Posted by: greentangle | April 3, 2017

Bears Repeating

I read a couple more Yellowstone books last month. Not because I’m having new thoughts of returning (if that ever happens, it will be at least two years from now after I’ve started collecting Social Security and stopped working any regular jobs), but because they’d reached the top of my to-be-read interlibrary loan books list.

Yellowstone Ranger is by Jerry Mernin, who worked 32 years in Yellowstone, retired long before I got there and died while I was working there. The book of his writing was put together after his death. He grew up in Yosemite where his father was a ranger, and first worked there as well as at Bryce and Grand Canyon before staying at Yellowstone until he was forced to retire due to age. He then became a backcountry volunteer until he was physically unable to continue.

As you’d expect from the time period involved, the book is filled with old school attitudes, suggesting a carload of hippies get haircuts and shave so they’re less likely to be considered suspects, sexist not as vulgarly as Trump but in a more chivalrous manner. In keeping with policies of the time, he shot and killed a lot of bears, though often wishing he hadn’t needed to do it. With my fear of heights and falling, his descriptions of rappelling into the canyon to retrieve bodies had my stomach flipping.

One of the most interesting parts of the book to me was his speculation about the identity of the bear which killed a Swiss camper in 1984 and was never captured or identified. He suggests that a bear captured and killed several weeks later at Fishing Bridge campground was the same bear, although this differs from the NPS conclusions about the age and size of the bear in their report about the camper’s death.

The second book was Taken by Bear in Yellowstone by Kathleen Snow, which gathers information on bear attacks in and around Yellowstone. As you might expect from the title, this is a fairly sensationalistic book. A very large percentage of the text comes directly from NPS and other agencies’ reports as well as newspaper articles and trail guides, with detailed descriptions of the attacks and the bodily damages caused by the bears. And what comes across is how completely unpredictable bears are. Playing dead and not resisting often seems to help lessen the attack–except when it doesn’t and the bear wants to eat you, or is pulling you sleeping from a tent.

The book seems like a school paper—I don’t think I’ve ever read a book which had less text actually written by the author. Which may not be a bad thing considering a bizarre paragraph in which she tried to excuse photographers who are killed after getting too close to bears by comparing them to hunters. Except that the hunters either accidentally get too close to bears or are deliberately trying to kill them, while the photographers are simply acting irresponsibly. I don’t excuse either group, but they’re not comparable.

Still, it was useful to have all the bear incidents in one book, and as someone familiar with Yellowstone, it was interesting to plot out all the locations against my memories and experiences. One of those attacks involved someone I knew when I lived in the park. But other than the completeness for this particular location, a much better book on the topic of bear attacks which includes several of the Yellowstone incidents is Mark of the Grizzly by Scott McMillion.

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