By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
I’m terrorized by bears in my dreams and I think “Gentle Ben” is the reason why.
At the same time I am fascinated by the creatures, especially grizzly bears, yet most of my experience with bears has been through books, TV documentaries and movies.
If I were reclining on Sigmund Freud’s couch I would probably tell him it all started when I was little. I loved to watch shows with animals but as soon as the fangs, claws and growls hit the screen, my face was buried in someone’s lap or the corner of the couch until the danger was over.
The series “Daktari” often had exciting animal scenes that would have my eyes hidden. So did “Gentle Ben.” Now both of those shows were pretty light-hearted and wholesome, but I still developed a fear and fascination for large predators through the television.
Over the years I’ve read any bear book I could get my hands on. First there was a book about a series of bear attacks in Glacier National Park that really focussed my fascination on grizzlies, I can’t recall the title but it’s in hibernation somewhere in my garage. Then there was “The Legend of Ben Lilly.” In it are described the exploits of the legendary hunter and trapper whose tenacity at pursuing grizzlies led to his killing the last grizzly in New Mexico in the early part of the 20th century. The most recent book was “Ghost Grizzlies,” about the possibility of an extremely secretive lineage of grizzlies that could have survived in Colorado after they were thought to all be gone.
The scariest thing I’ve seen in the media about bears is the recent documentary “Grizzly Man” shot by Timothy Treadwell and finished by someone else after Treadwell was killed and eaten by bears he was living with in Alaska. This guy, in my book, was really asking for it. He felt he had come to know the bears so well that he was safe living and interacting with them in their world. Crazy and tragic as it was, there’s some fascinating footage in that documentary.
Living and hunting in New Mexico and Colorado all my life I should have had more personal encounters with black bears than I’ve had. But I’ve only had a couple.
Once my dogs chased a bear through my yard in Colorado. I figured they were chasing deer, which they knew better than to do. I hit the front door to scold them but they had headed toward the river. They stopped at the rim overlooking the river and I watched to see what they had chased. A moment later I see something, I thought it was a dog, swimming the river. A young bear clambered out on the far bank and stood on its hind legs to look back at us. I ordered the dogs back into the house and watched as the bear climbed the fence and stopped traffic as he crossed the highway.
The second time I saw bears it was a surreal scene the camera in my mind has recorded forever. I wish I had been carrying a real camera that day.
Bears had been spotted everywhere for several summers in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. Aspen and Glenwood Springs would get reports daily of bears in town, getting into garbage and even breaking into houses. My wife saw a momma bear and cubs from her office window one day but it seemed I was always just missing my own encounter.
Finally, one misty fall morning driving to Aspen I had a bear-sighting. As I rolled up on a construction site, I looked out my window and saw a black bear sow and her three cubs in the fog. They were coming through a meadow single file with grass up over their bellies. A scene straight from a documentary it seemed.
Dozens of movies have bears and bear attacks featured in them. Probably one of the most famous is “Night of the Grizzly,” with Clint Walker. This old Western probably also plays a part in my dreams, with its use of suspense. The bear’s name is “Satan” and Walker’s character “Big Jim” tracks and identifies him from the unique lack of a certain number of toes on one paw.
When I dream of bears it can get intense. Usually I’m yelling at the bear to leave just before he eats me. Fortunately my own yelling usually wakes me and so I’ve never actually become bear food in my dreams. But I’ve come close lots of times, just like in the movies. My wife is getting used to it.
This week I stumbled onto a bear movie I had never seen before called “An Unfinished Life,” with Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman as Wyoming ranchers.
Freeman was scarred by a bear attack, bed-ridden. Throughout the movie he shares his dreams with Redford and asks Redford to set the bear free after it is captured and put in a zoo. Redford finally complies but is attacked by the bear in the process.
In the end the movie conquers a lot of demons for several different characters and the grizzly goes free.
As I hope it will be in my dreams, Dr. Freud.