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How to Love the Bear’s World

By John Horning, Writers on the Range

Last spring, at the height of some of the most anxiety-ridden moments of the pandemic, my father read a poem to me over the phone. He’s 89 this year, and while he’s vibrant and healthy I don’t take for granted any opportunity to hear his voice — especially when he’s reciting a poem.

The poem, Mary Oliver’s Spring, describes the emergence of a black bear from its winter slumber. Oliver writes: “There is only one question: how to love this world.”

This spring, as bruins emerged across the American West, I found myself wondering about the secret lives bears lead. As their hunger grows, do they imagine eating trout from a Rocky Mountain stream?

Is it hunger pangs or some deeper yearning – perhaps to experience the new world – that drives bears from the comfort and warmth of their dens?

I’ve been thinking about bears and how to love their world because bear-management-practices have been in the spotlight recently, a light that intensified after two people were killed by bears, one in Montana and one in Colorado.

The death of those people was tragic. Yet, we must remember that fatal attacks remain rare. A bear does not wake up in the morning, pack a rifle, and set out to kill a human being. Bears struggle to survive in an increasingly diminishing wild that brings them in contact with humans more frequently.

Humanity’s mission, I believe, is not to kill them but to find ways to coexist.
 
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