Most likely, I don’t have to tell you who Sarah Palin is.
The former Alaska governor and unsuccessful 2008 U.S. vice-presidential candidate, who is now a prominent voice in the conservative Tea Party movement, is one of America’s most famous — and controversial – women.
Sorry, I just told you who Sarah Palin is.
Some people love her. Some people loath her for her take-no-prisoners approach to politics. No wonder she calls herself — and select other female candidates who meet her ferocity test — “Mama Grizzlies.”
Whatever you think of Palin, you have to admire her choice in nicknames.
The grizzly bear — which got its name from white tips on its fur that give it an aged or “grizzled” look — is not so lovable. A grizzly is not to be trifled with. To give you an idea, its Latin scientific name is Ursus arctos horribilis — “horrible north bear”!
The great beast can weigh more than 300 kilograms, stand 3½ meters tall on its back paws, and chase down even the fastest human. You certainly wouldn’t want to bump into one — especially a sow protecting cubs — in the deep woods. That’s why smart hikers whistle while they walk, clap loudly, or even drape themselves in bells.
“About 99 percent of the time, you’ll never see a bear,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chris Servheen tells me. “It’ll just run away.”
Yes, but what about the other 1 percent of the time?
Ah, Servheen says, reassuringly, that’s the time to whip out your powerful “bear spray,” which is an intense formulation of pepper spray that will disable even a charging bear long enough for you to escape.
Anyway, grizzlies are anything but man-killers, let alone man-eaters, unless they’re sick or desperately hungry. (It’s those exceptions that keep cropping up that make me nervous). Loners, they steer clear of humans. Before word spread among veteran campers in the Great Northwest — and who else would pitch a tent in “bear country”— that securing one’s food in camp is a good idea, hungry bears would occasionally maul or kill humans in the process of rummaging through tents.
The fact is that grizzlies eat mostly berries, grubs, and the occasional animal carcass. If they’re hungry enough, they’ll also run down a newborn elk or moose or lagging bison, but most in those herds can easily outrun any bear. Grizzlies are, Chris Servheen told me, “inefficient predators.”
Somehow, I’m still not convinced.
Contrary to my own uninformed impression, bears aren’t nearsighted. They don’t run into trees by mistake. Servheen told me they can see about as well as we can — which means any bear I run into had better be wearing reading glasses.
Curiously, the estimated 35,000 to 40,000 grizzlies who live in the vast expanses of Alaska, far to the north, are adept fishers, as many Alaska tourists know from having watched them, at a distance, scoop salmon out of streams. Because of their protein-rich diets, the Alaska bears can top 400 kilos in weight.
But “interior bears” as those south of Canada are referred to, survive mostly on tubers and insects. They don’t fish much at all. Perhaps nobody taught them how. So some of the Montana and Wyoming full-grown females don’t weigh any more than I do.
Never mind. Here’s the score in any fight between us: Bear 1, Ted 0.
More than 50,000 hump-backed grizzlies once loped anywhere they liked in the continental United States. Now, only about 1,600 are thought to be at large here — 900 in and around Glacier National Park in Montana, another 600 in and near Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming plus a few more in Idaho and Washington. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which tracks and nurtures these big bruins, figures that’s way better than 25 years ago, when there were fears the species would not survive at all south of Canada. Their heads were once so prized as trophies, and their fat as grease and hair pomade, that they were hunted and trapped almost to extinction.
Grizzlies are also threatened because of their low reproductive rate. Sows mate only once every three years, and they usually produce no more than two cubs per litter. So the authorities make a special effort to keep females alive and healthy.
Hunting grizzlies is now banned — though Alaska has a brief “bear season” — and bear-proofing of trash sites and the closing of old logging roads have lessened their human contact. So has the posting of signs in the deep woods — not something stupid like “bear crossing,” but general warnings to watch out. Truth is, man and grizzly almost always come together by accident, when a hiker shows up in a clearing where a bear is, say, tearing open an ant’s nest, or when you and a sow with cubs pick the same forest intersection to cross.
Chris Servheen tells me that a few grizzlies are killed by what the rangers call “vandals,” who shoot the animals for the thrill of it and leave their carcasses to the vultures. But he says poaching of bears for their heads or pelts is now almost unknown.
The wildlife service had even hoped to re-introduce grizzlies to the remote Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho. “No thanks,” said Idaho’s governor some years ago. “We’ll ship a few of these flesh-eating carnivores back East and see how they like dealing with this dangerous animal,” and the idea never got funded.
To the governor, and most everyone else who’s come in contact with one in the wild, this menacing beast remains the “horrible north bear.”
In earlier postings about Tennessee and North Carolina, I mentioned that the latter, encompassing what later became the former, once stretched from the Atlantic Ocean all the way west to the Mississippi River, one-third of the distance across the North American landmass.
This week, the Library of Congress acquired stewardship of what its Geography and Map Division chief calls “the single most important American cartographic document missing from the collection.” It’s a 1784 map of North America by Abel Buell, showing the first state boundaries of the new American nation. The map had resided at the New Jersey Historical Society until it was sold at auction last December to The Carlyle Group, a private global investment firm. Its co-founder, David M. Rubenstein, turned it over to the Library of Congress for safekeeping and display.
The Library was thrilled to get it because it is the first known map to show the new “Stars and Stripes” U.S. Flag. I mention it, though, because this map shows not only the long reach of North Carolina early in our nation’s history, but the westward stretch of most states, clear into what was then unexplored territory. You’ll see that the young nation looks like a layer cake, with a big “Virginia” slice and smaller slices for the other eastern states. The skinniest slice of all belongs to Connecticut, which — at least on paper — extended through my eventual home turf: what became northern Ohio along Lake Erie.
The map appears below for you to look at, too.
Ted's Wild Words
These are a few words from this posting that you may not know. Each time, I'll tell you a little about them and also place them into a cumulative archive of "Ted's Wild Words" in the right-hand column of the home page. Just click on it there, and if there's another word that you'd like me to explain, just ask!
Bruin. A bear, especially a brown bear, including a grizzly. The name is Middle English and first appeared in the fable “The History of Reynard the Foxe,” in which the bear character was named “Bruin.”
Rummage. To sort through a pile or roomful of items, or perhaps a Dumpster trash bin, searching for something.