My upcoming book, The Strange Land, even features … a bear. (Spoiler alert.) (Pray for the book, by the way, if you are interested in reading it. Let’s not allow some petty formatting issues to stand between you and any literary bear.)
But I will never be on about bears as much as author, graphic artist, and funnyman Ethan Nicolle.
He works for the Babylon Bee. But that is only the beginning of his ursine depths.
His first bear-related book was Bears Want to Kill You.
This is a reminder we all need. But I haven’t read it.
He also has to his credit the following typology:
I was given this for Christmas. Actually, my kids were. And boy, am I glad that someone cared enough to warn us about the existence of the Beaardvark, Bearilla, Bear Crab, and of course the Abearican Eagle.
But I am mainly here to talk about this:
Brave Ollie Possum is the awesomest chapter book/family read-along that I have encountered in a long time. It just so poignant, twisty, tense, funny, and gross. The early chapters gave us nightmares. In the later chapters, some passages were so disgusting that as I read them out loud, I had to suppress a gag reflex. (Perfect for school-aged boys!) Other passages were so funny that we had to stop and laugh it out before we could recover. This is the book for you if you never knew how much you needed to watch a possum use the kitchen of an Italian restaurant to cook a late-night pan of lasagna for his forest friends. Other than that, I won’t spoil the plot except to say, What better animal than a possum for an author to explore themes of cowardice and courage?
Check out that carved antler! It is awesome! It reminds me of those amazing mammoth tusks that Chinese artists will spend decades carving into elaborate scenes.
Also, the artist … standing beside a life-sized grizzly that he carved … holding his baby son? I am getting serious The Strange Land vibes here. Oh, wait … most of you haven’t read it yet … soon, soon.
This art is so local that I might be able to visit it in person. If I do, I’ll give you a report.
Granted, 350 pounds is kind of on the small side for an adult brown bear. But still!
The man, Kaleb Benham, saw his dog Buddy in the jaws of a bear. He flipped out, ran at the bear, “tackled it and grabbed it by the throat and started hitting it in the face and eye until it let go.”
The odd thing is that the article doesn’t say what the bear did after it “let go.” That would be my natural next question. We can assume that it ran away, since the article updates us on Buddy’s injuries but does not mention any injuries to Benham.
Apparently, King David (you know, of Israel) used to do this kind of thing, before he was king, back when he was a shepherd boy. He’s been known to strike a bear that was carrying off a sheep. (I Samuel 17:34 – 37)
Today I will be doing the Finally Fall Book Tag, which I got from Riddhi. A tag is a series of prompts that the blogger responds to, usually by naming one or more books. At the end, we are supposed to “tag” other bloggers, but we all know that I don’t do that because it just gets too complicated, what with not wanting to leave anyone out, not wanting to hand anyone a task they hate, etc., etc. It’s sort of like planning a wedding that way.
In fall, the air is crisp and clear: Name a book with a vivid setting.
The Lord of the Rings.
OK, look, TLOTR could actually be the perfect answer for every one of these prompts, am I right? So I’ll just name it for each of them, and then one other one that is my backup answer.
Beyond Middle Earth, I suggest you check out the setting in Ursula Le Guin’s Hainish cycle. It’s on a planet that, because of its orbit, experiences seasons that last for lengths of time that we on Earth would call years. The people who live there have eyes with no whites to them. After intermarrying with immigrants from Earth, they develop a skin tone that is navy blue in the upper classes and “dusty” blue in the lower classes. It’s fascinating, brutal, and beautifully written.
Nature is beautiful… but also dying: Name a book that is beautifully written, but also deals with a heavy topic like loss or grief.
The Lord of the Rings. They kill off Gandalf.
Also, this book. The Holocaust, survivor’s guilt, lost children, neurological disease. Are those topics heavy enough? See my full review of ithere.
Fall is back to school season: Share a non-fiction book that taught you something new.
The Lord of the Rings will teach you terms like weregild (“person-money” – money paid in compensation for someone’s death).
Everybody please go read this and as many other Thomas Sowell books as you can get your hands on.
In order to keep warm, it’s good to spend some time with the people we love: Name a fictional family/household/friend-group that you’d like to be part of.
Failing that, I would be honored to live and work with Mma Potokwane, the forceful woman who runs the orphanage in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.
The colourful leaves are piling up on the ground: Show us a pile of fall coloured spines!
I didn’t intend it, but every book in this pile except for The Family Mark Twain is indie published.
And Neanderthal Woman is homemade.
Also … the golden-leaved mallorn trees of Lothlorien.
Fall is the perfect time for some storytelling by the fireside: Share a book wherein someone is telling a story.
One of the best things about Lord of the Rings is the way you keep getting hints of yet more ancient places, people, and stories.
And for my backup answer, we have Ursula Le Guin again. In her Earthsea trilogy, there is a very creepy story told about a stone that if you so much as touch it, steals your soul. In her book Left Hand of Darkness, the main story is interspersed with short myths to help us get a feel for the culture of the planet the story is set on, where glaciers cover about half the landmass and people are sexless for most of each month.
The nights are getting darker: Share a dark, creepy read.
The Balrog, and Shelob, and the Ring and the effect it has upon people, are all pretty doggone creepy.
Also, The Dark is Rising and the whole series that follows it deals with pre-Roman paganism still alive in Britain.
The days are getting colder: Name a short, heartwarming read that could warm up somebody’s cold and rainy day.
The Hobbit. Annndddd …
Allie Brosch’s new book Solutions and Other Problems.
It’s not heartwarming in the sense that it presents the universe as a rational or hopeful place, BUT it did make me laugh so hard it brought tears to my eyes. It’s not short in the sense that it’s a big, thick hardcover, BUT that’s only because it is packed with her funny (and actually very artistic) drawings. It’s a fast read.
Fall returns every year: Name an old favourite that you’d like to return to soon.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
Also, this book, The Everlasting Man, by the ebullient GKC. I recently ordered my own copy so that I could mine it for future quotes on the blog, and I quickly discovered that GKC was the original source of all my suspicions about ancient people having been just like us, but smarter.
Fall is the perfect time for cozy reading nights: Share your favourite cozy reading “accessories”!
So, this month I finally watched The Revenant. (It’s been out since 2015.)
The way the movie usually gets summarized is, “Leonardo DiCaprio’s character gets mauled by a bear, and his companions leave him for dead.”
Well, they don’t exactly leave him for dead. There is a lot of back and forth. There is money involved, and racial tensions, plus the difficulty of carrying a grievously injured man through rough country on a litter. But yes, basically, he does end up getting left for dead at some point, after efforts have been made to save him (and other efforts to finish him off).
Anyway, after watching, the big question in my mind was the same as in everyone else’s after seeing the movie: How in the world did they film the scene where he gets mauled by a bear?
It looks really real. I have embedded a YouTube clip of it at the end of this section, which you can watch if you have the stomach for it. At one point, the bear steps on the supine man’s head, stretches its neck forward, and snuffles directly at the camera. The glass fogs up from its breath.
Please tell me they didn’t use a real bear.
The first step, of course, was to study the credits carefully. Let’s see … Native American and First Nations acting agency … thanks to the Pawnee and Arikara nations … cultural consultants …. this stuff is fascinating. (One thing I loved about the movie was that subtitles, not dubbing, were used whenever characters were speaking Arikara, Pawnee, or French.) Oh, here it is. Animal wranglers. Wolves supplied by. Horses supplied by. Eagle supplied by. Hmm. There were no actual bears mentioned, but there were “animal puppeteers” and tons of animators.
It looks like it wasn’t a real bear.
Next step: Google. I found this article, where I learned that no, it wasn’t a real bear. It was a man in a blue suit. Even so, it took them four days just to shoot the six-minute scene, and then the bear’s muscles, skin, and fur had to be animated in separate layers.
The other disturbing thing was this: the only reason they didn’t use a real bear, was that captive bears nowadays are all too fat to be realistic.
I think that was a good move on their part.
Yes, in some ways the violent and unscrupulous humans are scarier, but actually … no. They are not. The scariest thing is the bear.
Euphemisms for Bear
It may surprise you to learn that the English word bear is not actually the original Indo-European word. It is a euphemism. The word used by the Indo-European ancestors, on the Ukrainian plains, was something like hrtko. My Indo-European dictionary explains in a sidebar:
The Proto-Indo-European word for “bear,” rtko-, was inherited in Hittite hartaggash, Sanskrit rksah, Greek arktos, Latin ursus, and Old Irish art.
But in the northern branches [of the Indo-European language family], the word has undergone taboo replacement. The names of wild animals are often taboo to hunters … Among the new expressions for “bear” were “the good calf” in Irish, “honey pig” in Welsh, “honey eater” in Russian, and “the licker” in Lithuanian. English “bear” and its other German cognates are also the result of taboo replacement, as etymologically they mean “the brown one.” (see bher-)
The American Heritage dictionary of Indo-European Roots, p. 74
(In case any linguistics purists are reading this, I should note that important diacritic marks are missing from the Indo-European, Hittite, and Sanskrit words in this quote.)
We can imagine that there were a number of terrifying attacks behind this taboo replacement. Or perhaps there was just one, well- (or horribly-) timed one, early in the northern Indo-Europeans’ journey towards their eventual homelands.
So, here are some euphemisms for bear:
bear/bruin (“the brown one”)
Medved (“honey eater”) (honey = mead)
In my books, the family ends up calling bears “the bad one.”
I like bears. But only as an idea. As actual creatures, they have earned their place on this October’s list of … Scary Things.
It had three stories in it. The Three Billy Goats Gruff (which everyone has heard before), The Stone Cheese (less well-known but still a fairy tale with familiar tropes), and The Trolls and the Pussycat.
A hunter is bringing a polar bear to the king of Denmark for a Christmas present. He gets caught in a blizzard and stops at an isolated farmhouse. But when the door opens, he finds the farmer and his family just getting ready to leave.
“Ah! You would not want to stay in this house,” said the farmer. “Every Christmas Eve a pack of trolls come down from the mountain to plague us. They eat our food, they sleep in our beds. We are lucky if they don’t break all our dishes and tables and chairs in the bargain.”
The hunter suggests that he and his bear might be a deterrent to the trolls, and he is right. The trolls surround the house …
Then one of them decides to poke the bear, which he thinks is a “pussy cat” …
With predictable results.
“And from that day forward no more trolls came to eat dinner at the farmhouse, for the news about Farmer Neils and his enormous pussycat soon spread far and wide in troll land.”
Bigfoot is a cryptid, which means “hidden animal,” i.e. an animal whose existence has not been proved. Cryptid is a big category. Some cryptids, when researched, turn out not to exist (for example the Loch Ness Monster, as far as we can tell). Others eventually get moved from the category of cryptid to that of actual animal. (Europeans did not believe in the existence of gorillas until the corpse of one was brought to Europe.) Other cryptids are 100% hoax (the Fiji mermaid, constructed by sewing a preserved monkey torso onto the preserved tail of a large fish). This post will argue that Bigfoot is in the gorilla category. In fact, he is almost exactly like a gorilla: a large, elusive primate native to the deep forests of North America.
Obviously I did not research all
this stuff myself. My source is the research done by Jeff Meldrum, Ph.D.,
associate professor of anatomy and anthropology at Idaho State
University. He has
written a lot of stuff, but the source I am using is his book Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science (Tom
Doherty Associates, 2006).
By the way, I had already read the
book, but last month I got to attend a Bigfoot conference in Pocatello
(home of Idaho State University)
and hear Meldrum give a talk. Turns out he’s a very nice guy, with none of that
defensiveness that we might expect from a cryptid researcher. The pictures in
this post are from that event.
It’s hard for a blog post adequately to cover a scientific topic like this one. (And yes it is scientific: detailed analysis of footprint casts, human and primate gaits, fossils, local legends, and more.) I’ll just try to summarize some of Meldrum’s main arguments, but obviously, if you want to delve deeper, you can buy the book yourself.
Many Casts of Prints
Bigfoot is often reported in places
that are conducive to taking casts of footprints, such as a muddy forest floor
at a logging site. Many casts have been taken of footprints in such places.
Some are up to 17 inches long. None of
them match the stiff, narrow, 15-inch wooden fake feet supposedly used by Ray
Wallace and his family to fake all(!) of the Bigfoot tracks in the Northwest.
Some have a step length of 50 – 60 inches and a depth that indicates whatever
made them weighed more than 800 pounds (Sasquatch
chapter 2). There is even an instance of
a very large club foot (page 238), a few knuckle and hand prints (105 – 111),
and a hilarious butt print where the sasquatach apparently sat in the mud, then
leaned on its left forearm to reach for a fruit (111 – 115).
Large, deep tracks with a 65 – 70 inch stride have also been photographed in the sand on the Oregon coast, after a sighting the previous evening (190).
“Patty,” the Lady Bigfoot
The famous October 1967 Patterson
film “was shot during the day, in full sunlight, out in the open on 16mm
film. Independent researchers examined
the location immediately after the encounter, and footprint casts and countless
measurements and photos were taken … and yet this film remains controversial,
written off as an obvious hoax by
many” (134 – 135).
Not surprisingly, the star of the
video, dubbed “Patty,” has had everything about her analyzed, from her gait, to
her saggital crest, to the speed of the film, to the color of the soles of her
feet. The book covers this in more detail over several chapters. The upshot is that experts, when asked to
view the Patterson film, tend to be very impressed at first, then panic, back
off, and start thinking the film is a fake is because if it isn’t, they would
have to “believe” in Bigfoot. One typical protest is that this film is suspect
because it was shot by someone who was specifically looking for evidence of
Bigfoot. It’s hard to imagine, though,
how we could get such a film from anyone else.
It’s also hard to imagine how the
creature on the film could have been faked. Consider:
The Bigfoot in the Patterson film appears to have breasts, and as it walks, you can see its muscles moving underneath the hair. An experienced Hollywood costume designer who has designed many ape costumes opined that it does not look like a man in a suit. He felt that instead of a suit it would have to have been a minimum ten-hour makeup job in which the hair was glued directly to the actor’s skin (158). (The actor would then have to have been delivered to the film site and just as quickly spirited away, without leaving any vehicle tracks.) A computer graphics animator adds that “the boundaries of the human form do not even fit within the form of the creature” (176). Six-foot men have tried to re-create “Patty’s” walk in the same spot, and have found it difficult to match her stride and impossible to make footprints as deep as the ones she made.
Native American Knowledge of Bigfoot
Many Native American tribes, all
over the continent, have Bigfoot legends. This is particularly true in the
Northwest, where you can see stylized carved stone heads, masks, and statues of
the buk’wus (a Kwakiutl word), or his
female counterpart, the dsonoqua.
Their faces look ape-like and distinct from similar carvings of bears. (In
the picture below, some of the souvenirs are adapted versions of this native
art.) The Northwestern tribes seem to have more zoological detail in their
legends about Bigfoot and have testimonies of sightings right down to the
present day. They also, of course, ascribe spiritual qualities to the creature,
as they do to other animals.
As we move farther East, Bigfoot
becomes a more purely spirit-like figure.
This may imply that the creatures died in out first in the eastern part
of the continent, where they are remembered only as a myth.
On Painted Rock, in central California, there is a
large (2.6 meter high) pictograph of Hairy Man with tears streaming from his
eyes. According to the local creation story, Hairy Man is crying because people
are afraid and run away from him.
At any rate, these legends definitely pre-date Ray Wallace, who supposedly “created” Bigfoot all by himself. The descriptions of Bigfoot’s behavior in the Northwestern native traditional knowledge match well with what has been reported in sightings and surmised from the behavior of other great apes.
Great Ape Behavior
Much of the Bigfoot behavior that is sometimes reported in sightings has parallels in the intimidation behavior of other primates. This includes grimacing, throwing things, banging wood on trees, pushing snags of dead branches at an intruder, hair bristling, emitting a pungent stink when agitated (male mountain gorillas do this), and vocalizing (chapters 9 and 10). There are also behaviors that resemble that of other primates but are not intimidation behaviors, such as making sleeping nests from branches. Of known primates, the one that Bigfoot most seems to resemble is Gigantopithecus (89 ff).
But Isn’t It Really Just a Bear?
Bigfoot’s range, as determined by footprints
and reported sightings, overlaps almost perfectly with the range of the
bear. To a believer, this means the two
animals share a similar habitat: temperate forests and rainforests. To a
skeptic, this means that all “Bigfoot” sightings are actually bears.
This was the subject of the lecture
by Jeff Meldrum that I attended. It is
certainly true that photographs of black bears have been put forward as
photographs of Bigfoot, only to be exposed later. Meldrum showed a series of
bear photos which, at first glance, can look surprisingly humanoid, especially
if the animal is skinny and is standing on its hind legs. However, he went on to point out, telling the
difference between a bear and a huge, bipedal ape “isn’t rocket science.” Bears do not have a clavicle, so when
standing, they don’t have protruding shoulders. Their legs are much shorter in
proportion to their body. And, of course, there are the prominent round ears.
Bear tracks don’t resemble Bigfoot
tracks at all, except in cases of multiple, overlapping, unclear bear tracks. A bear’s inside toe is its shortest, their
feet are shorter and very narrow at the back, and they leave claw marks. Their stride is, of course, very different,
although when a bear is walking quickly its footprints can overlap, “giving an
impression of elongated footprints spaced in a two-footed pattern.”
Skeptics have also raised the
question of whether two large animals can fill the same niche. Bigfoot, if it
exists, is probably a fructivore like the other large primates and like Gigantopithecus,
whose jaw and teeth are designed for grinding, not for predation. Bears, while
also ominivores, have a very different shaped set of chompers. So even if the
two animals share a range, they would not be occupying exactly the same
(Fun near-fact: based on his estimate of how many Sasquatch compared to bears a given region of wilderness can support, Meldrum estimates there could be as many as 175 individual Bigfoot in the state of Idaho.)
Bigfoot Outside the Great Northwest
It turns out that, despite usually having much less wilderness than the Great Northwest, nearly every state in the Union has its own version of the Bigfoot legend. I’ll let you make up your mind about these on a case-by-case basis. In Ohio, until recently my home state, we have “the Grassman.” Here is a Hubpages article about him. If you follow the link and read the comments, you will no doubt see many personal testimonies about Grassman sightings.
Update: another WordPress blogger, The Traveling Maiden, had an experience while camping in the Great Northwest that may have been Bigfoot. Read about it here.
They were once used as a judgment of God. (II Kings 2:23 – 25)
And yet. Hairy, roly-poly, eat a lot, sleep a lot … maybe they remind us of ourselves. Or they parody or excuse our vices.
A blogger I used to know has said that he and his siblings used bears as a unit of measure. It started out with, “I’m as hungry as a bear!” “Well, I’m as hungry as ten bears!” But then it became more abstract, until bears could be used to measure anything. I think this is delightful.
Still, please remember that they can kill you.
Here are a few bears that you might find around my home.