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How to Bear Witness Nancy Lord First, have a friend who's crazy for bears. Let him invite you, on a morning early in May, to visit the dens ofsleeping bears not far from where you both Uve, on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. This is something he does every morning through several spring weeks, as other people might take a walk to the post office. Let the particular morning be one in which, a few hours earUer , a 5.4 earthquake shook you from your beds. Know this fact: earthquakes rouse hibernators. Have your friend know precisely where the bears are sleeping. This he wül know because the two females, in separate dens, are each wearing radio coUars. Your friend has flown over them in a plane, and the beep-beep-beep has pinpointed their locations. Your friend knows what can't be seen—in one den a sow and three yearUng cubs, in the other a sow and, presumably, new cubs born during the winter. These are brown bears—the big kind— what in the interior, where they're smaller, people caU grizzlies. Last year your friend kept watch on one of these same bears. He missed one day, and the next he found only tracks, straight out ofthe den and up over the mountain. The morning you accompany your friend, ski along the edge ofa canyon, through mosdy open country, past scattered spruce trees and the top, bowed branches of alders still buried in six feet of snow. Let sun break through the clouds, distant mountains glow, and the who-who of a courting snipe float across the land. Let your skis clatter over the frozen tracks ofmoose and coyote .Your friend wül point out the site of an old black bear den and a slope down which he'd once seen a pack of wolves run, and then, across the canyon, a spindly spruce between birches, that marks the site ofthe first den. There wül be no opening, no trau, no evidence that anything has stirred. Farther along, as you approach the second den, let there be tracks—big ones—on the vaUey floor. AUow yourselfto feel excited. But let the den site 6 Fourth Genre itself, there, right next to a trail where snowmobilers ran aU winter, be undisturbed. When you ski down to study the tracks, decide they were made by moose and melted by the sun into huge, pizza pan-size circles. Before you leave, ski an extra loop through the high country, foUowing the flight of a snowy owl. Ski with your friend from tree to tree and track to track. Stop to watch ravens and a soaring eagle. Talk about what bears do once they wake and how to teU females from males by their coloring and behavior and what someone said about a bear being kiUed near Fritz Creek a few days before, "in defense ofUfe and property." Talk about how broadly "in defense of Ufe and property" is interpreted, and that people leave garbage and dog food and horse feed where they'U attract bears and cause their deaths. Say that bears need a lot ofspace. Know this number: the home range of a female brown bear on the Kenai Peninsula is 160 square mues. Know these other numbers: between 250 and 300 brown bears live on the Kenai. Calculate this: perhaps three percent of aU the brown bears on the Kenai are present in the two dens at which you've just looked. Don't be disappointed that you didn't see bears. Know they're safe in their drowsy nests. Be aware that what your friend does, in his daüy attendance at the bear dens, is not only, or primarily, about watching for bears. Witness what is this day in bear country—softening snow, moose browse, the caU of a ptarmigan. Be present where bears Uve, and by your presence testify to the necessity ofplaces that are filled not with people and property but with undivided, left-to-run-wild space and aU else that prospers there. Be grateful for the possibüity that, sometime in your life, you may have the good luck...


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