
Big Bear raised his paw to silence me.
“They come looking for you they come looking for all of us. Humans are stupid. We all look alike to them. They can’t smell. Our sense of smell is 75 times stronger. The olfactory mucosa in a human’s nose is less than a square inch. Ours is 100 times that. Humans are at the bottom of the evolutionary ladder.”
“Exactly, Big Bear, so what’s the problem?”
“The problem is this; by stepping down to the human’s level, which you are doing by attacking for no reason, you create a problem for all of us. Humans are reactive and irrational. All they need is one lame excuse and they’ll start picking us off like berries from a bush.”
“What do you expect me to do about it?”
“We expect you to change your behavior. All bears have potential problems with humans. But you have a bigger problem with yourself. You’re acting out. It is the summation of the Benevolent Order of Brown Bears of the Chilkat Valley that you visit Dr. Carnivora Chordata, our anger management specialist here in the valley.”
“Or what?” I said, heat rising under my fur.
The group of bears stood up and surrounded me.
“Failure to do so,” Big Bear said, squeezing my shoulder, “will give us no other choice but to ban you from the premier spawning grounds, restrict your roaming on Blueberry Hill and revoke your forest toilet privileges until we see fit.”