Bill Sherwonit billsherwonit@alaskawriters.com


 
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Living with Wildness Interview

Chugach State Park book, featuring photography by Carl Battreall

49 Writers Blog Posting: Of Essays & Animal Stories

Facebook Page: Animal Stories by Bill Sherwonit

The Nature of Cities blog posting, 2012: Rediscovering Wildness -- and finding the "wild man" -- in Alaska's Urban Center

   
Alaska's Bears
Alaska Northwest Books, 1998
 

“More than a book of bear identification trivia, ALASKA’S BEARS also contains tips for travel in bear country, Native Alaskan traditions concerning bears, detailed maps and a reading list for more information.”
-- ALASKA magazine

From the introduction, "BEAR COUNTRY"

"The sight of the bear stirred me like nothing else the country could contain. What mattered most was not so much the bear himself as what the bear implied. He was the predominant thing in that country, and fo rhim to be in it at all meant that there had to be more country like it in every direction and more of the same kind of country all around that. He implied a world." -- John McPhee, Coming into the Country (1976)

I first saw a wild bear in 1974, during my first month in Alaska. A chocolate-colored grizzly, it stood several hundred yards away, busily digging into the tundra for roots or perhaps ground squirrels. Like John McPhee, I saw the grizzly while exploring the Brooks Range wilderness, though I'd come not as a writer but as a 24-year-old geologist recently out of graduate school. And like McPhee, I was stirred by the sight of this bear. But what moved me was the bear itself, rather than anything it implied about wildness or vast, undeveloped landscapes. A fuller appreciation of that connection would come later.

Even now I can recall the mix of awe, delight, and fear that I felt, the desire to know more about grizzlies. About bears. Still, I couldn't have realized the extent to which bears--both as physical beings and as metaphors--would become a fascination of mine, a passion.

I eventually left Alaska for California, but returned in 1982, now a writer. Two things, above all others, drew me back: wild landscapes and wildlife. I suppose you could say I wanted to be closer to the bear's world and all that implies.

Like many people who live here, I sometimes call Alaska "bear country." For good reason. Alaska is the only one of our nation's 50 states to be inhabited by all three of North America's ursine species: the black bear, polar bear, and brown bear (also known as the grizzly). The statewide population of each of the three bears is thriving, thanks largely to Alaska's abundance of wild, remote, and undeveloped regions.

There are few places you can go in Alaska and not share the landscape with bears. Even Anchorage, with its 260,000 people, is visited annually by black and brown bears that inhabit the tundra and forests along the city's edge. I've discovered that the presence of bears, even if unseen, changes my relationship with a place: it makes me more attentive, more aware of my surroundings.

Alaska offers some of the world's best bear viewing. Managed programs at places like McNeil River, Brooks Falls, and Admiralty Island give even backcountry neophytes a chance to safely watch wild bears in their natural environments.

As one who loves both bears and literature, I've lined my bookshelves with dozens of bear books. But until now, there hasn't been a book specifically about Alaska's bears that fits the category of field guide, a book that slips easily into a jacket pocket or day pack--and one that also provides entertaining armchair reading for when you're not in bear country. Here, in one pocket-sized edition, is a book that can help you understand Alaska's bears and their natural histories. Chapters on each of the three species cover their physical appearance, behaviors, yearly cycles, ecological niches, and relationships with humans. One chapter looks at Alaska's prime bear-viewing sites, with full details for those who would like to visit. You'll also find tips for traveling safely through bear country. Complementing the text are the photographs of longtime Alaskan Tom Walker, a premier wildlife photographer who has spent hundreds of hours in the company of bears.

Over the past two decades, I've shared the Alaskan landscape with bears in places that range from lush coastal rain forests to high alpine valleys to arctic tundra meadows. Through these encounters, my respect and admiration for bears--and their world--continues to grow. I've also been lucky enough to meet several of Alaska's foremost bear researchers. the knowledge they've imparted to me, I now share with you, in this guide to Alaska's bears and the wild country they inhabit.

Buy Alaska's Bears at Amazon.com


Animal Stories: Encounters with Alaska's Wildlife   Living with Wildness: An Alaskan Odyssey
Changing Paths Denali: A Literary Anthology  
Iditarod: The Great Race to Nome Alaska's Accessible Wilderness  
Wood-Tikchik: Alaska's Largest State Park Alaska Ascents  
To the Top of Denali Alaska’s Bears  
 

 

 
 
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Sonya Senkowsky and AlaskaWriter. All rights reserved.

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