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Ursus arctos horribilis, commonly known as the grizzly or brown bear, is one of the most feared animals on the planet. As its most outspoken protector, Timothy Treadwell tirelessly sought to overturn the perception of grizzlies as dangerously aggressive. It was therefore a media sensation ...
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Ursus arctos horribilis, commonly known as the grizzly or brown bear, is one of the most feared animals on the planet. As its most outspoken protector, Timothy Treadwell tirelessly sought to overturn the perception of grizzlies as dangerously aggressive. It was therefore a media sensation when in October 2003 Treadwell and his girlfriend were fatally mauled by a bear in Alaska's Katmai National Park, the first such attack in the park in eighty-five years. The horrifying audiotape of Treadwell's final, frantic screams begged the question: How could this happen?
In The Grizzly Maze, Nick Jans, who for years has written expertly and lyrically about the Alaskan wilderness, ventures to answer this question. Based on exclusive access to the killing site and his own and other's expert knowledge of Alaskan bears, Jans plots out Treadwell's final expedition and encounter with the grizzly. In doing so, Jans provides a moving and complex portrait of the man known as the "Bear Whisperer," whose controversial ideas earned him the scorn of hunters, the adoration of some animal lovers, and the skepticism of naturalists. The Grizzly Maze also offers a definitive, close-up look at bears, bear behavior, and our complicated relationship with them. It promises to be the blockbuster adventure read of the season.
"Ready?" pilot Gary Porter's voice crackled over the headset. From the copilot's seat I nodded. We dropped in a smooth arc, losing altitude until at last the floats settled in with a hissing thrum. As we taxied down Upper Kaflia Lake I reflected that, considering this was Alaska's Katmai National Park, where spectacular scenery is commonplace, this was a rather ordinary little valley: a narrow lake maybe a mile and a half long, cradled by a pair of upswept, undulating ridges. Dense clumps of alder and willow started at the water's edge and clung to the slopes, fading into stone and streaks of volcanic ash. Three weeks ago the land would have blazed with autumn colors; but this was early October, and the land was fading to brown, turning inward, waiting for snow.
"That's the place up ahead," said Gary, and I fumbled with the camera gear in my lap. As the DeHavilland Beaver coasted in toward shore, engine silent now, we could see an odd splash of white in the brush. Clad in hip boots, Gary and I swung open the doors and stepped down onto the floats. From there I could read the top lines of one notice:
The other sign was a map crosshatched with shaded areas. Strung from a thirty-foot section of white cord, the two notebook-sized, laminated sheets flickered in the breeze, as if somehow they could contain a sweep of country spanning four million acres.
This was the place where Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard had died just five days before-attacked, mauled, and eaten outside of their tents during a violent rainstorm. Come out here, I'm being killed out here!
.... Fight back!
Their desperate struggle for life had been captured on a camcorder's audiotape, starting with cries for help and fading into high-pitched screams. A day later, would-be rescuers, hoping to find someone alive, had been menaced by bears at close range and shot and killed two, including a thousand-pound male whose stomach was filled with flesh, bone, and clothing. But today, except for those fluttering signs, this grass-crowned knoll, rimmed by a dense curtain of alder, seemed just like the valley: pretty but unremarkable, a tiny island adrift in an ocean of land. As sunlight filtered through high clouds, casting everything in a luminous golden light, I struggled to imagine the horror that had taken place here.
Then the soft breeze eddied, bearing the stench of death-a sickly-sweet, overpowering odor that cut through any illusion of serenity: the rotting carcasses of the bears the park rangers had shot. Shards of bear bone and clumps of hide lay scattered around the grassy swale before us, just a few yards away. Scavenging magpies and ravens called back and forth. The nightmare had been real. And this was where it had happened.
The questions I'd been wrestling with for the past five days swirled up again, sharp as the scent of carrion. The facts didn't add up. After twenty-five years living and traveling in bear country, first as a packer for a big game guide, then as a hunter, finally as a photographer and writer, I knew the danger posed by bears well enough. Attacks, while always a possibility, were isolated instances, and experience tended to tip the odds in your favor. If Timothy Treadwell wasn't experienced, who was? He'd spent thirteen summers among the big coastal brown bears here, and claimed to have an empathic connection to them-a gift, admirers said, that at times approached magic. He gave the bears names, claimed to understand their postures and vocalizations, moved among them as one of their own.
Yet, in the history of the Katmai Park and National Monument, stretching back over eighty-five years, not one person had ever been seriously mauled, let alone killed-until Timothy Treadwell. The apparent contradiction was cause enough for head scratching. This tragedy, however, went that ghastly step further. A bear, or bears, had turned predator-an occurrence so rare it came as a shock, even to people who knew these animals. This double killing wasn't just an anomaly for Katmai National Park; it was the first of its kind in the history of Alaska. What had gone wrong for Treadwell and Huguenard? What, exactly, had happened?
From those central questions, others spread in concentric ripples. Timothy Treadwell-who was he, beyond a face or a name, and what had brought him here? What were his hopes, fears, and dreams? And now that he was dead, why had he become such a controversial figure, galvanizing people from all walks of life, many of whom, just days before, hadn't even been aware of his existence? Was he a martyr, a fool, a lunatic, or, as some claimed, a cynical grifter, riding a self-created wave and playing it for all it was worth?
The Grizzly Maze, Timothy Treadwell had named this place where he died: a labyrinth of tunneled trails bears had worn through the dense brush over centuries of passing-dim, narrow passages where a person could only go by crawling on all fours, with no telling what lay around each bend, and no retreat possible. It's a place we've all been, if only in dreams. A fitting metaphor for the maze humans and bears have wandered together across time, and for the story of Timothy Treadwell, which already seemed to defy the sure paths of logic. The dark mouth of one of the many entrances to the maze was here at Kaflia, beckoning.
"Do what you have to." Gary shrugged. "I can't stop you, but I have to stay here." He, his wife Jeannie, and I stood on the Beaver's floats, looking toward the shore. Though the recent storm had stripped half the leaves from the alders, the curtain of brush, which started at the lake's edge, was still claustrophobic.
Other bears had been feeding on the carcasses, and had to be close by, though we'd spotted nothing on our flyover. The only real clearing was a marshy swale off to the right. I scrolled farther down the Park Service's notices:
FROM CAPE CHINIAK (HALLO BAY) TO
CAPE ILKUTGITAK (AMALIK BAY):
ALL AREAS, EXTENDING INLAND 15 MILES,
ARE CLOSED THROUGH DEC. 1, 2003
ENTERING A CLOSED AREA OR REMOVAL OF THIS SIGN
IS PUNISHABLE BY FINE UP TO $500 OR
IMPRISONMENT FOR 8 MONTHS, OR BOTH
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
KATMAI NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE
Going through channels, I'd been granted a special permit to land at Kaflia, with the stipulation that my feet wouldn't touch the shore. I could stay right on the plane and still do my job for Alaska magazine-take a few pictures of the notices, the brush, and some scenics, then do some flyover views of the bear trails that webbed across the knoll like spokes on a wheel. I'd even left my bear spray back in Homer.
Now that I was there, however, I knew where I was going. Though I hadn't known Treadwell at all, some of my friends, like Joel Bennett, had, and he lived for me in their stories told over the years. I saw in him that same love of wild things that had brought me to Alaska, mingled with the fear I'd always faced alone, and the death that could easily have been mine instead. All the bears I'd walked past without knowing, or sat and watched, taken pictures of, or hunted and killed-they were all waiting somewhere on that brushy hill, where all trails converged.
I started off with wide-angle images of the notices at the water's edge. Though my pulse thudded in my ears, I forced that energy into technical issues-bracketing, backlight, shutter speed, and depth of field. As I moved into the swale, taking a step at a time, pausing to listen, details seemed unnaturally heightened-the delicate patterns of frost at my feet, leaves steaming dry in the sun. Then the first scraps of tattered bear hide, and shards of bone. Watching the world through my camera, switching lenses occasionally, I kept firing away. The world became a series of fragmented images: a furrowed trail leading uphill toward the camp. Footprints, human and bear, cast in frozen mud. Bent and broken branches. And permeating everything, the insistent smell of death, which had no color or shape.
Twenty feet up the trail lay a bear's cache-a litter of brush, grass, and earth piled over a carcass to shield it from foxes, birds, and other bears. Two leg bones, obviously from the smaller of the two bears shot by the rangers, lay on top of the mound, polished clean. I heard the camera's motor drive whir, but over that came a soft, steady crunching noise-the sound of something heavy walking through frozen grass somewhere below on the swale, hidden from view by brush and the knoll's curve. Skirting to the right, I saw the bear about the same time he saw me.
It was a big, dark male, maybe eight hundred pounds-rippling with muscle and fat, gorgeously furred, and, at his predenning prime, immense by most standards. But along the Katmai Coast, he was just another bear-large, but a step down the social hierarchy from one of those truly huge, dominant males. Dangling from his jaws was a mass of bone and gristle from just such a bear-a pelvis, part of a spine, and a femur stripped of flesh-a fifty-pound scrap of what had once been Treadwell's presumed killer. The male stared uphill, locked on my shape.
About fifty yards separated us. The plane was roughly that distance away, below and behind me. From the lake, Gary and Jeannie had no way of seeing either me or the bear. I backpedaled slowly, rounding my shoulders and averting my gaze to appear-I hoped-nonthreatening. I suppose I should have been afraid, but I took cues from the bear, which didn't show the least sign of agitation. In fact, he went back to gnawing, glancing my way only now and then. Over the next ten minutes I shot half a roll until the animal shifted behind a small clump of willow. The air was so unnaturally silent that I could hear the scraping of teeth on bone.
I decided to leave the bear and circle away, back up the trail toward the campsite. A dozen yards farther, on a grassy, willow-rimmed bench, I found a second bear cache, obviously disturbed and seemingly empty, and just beyond, a circular, flattened area tucked back in the alders that seemed to have been Treadwell's campsite. When I bent low, the stench was almost nauseating, and I began to feel the growing distance between me and the plane. The stillness and the warm, filtering sunlight, the chitter of juncos and chickadees, only made things more eerie. Just a few more yards and I'd head back, I told myself.
The crackle in the brush, just a few paces away, might as well have been a grenade exploding. I was standing in the middle of the second cache, looking down and studying it through my viewfinder, wondering how to create a telling image of dirt and sticks, when the noise erupted. Whipping upright, I caught a glimpse of brown fur in the alders, no more than twenty feet away.
How did he get so close, so quietly? I remember thinking. The world shifted into fast forward, time and space compressing, yet still strangely clear. I knew at once: It was that big male down the hill, and he'd stalked me. Running was seldom a good idea-I knew that. But standing right over a claimed kill, I had nothing to lose. At this distance, the rush would be instantaneous, the bear coming low and hard, slamming into my legs with the irresistible force of a breaking wave, a blur of teeth and claws and fur, an eruption of blood and tearing flesh. Without making a conscious decision, I was in motion, bounding down the steep-sided knoll through the brush in huge, weightless steps, the surge of adrenaline an uncoiling spring in my chest. The bright distance of the world, the narrowing cone of my own vision, the explosion of my own movement and my detached awareness-I was playing college football again, complete with the noise of the crowd, distant shouts that I realized were Gary and Jeannie, shouting RUN, RUN!
I felt my ankle catch, twist, and buckle, and I went down hard, too fast for my arms to react. There was a tremendous blow, my teeth clashing together as ribs thudded into frozen ground. I scrambled up, still aware of Gary and Jeannie's shouts, realizing that if they of all people were shouting for me to run, things were looking grim. Any second now-I was ready for the impact, envisioning in a flash my next move: curled up, facedown, hands clamped behind my head, enduring the incredible, rag-doll-thrashing force of the bear. Three more leaps, the yellow of the plane's fuselage just thirty feet away, bright through the last screen of alders, and my ankle folded again. This time I went down even harder, a hummock slamming the wind out of my lungs, my face and shoulders smashing through a skim of ice into stinging cold water. I looked up to find the Beaver's floats almost close enough to touch, and saw my Nikon underwater, tightly gripped in my right hand. I'd landed face-first in the same little creek I'd stepped over on my way in. Still acting on reflex, I snatched the camera out and staggered up once more, then sagged down on a knee, coughing and tasting blood. For the first time I looked behind me. There was no bear-only the empty trail, and the bright stillness of that same October morning.
"Are you okay?" It was an inevitable question, I suppose. I nodded an affirmative, then ran a personal inventory. Lower lip bleeding and swollen. Bruised ribs. One wader half full of ice water. Right ankle spindled-an old, recurring injury. I knew from experience that I wouldn't be running anywhere for a month, but for now I'd be able to make a cast of duct tape and limp along. The only fatality was one waterlogged camera body.
Gary raised an eyebrow, his mouth tight beneath his mustache. "Didn't you hear us yelling for you not to run?" Of course I had-but only the last part, each time they'd yelled-don't RUN, don't RUN! I'm not sure I'd have listened anyway.
Replaying the whole sequence, I realized what had probably happened. The first bear, the big guy down in the swale, hadn't stalked me. Instead, I'd walked up on a second bear, bedded down in the grass. It was easy to generalize all the bad karma of this place, and create an imaginary army of slavering killer beasts; but in all probability, the bear had behaved in typical Katmai brownie fashion-rolled up for a look, scratched, and gone back to sleep as soon as the commotion faded. Again, the question came back: What had been different, what had gone wrong with Tim and Amie five days before?
We all agreed it was time to move on. Daylight was burning, and we hoped to find Joel Ellis, the lead ranger involved in the attempted rescue and body recovery, at the National Park Service station at Brooks Falls. Though the trail seemed narrower this time and the alders thicker, I hobbled up and retrieved my gear. Both bears had evaporated into the brush.
The Beaver's radial engine rumbled to life. As we taxied down the lake, positioning for a takeoff into the wind, Gary spotted a bear in the water, along the far shore. Cutting the engine, we drifted to within fifty yards. It was a huge animal, twelve hundred pounds or more. Like most dominant males, he seemed uneasy around humans, eyeing us as he clambered heavily from the water. Rather than disturb him further, we moved off. Skimming low over the knoll after takeoff, I glimpsed a dark shape at the edge of the lake, close to the tiny white signs at water's edge. A different bear, maybe that first male, or the one in the brush, was standing, nose to the ground, right where I'd been flat on my face, as if to remind me I'd just used up my luck. Maybe the only real difference between me and Timothy Treadwell was that mine had been better.
The Birth of Treadwell
Timothy Treadwell was the sort of guy most Alaskans loved to hate. You don't go around on Kodiak Island or Katmai crawling on all fours, singing and reading to bears, giving them names like Thumper, Mr. Chocolate, and Squiggle. You don't say things to them like "Czar, I'm so worried! I can't find little Booble." Not unless you're from California, that is, and your name is Timothy Treadwell. He looked the part-boyish good looks and a shock of blond hair half-tamed by a backward ball cap. It was as if his surfboard had taken a wrong turn off Malibu and somehow he'd ended up on the Alaska Peninsula-home to the largest concentration of brown bears on the planet.
Excerpted from The Grizzly Maze by Nick Jans Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted February 19, 2006
Posted August 19, 2005
I have throughly enjoyed the antics of Timothy Treadwell,for many years,even knowingly that he was headed for trouble. I sincerely hoped he would 'smarten' up about some defense for himself. I shall miss him greatly, I did truly enjoy him.I truly wanted to find a reason that all the critics were wrong, however, they were not.He put himself and this young woman in danger countless times. Reading the end result is horrible,but predictable. Camping in the wrong place, food out, even tho the food wasn't touched,they were. I don't know why she was there,except for Timothy, and she lived momentarily to regret it. I shall miss Timothy the fox as well, what a treat he was to watch with him. This sheds a great deal of light on so many issues with these huge, beautiful creatures and man.One cannot be too careful.
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Posted December 9, 2008
Grizzly bear guru Timothy Treadwell spent thirteen summers living amongst these giants. He became a media favorite because he was always available for a quote. In 2003 while camping in the GRIZZLY MAZE of Alaska's Katmai National Park, Treadwell and his girlfriend Huguenard were attacked and eaten by the bears that he loved. The occurrence captured on tape was the first known human death of this kind in eighty-five years. Nick Jans explores what happened piecing it together like a sleuth on an investigation. Besides covering that gory incident the author looks deep into Treadwell¿s life so that the audience understands what drove this self-proclaimed expert who defied biologist¿ beliefs that his contacts were not good for the bears. --- However, what makes this insightful bio more than just retro sensationalism is the wider discernible perspective in which the author discusses human interactivity with animals in the wild. Mr. Jans makes no apology that he feels this type of interaction is foolish bordering on insanity. Readers will enjoy this deep biography but especially the wider scope that Mr. Jans explores in depth at a time when mankind is tearing down the wilderness. --- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 7, 2005
I read this book in a little over a day. It is both scary and sad at the same time, for the bears and for Timothy and Amie. It reminds us that wild animals are just that, and they will never be tame.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.