I just read over Gawker’s The Year in Bears round up for 2013.
While I slightly surprised by the amount of bear coverage I’ve managed to consume this year, there was a video at the end that I had not seen. It is described as a Russian bear doing tricks, like playing the trumpet.
I wanted to see this video because, if asked, I would have told you that a bear can’t purse her* lips. I was interested to see how the trumpet playing thing went.
I’d say I was right. The bear doesn’t purse her lips and, as a result, her trumpet playing is only slightly better than mine. Our tactics are similar, though. Much huffing and spit all for little sound.
The video is worth a watch for another reason. A chance to see a Grizzly up close. The shots of her claws while she is handling the chair are especially impressive. The whole thing has a slow, sad quality to it, but wind noise in the mic of your camera makes whatever you are filming seem bleak.
As I watched, I was trying to gauge the reaction of the bear. Does she feel humiliated? Is she glad to be included? Is she only thinking about getting a treat? I find it frustrating as the only way to find answers from this side of the screen is to press my human feelings on her.
That brings me back to one of the things that inspired me to write The Bear, Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man. I’d always wanted to write about bears, but when I saw movies or read books about them, I often cringed at their portrayal. So often human emotions are pressed onto them.
In Grizzly Man, though, Herzog attempted to treat bears as bears. It is a film about that the line between loving animals and putting your own needs and desires onto them.
From Herzog’s voice over (read this in your best German accent):
And what haunts me, is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food. But for Timothy Treadwell, this bear was a friend, a savior.
Treadwell, the focus of the film, took hours of footage of the bears he loved. At the end of the film, Herzog leaves us thinking:
It is not so much a look at wild nature as it is an insight into ourselves. Our nature.
It’s depressing thought, that it is so difficult to see beyond our own worldview. But it’s also important to recognize our limitations. Assuming otherwise can be dangerous in all sorts of ways (like, you might get attacked by a bear).
* I don’t know if this is a male or female bear, so I went with she.