I have looked into the eyes of many a living creature in awesome wonder, but never those of a grizzly bear. Nor do I want to ever come that close. But what if the grizzly showed up in my kitchen on its own? If it happened to someone else, it could happen to me.
The mere thought of that possibility is enough to send chills down my spine, especially when grizzly bears are much faster runners and swimmers than you and me. Their shoulders measure a good four feet above the ground when on all four paws, and they can stand up twice as tall and walk a short distance like humans, on their two hind legs. Scarier yet, they are omnivorous and can hold up to 150 pounds of meat in their stomachs. They say human attacks by grizzly bears are rare. Like sensible humans, they tend to issue threats before getting into a fight except when badly shaken or in self-defense. Still, I would rather that the wild stay in the wild for their sake and ours.
Even when grizzly bears do stay in the backcountry, we are not absolutely out of their reach. Their habitat is known to include a wide range of territories – mountains and dense forests, valleys and brush meadows, and by the rivers and coastal areas too. That added together is a perfect description of the Mountain West where we live. Since the annual home range of grizzly bears, where they hunt and live, is said to cover up to 500 square miles for males and 80 for females, their coming into contact with humans cannot be totally dismissed. The potential is said to noticeably increase during poor crop years when animals forage at lower elevations in search of food.
Indeed, a 15-year-old grizzly bear was in just such a search of food last Sunday when he broke into the kitchen of a Canadian couple in Kimberley, a resort with a population of 6,600 in the Kootenay Rockies region of British Columbia. And there the malnourished bear was, helping himself to cat and dog food after pushing in a screen and climbing through a window left open by the owners due to the warm weather.
It is no news that unguarded territory is an enticement for the opportunist or cheng xu er ru (乘虚而入), as the Chinese proverb cautions – be it in the battlefield, marketplace, competitive sports, or the home. The opportunist can show up in divers places, not just in “someone else’s kitchen”, as we sometimes conveniently presume. It just so happens that the villain was a grizzly bear in this incident. Luckily the housedog’s relentless complaints through the night prompted its owners’ timely discovery of the intruder in a nevertheless horrifying head-on encounter in the kitchen. It was a close call that resulted in the shooting death of the starving animal. But if it weren’t for the dog’s barking out warnings, the couple would not have had the luxury of reaction time to save their own lives.
It is an established fact that warnings save lives, but we often choose to underestimate or ignore them because the risks seem irrelevant, the probability low, the precautionary measures costly or bothersome, or we simply allow ourselves to be a bit too laid back, uninformed, distracted, or preoccupied with urgent but unimportant things. Whatever the challenge, there are ways to help us stay the course. What works for small children could work for adults too. If nothing else, hanging up a drawing of the grizzly bear standing tall and mighty in the kitchen or that of an elephant lounging out in the living room may just give us the visual reminders we all need.
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