A Most Enviable Creature:

The Bear

It all started with the song "Black Bear" by Black Bear.

The song describes the events of a 22 year old, presumably the singer, who spots a bear across a river. The singer begins to contemplate their own life and compare their feelings and motivations to what they imagine the bear's feelings and motivations are.

I feel like the song is a good reminder to enjoy my life & myself. There are two quotes from the song I really like:

"The simplicity of solitude is a hard thing to perfect. Stealing happiness from loneliness is not a simple theft, but the black bear has it figured out and gets what he deserves, and the fur that he is wearing is the fur that he prefers."

"And I knew that it was lovely to have a black bear thinking of me. And when he thinks, he is thoughtful. And when he rests, he is restful."

I really enjoy the song every time I listen to it. It's not the most beautiful song, but I enjoy it's simplicity and awe. The song has really made me reflect on my own life & perceptions, and because of that, I've come to really appreciate the bear as a symbol of a good and full life.

So what can I tell you about Bears?

Well, I can tell you the classic stuff everyone knows: bears are apex predators found on most continents, they're ominvorous &, depending on the species, eat anything from berries to large animals, and finally that they hibernate during the winter months. So what else is there?

First is the basic information: bears can live up to about 25 years.1 The smallest type of bear is the sun bear, which usually weighs about 100 lbs, while the largest is generally considered the polar bear, which can weigh about 1700 lbs.1 The Kodiak Grizzly bear, which lives in Alaska and in eastern Russia is a very close second to the polar bear, with an average weight of about 1500 lbs.2

Hibernation with bears drives their whole life, pretty much. In Fall of 2020, I kept track of the bears in Fat Bear Week, and they get, for lack of a better word, so chonky. To prepare for winter, they eat up to 20k calories a day, adding about three pounds to their weight (per day).3 When they go to sleep for the winter, they can weigh 1k-2k lbs, then they lose about 15-30 % of their body weight before they wake up again.4 Almost aLl of their waking time is spent preparing for hibernation by putting on weight.

Katmai Bear number 409, before and after the summer months.
Here is a picture posted by Katmai National Park of Bear 409 - before and after the summer months. 8

Bears are quite intelligent & one of the most intelligent animals native to North America.5 According to PBS, they "possess the largest and most convoluted brains relative to their size of any land mammal," giving them a comparable intelligence to a three year old.5 They have a remarkable ability to observe & navigate the land, possibly even better than humans do.5

Bears are also highly social creatures. They live in a little group called a "sleuth."7 Cubs live with their mothers for several years, learning how to take care of themselves and live off the land.5 By the time they leave their mothers, they know how to search for & find food, what season foods are available in, and how to harvest their food.5

Bears also have some very human-like traits. Bears have been seen to sit and observe mountains and rivers for hours at a time, suggesting they have a sense of beauty.5 They also have been observed recently to use tools.6 Tool usage in land mammals is actually exceptionally rare outside of primates, so this is significant!6

While bears are obviously some really incredible and fuzzy creatures, I will continue to enjoy them from a safe distance, because they're very dangerous! Here are some tips my parents taught me to stay safe from bears when in bear country:

  • Always carry bells and bear spray.
  • If you encounter a bear, back away slowly.
  • If it notices you and tries to attack you, make yourself as big and loud as possible - do NOT run.
  • If it's a grizzly bear, RIP.