Friday, February 24, 2006

Pondering the Death Wish

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.


Shrubbery said...

I could hardly "bear" that story.


I'm so damn clever.

Taylor said...

Morgan, you'd be too short to poke that big, tall bear in the eye as he looms over you. You'd have to kick him in the balls instead. See, that's where we software people excel. We know the devil is in the details.

Morgan said...

You know, Taylor, I intially considered kicking a bear in the balls to be most effective. Then I thought, "What if the meanest-looking bear is a female?"

This isn't VP. On the Token Hippie, one is free to assume that a female bear could be the most intimidating that the males. Possibly she'd be the most ferocious because she's protecting cubs. Or perhaps she's just angry and bitter because after spending her life as a career bear she can't find a mate.

Who knows. Only one thing is for sure. She has no balls to kick.

So to insure my own dramatic, Treadwellesque demise, I'm firm on my eye-poking strategy.

And I've already thought about the fact that the bear is much taller than I am. That's why I'll be using a stick.

Morgan said...

I don't understand why Treadwell didn't foresee trouble "bruin."

Taylor said...

poke him right in the eye

I was going by that "him". In any case, a good strong sick would do the job. A she-bear would definitely tear you apart too. But there's a funny thing about life, sometimes when you don't give a damn, you'll find that you can almost be invulnerable. That bear might just run away and you'd be sitting there, stick in hand, wondering what the hell you're gonna do now...

Anonymous said...

And then word would get out to the bears that there's this wacko human running around poking bears in the eye and they'd all run from you on sight.

Taylor said...

That anon was me.

Morgan said...

Darn. I should have used a gender-neutral pronoun in referencing the bear. As we editors say, "Good catch!"

If the stick doesn't work, I could always just harrass the bears into killing me. It worked for Timothy Treadwell.

prettylady said...

Oh, I totally disagree. I plan to slowly waste away under a handmade quilt, with my plants all around me, staging dramatic deathbed scenes with my nearest and dearest every other week.

Morgan said...

I plan only one dramatic death scene. And unlike that bumbling Treadwell, who was too bumbling to even properly finesse a fatal bear attack for its full media potential, I'll leave the audio and the sound running on *my* camera.

However, in my will I will deny FOX and CNN rights to my death tape, as I don't want either Geraldo Rivera or Anderson Cooper to use them in their sensational "newscasts." There are worse things than being eaten by a grizzly, after all.

Anonymous said...

You're wrong Morgan. It's best to have time to say good-bye. You can't really know till you get their but going quick has its downside. You don't really start to live until you think you're about to die. Nothing has so much meaning as those last six months.


Mr. Nelson said...

You're wrong Morgan. It's best to have time to say good-bye. You can't really know till you get their but going quick has its downside. You don't really start to live until you think you're about to die. Nothing has so much meaning as those last six months.


Anonymous said...

Morgan, I saw that a documentary was on the discovery channel. I actually think he my be more sane than most of us. Or should I say was> :)

Morgan said...

I dunno, Equus. Treadwell was pretty crazy. But I couldn't help liking and admiring him. There was something so genuine and childlike about him and his love for the animals.
As crazy as it is, you're probably right. He lived and died doing what he loved. That's more than most "sane" people get to do.
P.S. I know I pick on you over at VP, but it's good to see you here. ;-) Thanks for stopping by.

Morgan said...

"You're wrong Morgan. It's best to have time to say good-bye. You can't really know till you get their but going quick has its downside. You don't really start to live until you think you're about to die. Nothing has so much meaning as those last six months. "

I may be, EN. But when I go, if I have a chance I'd prefer time to say goodbye. But I wouldn't want a long, drawn-out goodbye, mainly because I wouldn't want my husband and kids to see me suffer or out of my mind.

I read a book last year -- I can't remember the name of it right now --about a doctor who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He felt like I did and didn't want his family to see him die, so he leaves for a hunting trip with the intention of killing himself in the wilderness and making it look like an accident.

He has a series of adventures along the way where he helps people. That convinces him to go back home and live out his remaining months. I guess the message was that God can use us to the end.

So there's definitely more than one way to look at it. But my gut reaction when I think of my own mortality? I'd prefer fast and dramatic to long and drawn out.

Mr. Nelson said...

I understand what you're saying Morgan, but there's nothing worse than just wishing you could say one last thing to your children. If one has to go it's not to bad to have them around when you do.

Mr. Nelson said...

I can imagine that his dying time was much quicker to us than it was to him. If I recall he was also trying to tell her to run. I'm sure his dying was anything but easy.

Morgan said...

EN, it's my understanding from what I've read and scene that the audio was seven minutes long and that Tim Treadwell's cries could be heard for about 2/3 of that time. At one point the bear went away and he and Amie could be heard talking, although what they said couldn't be discerned. Apparently, though, the bear was watching from nearby and when Tredwell moved it triggered another attack.
You're right; four minutes must seem to drag by like years when something like that is going on.
But Hugenard had it worse. She had to watch him die before she got killed herself. Which brings me back to my original point. Seeing someone I love die, to me, would be worse than dying myself. I know people do it all the time, but sometimes I think if I could spare my family that I certainly would.
I never said Treadwell's death was easy, only that I'd prefer a quick, horrible end to a slow, horrible end.

laughingwolf said...


not me, i'd find a quicker way ;)