Bear With Me

September 20th, 2016

Look deep into my eyes…

So why am I so drawn to – not quite obsessed by but neverthe-less strongly attracted to – bears? When I think about it, there is an ursine thread running through my life.

Of course: teddy bear. I had the cutest little brown one with a music box in its guts when I was little. It played a tinkly tinny lullaby. I must have played it a lot because I remember my brothers trying to eviscerate it. But I’m over it now. I swear!

OMG I just found it here:


How funny!

Another bear thread: In my early twenties, I came across the “Tao of Pooh” which I found pretty interesting and sparked a lifelong interest in Asian thought, culture, medicine, art, etc. And of course the book also had cute bears. And appealing art, you must admit. I should reread this…

Bears remained a fairly abstract concept for until I moved to New Hampshire. I mean, there just aren’t that many bears where I grew up in Brooklyn. [At least not back then — but now who knows? Don’t get me started on how unfair-it-is-that-Brooklyn-is-now-so-cool!]

An older bear painting from 2009. I actually love this one.

An older bear painting from 2009. I actually really love this one. It’s 12 x 12″

Bears became a mysterious presence in the woods that left behind surprisingly large amounts of ‘sign.’ For my grad school mammalogy class, we had to create our own scat collection. Bear was definitely the coolest one to have, outside of say, cougar. (Which no one ever sees because cats bury their feces! So immediately suspect.)

But I really wanted to see bear scat. It would be like passing a test – like the first bar of naturalist school. So I kind of willed a pile of could-be-bear-poop/could-not-be into the desired quarry and took it home. You had to dry out your specimens under the wood stove. So guess I how I found out it wasn’t bear scat, but dog? Yup. So gross.

I was obsessed with this bear. I painted him several times, each one getting bigger. This one is closer to 36 x 24"

I was obsessed with this bear. I painted him several times, each one getting bigger. This one is closer to 36 x 24″

But I also learned more about what fascinating animals bears are – I mean, they can delay implantation of their fertilized embryos until they know what kind of year it will be, resource-wise. How cool is that?! Now that would be a good trick for humans. And you have to admit hyperphagia — the enormous drive to fatten up for winter — sounds so much better than ‘pigging out.’ And I learned that when bears den up for winter, pregnant females will give birth to a teeny walnut-sized cub. They sleep all cuddled up for a few months and then emerge together into the spring. By then the baby is basically a toddler. I might have considered having children if I could have done it that way!

Here he is again — now he's 60 x 40"!

Here he is again — now he’s 60 x 40″!

So by this point, I am really relating to bears. And I start painting them. I track down places where there are captive ones so I can study them. Then I am on a plane to Minnesota to hang out with black bears! And this wonderful, eccentric, passionate-for-bears-man named Dr. Lyn Rogers. I learned so much more about bears – how they probably weren’t predators in their evolution as they behave more like prey. How many myths and misconceptions there are about black bears. How terrible TV and movies have been for bears — making them seem so much more extreme than they are and therefore justifying their killing more easily. [OK I didn’t learn that last one in Minnesota – I figured that one out myself. But you have to wonder…]

But most of all, I got to SEE wild black bears up close. How they looked, how dense and beautiful their fur is, to look in their wild, soulful eyes. Innocence and guile and beauty and power and intense awareness and yes above all else hunger. (Well it was September – prime hyperphagia season.)

And then there’s the forest connection. My family’s annual summer vacations to the mountains planted a seed deep in my being: I love being in the woods. If I am not painting, I am probably roaming the woods. It is endlessly fascinating to me. If I could experience the woods through a bear’s body – that would be nirvana. I feel locked out of an entire level of knowing the woods by human senses.

I did this one after meeting a polar bear in Churchill. We connected.

So of course, seeing black bears made me want to see their opposite, white bears. Polar bears — now there’s a definite predator. And a being that definitely the epitome of beauty, power, and mystery that so enthralls me.

I’ve told that story here.

So next in my ursine trifecta is the other predator bear — grizzly! Another creature that also checks all the boxes: beauty, power, and mystery. Yes yes yes.

I’ll tell you that story in a future post. It’s getting deeper now.

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