Sunday, December 30, 2012

Book Review: Death in the Grizzly Maze

When we spotted Death in the Grizzly Maze: The Timothy Treadwell Story by Mike Lapinski (2005) at our local used bookshop over the holidays, and for the low price of $7.50, we decided to pass some long winter's night hours reading through it. 

Meh. We give it a five on a scale of one to ten.

Lapinski repeats himself in many chapters and doesn't really say much that's very new or different from the general consensus that Treadwell was kind of an idiot. He also seems to have a bone to pick with "eco-warriors" and doesn't distinguish between Sea Shepard and NRDC, marking him as a lumper rather than a splitter in the taxonomy of eco-whatever. And Lapinski really doesn't get us much further in our understanding of Ami Huguenard, despite his protestations that most media coverage ignored her. Did she keep a journal? Did her friends know she was up there? That poor woman. But most importantly, he barely mentions the bears at all, except as bit players in Treadwell's drama, when they are rightfully the kings and queens of Hallo Bay and Treadwell merely an interloper. Rather than repeat the quotes from biologists and prattle on about the use of bear spray, a chapter or two about the natural history of the grizzly would have contextualized the story and engaged the reader in the critter that so captivated Treadwell.

We deeply understand the desire to connect with wild animals, any animals. We know folks who are plumb nutty about predators. We know folks who have raised wild animals from babies, but it is always the same story. A wild animal is driven by secret desires. We should always be respectful and wary of those secrets. The book does little to explore the mysteries of the bears and the awe they inspire, and instead seems an extended condemnation of the basic facts of Treadwell's foolishness. Ho hum. 

P.S. Grizzly Years by Doug Peacock has much more about the natural history of bears and is a more compelling and thoughtful read. And the film "Grizzly Man" by Werner Herzog is equally good for passing the hours on a wintery evening.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Climate change: Think of the children!

Don't get us wrong, we rather liked Lydia Millet's piece in the New York Times yesterday, The Child's Menagerie. It was beautifully written as she usually will have it, and it made us at once nostalgic for our own oblivious youth and terrified of the future.
If we don’t act fast enough to save the icons that make up our natural birthright — which is likely since, as the record too often shows, it’s our chronic bad habit to turn our faces away from unpleasant sights, to hem and haw and finally act too late, when tragedy has already struck — we’ll be sending those children into a starker, poorer land whose many possibilities have been eternally foreclosed.
But what of those children? Isn't it ironic that her concern is for our kids, the same kids that have joined the 7 billion others who are sucking up the resources that endanger the species whose extinction Millet laments? We are those kids too, undoubtedly, but it is a stark degree of cognitive dissonance to regret the loss of polar bears in your future child's present tense when the global population is largely responsible. Surely, someone as sharp as she understands the cause and effect that birthing more humans will have on this already burdened planet. It makes us wonder how she reconciled having kids in light of it.
A future mother will most likely say, when asked if her child will meet a polar bear: No, dear. The polar bears lived a long time ago, when ice still floated on the Arctic seas. The last elephants trumpeted out their calls in Africa and India before you were even born. You have nothing to fear from a prowling lioness. Nothing at all. The army fell, she may think to herself. In the end, there were no more reinforcements to send.
Maybe just send in some Endangered Species Condoms?

Turning away from our reproductive impacts is another chronic bad habit, and its a shame that many of the people celebrating her lovely op-ed probably missed that point.