The Bear Doesn't Know
"Paul Schullery has spent the last 50 years watching and thinking about bears. In this entertaining and informative collection of essays and stories––ranging from bear myths to the latest science, from personal encounters to contemplations about our species' complicated relationship with what he calls 'these bewildering, wondrous animals'––he lets us in on what he discovered. We're lucky he did. Schullery possesses a wonderfully inquisitive mind, a passion for the natural world and, thankfully for us all, a talent for explaining things with both precision and a wry sense of humor. --- Dayton Duncan, Writer/Producer, The National Parks: America's Best Idea
"Paul Schullery is a master of the essayist's and memoirist's craft. His prose is clean and cogent, witty and wise. He pays great attention. He has been out among the bears – often with the biologists who study them – and this has given him a fine understanding of and appreciation for these formidable mammals. The Bear Doesn't Know is educating and entertaining, a thoroughly delightful paean to these very special creatures with whom we are privileged to share the earth." --- Charles Fergus, author of Bears: Wild Guide, and the Gideon Stoltz mystery series, including Nighthawk's Wing and Lay This Body Down.
Excerpt from Chapter One of The Bear Doesn't Know, "Early Bears"
One very early spring day about 30 years ago I was up on the south slopes of Mount Washburn in Yellowstone National Park with two good friends, grizzly bear researchers Marilynn and Steve French. There was still a lot of snow, which enabled us to backtrack a mating pair of grizzly bears a short distance until we found their most recently abandoned daybeds in a cozy little copse of lodgepole pines. The daybeds were just large bearish-roundish depressions in the old snow that still covered last summer's dried-out vegetation. It's amazing how exciting the least evidence of something that isn't there any more can be, and these were even more so because it hadn't been but a few hours, at most, since they'd vacated the beds. We knew they were somewhere nearby.
The story of the bears' morning was still fresh to be read in the snow. As they left the daybeds they moved uphill through a mixture of pines and snowy glades, the male following behind the female the way males do at such times. Three times in the first hundred yards, the female paused long enough to defecate. Each time, the male (who we knew from previous observations to be huge) stopped and with precision accuracy dropped a load of his own directly on top of hers.
Though we were all quite familiar with the literature of grizzly bear mating behavior, and though Marilynn and Steve had put in infinitely more observation time with mating grizzlies than I, none of us had heard of this particular trick.
But it wasn't hard to read. It seemed pretty clear that the male was speaking in the possessive—"She's mine, don't get any ideas"—to any other male bear that might come along and notice the droppings, whose hearty aroma would no doubt tell him an enticing story. At the time I joked that our big male's technique was quite effective. I had no desire whatsoever to offer to buy that female bear a drink.
But because the droppings, especially the male's, were so large, we began wondering about other things. For example, what if you had never seen or heard of a grizzly bear? What if you were walking through the woods and you suddenly came upon those fresh piles, or any such pile produced by the big male alone? You would instantly know what the stuff was, but what sort of creature would your imagination build around the orifice required to produce it? Your database is modest, but it gives you lots of room to wonder.
What my uninformed imagination might make of a pile of bear scat is an appealing and amusing question, but, like so many other things I notice in bear country, it leads me to harder and ultimately more enriching questions. For just one of many examples, if a grizzly bear has occasionally starred in some seriously disturbing dream of mine, what sort of god-awful thing chases a grizzly bear through its dreams?
This is the sort of thinking you find yourself doing when you embrace the excitement and wonder of bear country. The bear is something we see and think and dream together, many voices and needs that clash and strive and sometimes eventually harmonize. We encounter the bear, whether in person or in print or in any other way, and by doing so we wonder and learn and imagine and come back to wonder some more, maybe even wondering somewhat fearfully what it ought mean if we were only better at taking it all in.Sensing all that demanding, exhilarating wonder-filled hope from the beginning, I have for many years now taken bears personally, living long enough—almost all my adult life—in bear country to feel both honored and obliged to struggle for something deeper than received wisdoms, headline emotions, and casual impressions.
It is in that schizophrenic and somewhat wacky spirit—"Let's all love bears! But let's keep the hell out of their way!"—that we fellow pilgrims, altogether and each on our own, wander into bear country.