Friday, February 22, 2008

Memories of Summer

Watermelon costume (in progress). Wakefield, RI, 2006.
Part of the "Startown Magicians Summer Tour"
(aka "The Secret Hippies Tour #2")

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bear on Bridge

My friend Jennifer just sent me this story about a bear rescued from under a strikingly tall bridge. The juxtaposition of a large, powerful bear (beautiful and frightening, and here hanging helplessly) with an even larger human-made bridge filled me with a strange combination of awe, sadness, empathy, and that special, awkward feeling - that has no name - for when I see something "cute"... (I even have to put that word in quotations because it is so embarrassingly emotional and potentially saccharine... ). It is a sort of wonderful, horrible feeling - a feeling that seems at once so raw & yet so manufactured, leaving me confused and embarrassed.
This story has a happy ending, I suppose... until you keep thinking about it as I did, and then it just seems really pathetic.

The story according to the local news is this: On Saturday, a bear was walking across the Rainbow Bridge (Old Hwy 40 at Donner Summit, Truckee, California). The bridge is on the Old Donner Pass Highway - yes, it is the same Donner Pass that was one of the fateful moments of defeat for the infamous Donner Party, who trekked those parts in the 1840's (and were resigned to cannibalism to survive). Well, now there are cars and bridges and roads in what was once wlderness... So, two cars were crossing the bridge and scared the bear into jumping over the edge of the bridge. Somehow the bear caught the ledge and was able to pull itself to safety into the underbelly of the bridge. Authorities decided that nothing could be done to help the bear that day. When they returned the next morning, they found the bear asleep on the ledge! The fact that the bear was sleeping in the bridge's vast concrete cradle, thousands of feet in the air, was subject to much amazement and speculation. A net was secured under the bridge, the bear was tranquilized, fell into the net, was lowered, then woke up, and walked out of the net.

There remain only about 200,000 brown bears in the world. The are only about 32,500 brown bears left in the US. Brown bears are now extinct in many areas and their populations have greatly decreased in others. Ironically, while their natural habitat continues to diminish at a rapid rate, the potential new habitat for the brown bear is increasing in Arctic areas. The warming of that region has allowed the species to move farther and farther north into what was once exclusively the domain of the polar bear.

The grizzly bear (sometimes called the silvertip bear) - a type of brown bear - is listed as threatened in the Continental United States. It is currently slowly repopulating in areas where it was previously extirpated, though it is still very vulnerable. The California grizzly bear disappeared from the state of California in 1922 when the last one was shot dead in Tulare County, but, ironically, it is still on the state flag of California.

While people are right to keep their distance from bears, there are only an average of two fatal attacks a year in all of North America - attesting to the small number of bears, the remoteness of their habitat, and their general attitude towards humans. Attacks usually occur because the bear is injured or a human encounters a mother bear with cubs. And, then of course, there is Timothy Treadwell (ie, Grizzly Man) - but that's a whole other story...