Earlier this month I caught the tail end of a documentary called Grizzly Man and was so riveted by what I saw that I purchased it the next day.
For those of you who haven't seen it, Grizzly Man recounts the story of Timothy Treadwell, an erstwhile California actor who travels to the Alaskan wilderness, where he has an epiphany of sorts upon seeing the giant brown/grizzly bears. Timothy the druggie surfer-dude becomes Timothy the bear activist and spends the next 13 summers in the remote Alaskan bush, where he gets incredible footage of bears endowed with silly names like Downy, Rowdy and Mr. Chocolate.
He gets as much footage of himself, making baby talk with the giant bruins, imploring God to send rain to them so the salmon can run, and - when he finds a dead cub - railing against the cruel reality of a nature that falls short of his anthropomorphic ideal.
Despite his childlike view of the animals, Treadwell did some good as a bear ambassador. He was as charismatic as he was manic, and when he wasn't in the field, he was giving free classroom presentations on bears and even founded an organization called Grizzly People. And while he was detested by most true bear experts for what they saw as risky-self promotion, when Treadwell's antics were picked up by the media he became something of an overnight celebrity.
Yes, things were going pretty well for Timothy Treadwell until October of 2003, when he got eaten by a bear. For dessert, it ate his companion, a woman named Amie Huggenard.
The details in the documentary were both fascinating and lurid enough that I wanted to learn more, so on Tuesday I picked up a copy of The Grizzly Maze, by Nick Jans. The book, named for the bear-intensive area where Treadwell foolishly pitched camp and eventually died, describes in detail the chilling six-minute audio capturing sounds of the attack. It also includes biologists' speculation on what probably happened based on the audio, photos and autopsies of what was left of the Treadwell and Huggenard, which wasn't much.
My mother watched the documentary and we read the book at the same time. This morning, in our version of the mother-daughter book club, she kept commenting on Treadwell's and Huggenard's grizzly end. (pun intended)
"What a horrible way to die!" she lamented.
Well, yeah it was horrible, especially for Huggenard who got to watch her boyfriend getting killed before the bear turned on her.
But in the scope of things is it really any worse than what people suffer through everyday? I mean, think about it: Would you rather see death charging at you - a primal wall of muscle, tooth and claw that kills and devours you in the space of a few, excruciating minutes? Or would you rather see death crawling slowly towards you over a period of six months as you lie immobilized by a disease like cancer that devours you from the inside out?
It's a no-brainer to me. If I'm ever diagnosed with terminal cancer I'm going to fly to the Alaskan outback, walk up to the meanest looking grizzly I can find and poke him right in the eye.
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