I’m afraid of a lot of things, but I’ve never been afraid of bears. Which is not to say I’m unaware of bears, or incautious about them - I live and run and hike and bike and camp and paddle in grizzly country, and so I make noise, carry bear spray, keep a clean camp, and do all the other things you’re supposed to do to stay safe. I respect bears, and I would like to avoid encountering them up close if at all possible.
So I guess what I mean when I say I’m not afraid of bears is that they don’t haunt me - I don’t have trouble sleeping in a tent, knowing that a bear could be outside. I don’t lie awake listening for the sound of heavy paws on the earth. I don’t worry about them.
This spring, though, I think about them a little more often than I used to. That’s because late last November, a member of my community, a friend of friends, was killed, along with her baby daughter, by a starving grizzly. The news of their deaths went viral, as tragedies sometimes do, and I wrote a story for Outside magazine
about how the media scrutiny and online criticism that resulted harmed the people who were trying to grieve.
I think some (but not all) of that criticism, some of the ways we so often push back against people who’ve been hurt or killed, is about fear - fear of finding ourselves in the same circumstances. We say, “she should have had a gun” or “she should have had a dog” or “she shouldn’t have been there” as a talisman, a shield to ward off the evil eye. What we’re really saying is, “This wouldn’t happen to me.”
The lesson of last winter’s attack, though, if there is one, is that sometimes, even when you do everything you are “supposed to” do, bad things happen anyway. I think sometimes we fear that lack of control over our fates most of all.
I hope you’ll consider reading the story. (For local folks here in the Yukon, I want to note that it contains a fairly detailed description of the circumstances of the attack.)
Meanwhile, I’m working away on revising my draft, with input from my editors, and I hope to have more news soon as publication plans take shape!
My reading recommendation this time around is Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal, about the intersection of medicine, aging, and dying. It has some thoughtful things to say about what we want, what we fear, and the courage required to have hard conversations about the ends of our lives with the people we love.
That’s it for now.
Yours in fear,