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Grisly Grizzly Preparations

Updated: Oct 28, 2021

My next book adventures going Around the World in 80 More Movies will include some preparatory research for a trip to Alone's Chilko Lake in British Columbia

“High bear activity in your area.”*

WTF?!? came my first thought, using all three words. I read the newly posted sign just a mile and a half into a solitary early morning jog from my urban home in Reno. Alone, near bears.

Should I stop and turn around? came my second thought. Or just push on past a creek and trees? The sign said nothing about staying away, instead reminding my neighbors of an ordinance prohibiting “trash access by bears.” Not considering myself as trash, I moved forward and recognized some irony in this sign and my life’s newest travel plans: I just okayed a big payout to spend five days at Bear Camp in Canada.

Really, spend all that money and go through the Covid testing hassles required for crossing country borders just so I could see relatives of animals that hang out down the street from me? Well, yes. My local sightings involve skittish black bears who turn butt the minute they see me. Bears generally make sure I left my good camera at home so any shots I take look like bearly identifiable dark blurs.

Bear Camp at Chilko Lake promises opportunities to take quality shots of grizzlies lured by the September salmon run. No tramping out by myself to isolated bear haunts. No hauling heavy camera equipment long distances. Bears hang out within close, but safe, range. At least all the tourist lodges label the experience “safe.”

In contrast, a recent project to film in the region promises “The most terrifying location yet.” Using Chilko Lake, Season 8 of the History Channel’s Alone renames the area Grizzly Mountain and emphasizes the presence of predators adding to usual dangers faced by participants competing to last the longest and win $500,000. Unlike contestants in Survivor, each competitor settles in a solitary location along different stretches of the lake’s 50+ mile length. Contestants choose 10 items to bring (useful objects like saws, bows, arrows, and fishing line). The production company throws in a bear horn and pepper spray.

Bear Camp did not include these last two items on the packing list for our group of four. The property’s web site shows our safari tents “4 metres” (13 feet) above the river where grizzlies feed on fish. Striking shots…but…uh…bears can climb, right? Reports indicate bears prefer salmon to other options. Theoretically, they bear no interest in me.

Conversely, bears inspire my curiosity, inciting awe, admiration, and a bit of fear. My care-bear status began early, going back to nursery stories, an image on the state flag where I grew up, my fascination with Theodore Roosevelt, and of course, movies. Kids like me watched the warm Disney approach in projects similar to The Bears and I, which filmed at Chilko Lake. Playful, expressive cubs transformed into fun house pets, much more appealing than any stuffed Teddy Bear.

In contrast, the 1960s project Night of the Grizzly fits in the “chomp romp” subculture of entertainment inspiring fear of jaws, claws, and the animals that use them. Audiences from 1966 readily accepted the movie’s “Bad Bear” premise. It features a particularly aggressive grizzly who kills livestock, a bad trait around Wyoming ranchers. A California resident, I finished watching the film on its initial release and felt relieved the only grizzly near me flew on the state flag. My feelings and sympathies shifted over the years, though cinematically, bears continue to get a bad rap by engaging in such rude behavior as:

*scaring Robert Redford in A Walk in the Woods

*stalking Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin in The Edge

*injuring Leonardo di Caprio in The Revenant

*killing Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall (though the narrator calls it a “good death”)

*eating Timothy Treadwell in Grizzly Man

Well, perhaps not a totally undeserved rap since real events inspired action in three of those titles. But, as the sign in my neighborhood says, “Be Responsible-Bears Belong!”

*A night camera across the street from my house validated the warning

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