Nathan's Laserium: The Bears and I

Maybe you know that I like bears a little bit. Seen two so far this year! A black and a grizzly. In fact grizzly bears are the far more common ursid for me to see where I work. I'm lucky to get to see them quite often in the spring and summer. Two were poking around today, actually, though I was stuck on the stupid shovel and couldn't go racing to see them. I'm sure I'll get another chance.

A few years back I found a book in my Grandma's basement. She was an elementary school librarian and a true bibliophile so she always had tons of books. Mostly our tastes were in, what do you call those Venn diagrams where they don't actually really touch at all? Separate spheres. And, by the way, I'm referring to her in the past tense but she is alive and well. It's her library that is no longer with us as she has moved into a home. Anyway.

So Yeah, I found a book that caught my eye. It was old, but it was called The Bears And I, by Robert Franklin Leslie. Thus I had to pick it up. So glad I did. What an amazing little book.

It's a true story, published in 1968 though I believe the events it describes occurred maybe in the 40s.

The author, an American university student, spent his summers prospecting for gold in British Columbia to pay for his schooling. One day an ancient and rheumatic old bear shuffled out of the woods towards Leslie, almost on her belly, and huffed and puffed at him while glancing up at the tree where she had banished her three (triplets!) cubs. To all appearances she was bequeathing her progeny to him so she could go and die. His prose is much more elegant than mine.

Seriously this book is amazing. Hard to believe, even.  It it's filled with so much intricate detail that it is harder to believe that he made it up.

He named the cubs Rusty, Dusty and Scratch. Each of them has a unique personality which he describes in loving detail.  Anthropomorphized? Maybe, but I think animals are very capable of developing idiosyncratic characteristics. It's one of science's blind spots that this isn't better recognized.

Alright so he has these three bear cubs. What the heck is he gonna do with them? To his credit he doesn't try to train them and turn them into some sort of circus performer/sideshow curiosities. He instead does his best to train them to be bears. He has way more wood craft than you or I so he kind of pulls it off. The best parts of the books are his adventures just wandering around training the cubs in bearology. "Eat grubs and worms, little cubs. Not me!" And so forth.

Little spoiler- it's not the happiest ending, which is probably not at all surprising. Humans and bears really shouldn't ever mix. Still a fascinating, incredible story, well worth a read should you ever be able to find a copy.

It's no longer in print. It's not on google books, I just checked. It might be in your grandma's basement! You will have to check used bookstores, if you have any, and maybe the library still has a copy. Apparently Disney did a very loose adaptation of it back in the 70s, which I haven't seen.

- Nathan Waddell