Monday, March 24, 2008

Lions and tigers and BEARS. Oh my!

Patty here…

Some time back a macho friend of mine told me his wife wanted to go on a trip to Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies.

Me: “Sounds like fun.”
He: “We’re not going.”
Me: “How come?”
He: “They got bears up there.”

He wasn’t taking his wife to the Rockies because he might see a bear? I’ve only seen one, outside a zoo, a small black bear. He was fishing for curly fries in the garbage can. He didn’t seem scary, just hungry. I considered all the bear images in literature and life. Bear hugs, bear claws, Care-bears, Teddy, Yogi, Gummi, and Pooh, not to mention pandas and koalas.

And of course Smokey.

There wasn’t a bad bear in the lot, so I tucked my friend’s fear into a bottom drawer of my mind.

Recently, I was reading Nelson DeMille’s novel Wild Fire. I was enjoying the irreverent banter between Detective John Corey, DeMille’s tough-guy NYPD cop-turned-anti-terrorist task force member and his FBI agent wife, thinking his style was similar to another of my favorite authors, our very own Paul Levine. Then I learned that John Corey was afraid of bears. It was an interesting coincidence.

I recalled a 2005 movie called "An Unfinished Life" starring Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, and Bart the bear in which the fear of a particular bear featured prominently in the plot. Multiple men with bearophobia. It was starting to feel like déjà vu all over again. I had to know more.

Trolling for information on the Internet, I was dumbstruck to learn that Lewis Libby AKA "Scooter," Dick Cheney's right-hand man, the now-disbarred lawyer who outed CIA agent Valerie Plame and got a free ticket out of jail from George W. Bush, wrote a book back in 1996 called The Apprentice that is replete with bear issues that sound like a psychiatrist's mother lode. I won't go into detail because it exceeds my personal "ick" factor, so you'll have to explore on your own. Here's the link.

Stephen Colbert of TV’s “The Colbert Report” is afraid of bears, too. It’s a running joke on his show, but apparently it’s a real fear from his childhood. In his weekly “Threat Down,” he says one of the biggest threats to the U.S. is “terrorist” bears.

Bears are soulless, godless, rampaging killing machines. They, like purple donkeys, run around the woods molesting and raping innocent people. For years, ravenous bears have had free reign to use our woods as their personal latrine, protected by their "endangered" status. Now the government is wisely considering ending grizzlies' special treatment to protect our honey jars and Paddington Station. –Stephen Colbert

To me, the thing people are afraid of is not half as interesting as why they are afraid of it. Did they have a real encounter with a bear?

Or something else?

If you go down in the woods today,
You'd better not go alone.
It's lovely down in the woods today,
But safer to stay at home.

For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain because
Today's the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic.
from the Teddy Bears Picnic

I’m still trying to sort it all out, but if preparation dispels fear, here are some tips on what to do if you have a close encounter with a bear:

  1. Identify yourself. (“Hi, I’m a writer, and I'd love to dedicate my next book to you.”)
  2. Don’t run, even if the bear charges you. Stand tall and make yourself seem as imposing as possible. ("I am not 5-4. I'm 10-4....good buddy.")
  3. If attacked, surrender. (There’s another option?)

Of course, this advice won't work on the scariest bears of all.

Happy Monday!


  1. Best bear movie of all time: "The Edge," written by David Mamet, before he became a right-winger.

    Mind games between cuckolded husband (Anthony Hopkins) and wife's lover (Alec Baldwin) in the woods with a carnivorous bear on the loose.

    And let's not forget about Elle Macpherson, the wife. I know Jim Born hasn't.

  2. Oh, great blog, Patty! It's a teddy bear theme all round. I've spent some time studying t-bears this last week, because I'm compiling a teddy bear rules of etiquette for one of the establishments I'm writing about: rules apply to humans when interacting with bears. :-D

    Thanks for a smile. :-D Back at ya...


  3. I love this post! My brother used to collect teddy bears - years ago, when he was in his twenties. We'd go to rummage sales and flea markets looking for old bears - once he came striding towards me through a throng of people at a flea market, clutching an ancient teddy bear in a dress - he reminded me of Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited. He was even featured in the local paper with his entire collection! In fact, I don't know if they still do it in the UK, but every year there were various "teddy bear picnics" held, all ages welcome as long as you came with a bear or two. You'd see seniors and children and every age in between coming along with their bears for a day out.

    Of course, my favorite is Winnipeg, the inspiration for Winnie The Pooh. You can read all about Winnipeg, the bear cub who became the mascot for Canadian soldiers who shipped out to England in WW1:

    Winnie ended up at Regent's Park Zoo when the regiment were sent to France, and at first was so very lonely because she had been so used to human attention and interaction, so the keepers began taking her for walks around the zoo so that she could meet people - she was so tame. That's where A.A. Milne saw her, when he took his young son to the zoo. There's a tear-jerker 2004 film about her - A Bear Called Winnie - which will have you in tears. Did me!

    Thanks, Patty - lovely Monday post!

  4. Paulie, if I ever get a DVD player, I'll check out "The Edge."

    Marianne, compiling t-bear rules of etiquette. Back at ya, too.

    Our J, thanks for that bit of information. I had no idea...

  5. Oh thank you, Our J.!! More teddy inspiration. I didn't realise that Winnie the Pooh had such an illustrious beginning. Poor bear. I must go look... :-D

    PS: I just love that your brother 'rescued' teddy bears and gave them a loving home. You always tell wonderful stories...

  6. Beary lovely post, Patty, and beary interesting comment, Our J!


  7. Well, if you run into Bear Stearns, just offer it $2 a share and it should leave you alone.

    Great post!!

    My favorite toy as a child was a bear I immediately named Bearie. I found him on the third floor of my paternal grandparents' house, propped up against a pile of pillows on my Uncle David's childhood bed. He was handmade by a girlfriend or something, and was wearing pajamas and a nightcap and had a small flashlight strapped to his wrist.

    I remain convinced that my dad's old girlfriend Martica Clapp kidnapped him when we stayed at her place in the Bahamas when I was eight. But maybe he just decided to stay on there by himself. Hard to say.

  8. I'm fascinated y bears, alligators and sharks. I see two of them all the time,

    I too lovef the Edge and Ms. McPhearson.


  9. if we're doing true confessions, I got my first Teddy in my 20s. His name is Radar.

  10. Patty....bear with me here, but the advice you gave about "surrendering" is really only applicable to grizzly bears....with a black bear you need to fight back, because it will eat you.....Polar bears, oh well. I hope you have paid your life insurance premiums. Grizzly bears usually only attack when startled.
    Nice of you to share a pic of Bart the Bear [of The Edge fame ....and many other films] with a truly great guy Doug Seus. Sadly Bart died back in 2000.

    My vote for best bear film [also starring Bart] was THE BEAR.......It has the flavour of a Jack London novel, like Call of the Wild and the cinematography and scenery is spectacular [shot in British Columbia ]. Of course it is somewhat "Disneyfied" but it still has a "life lessons" aspect to it. If you haven't seen it, by all means get from your Blockbuster, Netflix or even the local library.

    Thanks for the great post.

  11. I bought my first serious teddy bear when I broke up with a long time boyfriend back in 1990. Teddy's name was "Taffy, Squadron Bear". He was about two foot high (sitting) and wore a white cravat (scarf) and black cloak. I pinned a gold paratrooper insignia to his cravat, and cuddled him often during the post break up grieving process. He even hosted the odd 'teddy bears picnic' when friends visited and brought their bears with them.

    When I was little, I didn't have a bear, I had a fuzzy felted bunny and a squeaky rubber sheep. Sounds terribly Australian, doesn't it? My brother had the jointed bear: the last time either of us saw it, it had long lost an eye, an ear, and an arm. Poor bear.

    So I do have a soft spot for stuffies - bears in particular. I think I was deprived... Mind you, I had to leave Taffy with my landlady in Sydney because he was too big to bring with me on the plane, and I'd run out of money to send him by post. Sigh. He was such a happy bear.


  12. Great post, Patty! I immediately thought about Colbert and his terrorist bears and his Threat Down. Totally cracks me up every time.

    My girlfriend went trekking in Alaska a few years back and came back with pictures of grizzly pawprints the size of Montana. I'm not sure I would've liked that very much...

  13. I had no idea there were so many bear experts in our neck of the woods. Enjoying all your comments.

  14. Unbearably good post, Patty.

    I have a puppeteer friend who collects stuffed bears. Of course, at this point he has so many that if he sees a costume that he likes, he'll buy the teddy bear, then strip it (bear) naked, and give it to charity, while keeping the clothes for his more favored bears.

    Of course, my own ragged-eared childhood teddy is carefully tucked away in a box, for what future event, I'm not exactly certain.

    No bear phobias here, Patty. That despite reading a horrible article about a carnivorous bear in Reader's Digest in my youth. Fear of commitment? Maybe. :o)

  15. I think there's a bear boutique where your friend can shop all the latest outfits. Just can't remember the name.