Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Suicide Bear

The EVIL ONE loaned me his library book, another tale of a thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail. But this one was different. It's not just another chronological journal of hiking the trail with blisters and toenails turning black and falling off or falling down on wet rocks and scraping your hide completely off, but an interesting mix of fears, insights, revelations and experience. As Far As The Eye Can See by David Brill is a thoughtful and richly descriptive book that gives you more than the hardships of the Appalachian Trail; it explains how the trail changes your way of thinking and you.

My favorite part of the book was the suicide bear. The park rangers say the bear is covered with scabs and his fur is patchy where he's fallen and injured himself pretty badly, but he's also very fat and sleek.

One of the tricks of hiking anywhere you need to carry food is hanging your food bag in a tree several hundred yards from where you sleep so that if bears do come into your camp they won't bother you and they might not get your food if you hang it right. After all, there's nothing worse than knowing you have many miles to go before you can replenish your food and water and you wake up to find your food bag destroyed or missing. Some people keep their food in metal bear proof containers. While that works to a certain extent, it does add a lot to your pack weight.

Anyway, the suicide bear is an ingenious fella. He climbs the tree where you hang your food bag, climbs out as far as he can on the limb and then swings himself from the branch trying for the bag. Most of the time he fails and comes crashing to the ground in the bushes or onto rocks or roots or stumps or -- well, you get the idea. Food bag 1 Suicide bear 0

He doesn't give up this wily bear. He keeps climbing the tree, climbing out on the branch and swinging towards the food bag, falling, dusting off his bleeding and aching hide, kicks away the clumps of fur and flesh, and goes for it again. Eventually he gives up and heads for the next food bag, and the cycles continues. Obviously, despite his ragged and battered appearance, the suicide bear is still alive, swinging from trees and scoring enough to keep him sleek and fat.

Brill's book isn't all humorous moments. Some of what he describes is sheer poetry, but all of the book is pure unadulterated human experience of the best kind.

Even if you're not planning to hike the Appalachian Trail, or any trail for that matter, pick up the book and treat yourself to a few hours of pleasure. You'll be glad you did.

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