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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Other Inhabitants of Bear Land

I’ve entered another parallel universe. This one was populated by bears.

But that wasn’t even the parallel universe that amazed me the most.

Tim and I are back from five wonderful days in Katmai National Park, where the bears hang out in Brooks Camp. They catch returning salmon, hoping to gorge out and get fat for their coming hibernation, and there are lots and lots of bears.

Katmai is the bears’ domain; humans are only the visitors. If a bear is roaming around – it’s called a Bear Jam – the humans have to get off the path and scurry into the woods so the bears have a clear path. It’s their path. We get to look at them from platforms (if everything is working right) and up close (if the bears get curious). Mostly they don’t care about humans because there’s lots of salmon.

We get to watch three “subadult” bears playing in the river every day, bears trying to catch salmon jumping upstream, bears sitting in the foaming “jacuzzi” at the Falls, bears just sitting in “The Office.” The bears are so busy with their fish-catching that they stop seeming ferocious. You could almost forget that they could tear you apart in seconds. It’s Bear Land, and they’re just calmly going about their business (tearing apart salmon in seconds).


Around these bears are Bear People. Bear people know a lot about bears. They know which bear is dominant and grabs the best spot at the Falls, which bear has a scar around her neck from a wolf snare once removed, which bear has a big hump. Which bear has widely spaced ears, spade-shaped large ears, blond tipped ears, upright ears, triangular shaped ears, large and round ears, short and round ears, tall brown ears, ears perched high on head, round peg-like ears, etc. etc.


It’s this universe of bear people that I found so … startling.

Some bear people are park rangers. Others – the really compelling ones – are just bear fans. They’re volunteers who come to Brooks to help out, perform tasks, and watch bears. They work long hours and spend their days off … watching bears. If they’re not at Brooks, they’re watching bear cams. They know each other through years of commenting on the bear cams; they have created a community of bear people. They talk in numbers: Bear #435, #910, #284, #410, and they know each of them individually!

This is a whole parallel universe of bear people that I never knew existed. Thank you, Naomi, for introducing me!

Parallel universes lurk undercover in unexpected places. My friend Robin discovered the universe of dance competitors. Angelo introduced me to the universe of train travelers. Jim occupies the universe of Winston Churchill buffs.

While I read lots of Sherlock Holmes and derivatives, I don’t solve international quizzes on the Holmes “Canon,” I don’t follow a gazillion blogs, and I’m not even a Baker Street Irregular. Sherlockians wouldn’t call me a Sherlockian. I study Time (physics and literature, time travel and Einstein), but while I may be more than a dabbler, I’m not an expert. I’m only a tourist, a visitor to those universes.

I’m a little jealous of parallel universe people (and not just because they have an escape from this one). They have such passion! They have such motivation! My friend Connie says that’s not all: they have a focus for learning and development of expertise, and they have affiliation. They belong to a group of like-minded folks who are interested in exploring the same thing. Really interested in exploring the same thing. Deeply.

At one time, I guess I was utterly and completely fascinated by waterparks. But even that doesn’t count as a parallel universe because it was just me.


Lots of people can have interests, but it takes a roomful of them to become a parallel universe. Parallel universes are in the eye of the beholder, the outsider who stumbles across them, marvels at their intensity of fascination, and can’t believe there are that many of them.

So which one do you occupy? Which ones have you discovered?


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