I’m in some kind of crisis but don’t know what kind of crisis I’m in
September 29, 2011 | My Jottings
I feel so sad. Hope the research bear is dead, killed by a hunter last week.
I have been eagerly following the daily updates, photos and live videos of some world-famous American black bears for almost two years now. In Ely, MN, a little north of where we live, a man named Lynn Rogers has been studying black bears for years. There have been many television programs on the man who walks with bears, and in December of 2009 I became interested myself.
The bear research people were able to install a live den camera in front of the den where Lily, a black research bear, had decided to hibernate. The world watched as she gave birth to her female cub, later named Hope. Things were being learned about black bears that had never been known before. Myths were being put to rest, and admiration and awe were being voiced as people from all over the globe watched this mother bear with her little cub.
Every morning in late 2009 and early 2010 I would get up in the dark and tune in to the live den-cam, and watch as Lily rested and readied herself for childbirth. Or is it cub-birth? When Hope was born I sobbed as I heard her little cubby cries and the maternal grunts of her mother as she checked her baby over and began to nurse. I laughed again and again when I heard the nursing sound that bears make — something akin to a tiny, revving motor. While the wintry Minnesota winds blew outside, Lily and Hope were safe in their den, and as each day passed, the world tuned in and could see Hope grow. Even elementary school children from all over the country watched from their classrooms.
When Lily and Hope began to play together inside the den, I exulted. I can’t explain it, but while living in a world where there’s always war, always a gazillion people mistreating other people, where there’s always too little to eat for some and too much to choose from for the greedy, watching this little enclave of peace and contentment made my heart thrill day after day. Somewhere in the world, something was happening that must surely have brought a smile to God’s face….right there in that bear den outside of Ely, MN. Here were two creatures doing exactly what God created them to do, and I don’t care what anyone says, I knew that God was pleased. Which is more than I can say for many of God’s creatures, including myself.
When spring whispered in to the area and snow began to melt, Lily and Hope came out of their den and I watched. And smiled. And called my family to the computer many times and wanted them to be as delighted as I was. Lily is a radio collared bear, and the bear researchers can track her whereabouts and learn more about black bears. There’s so much more to these animals than I ever thought before. They’re fascinating, funny, endearing, and usually not harmful. The people who have radio collared the few research bears in northeastern Minnesota can approach the bears and talk to them, and the bears learn to trust and often sit quietly with the humans, sharing their space peacefully. I never knew that such huge animals survive mostly on insect grubs, wild berries and hazelnuts. I never knew that ants are such a huge part of a bear’s diet. And I never knew what faithful, patient, incredible mothers black bears are.
As Hope grew, so did her antics. She and her mama Lily would stroll the forest together, nap side by side together, groom each other, and play together. They would gently bat at each other’s noses, wrestle and tumble together, and actually cuddle and show affection that was clearly evident. I know there are zoologists out there who will say we don’t know and can’t know what animals feel, and that humans always ascribe too many emotions to animals that can’t possibly exist, but after watching these bears for almost two years I’m not buying it. I saw Lily love her Hope. It might not be the kind of love humans are capable of, I don’t know. But it was love and devotion and self-sacrifice right in front of the world’s eyes, and it made me cry and rejoice each time I watched. When big Lily nuzzled little Hope and grunted her maternal bear sounds, my heart broke with joy.
Well, well, well. Then new bear history was made. Lily got pregnant again and the bear people wondered what would happen then? It’s not like black bears haven’t gotten pregnant before while still caring for a cub, it’s just that there’s never been a den-cam to showcase to the world how the mother, older cub, and newborn cub/s might possibly get along. Late last year another den-cam was set up in the new den Lily chose for the denning season. Was she actually going to den with her much larger cub Hope, give birth in that den and care for them all, staying together into the next summer?
I watched for a little while every single day. They knew Lily was pregnant, and she continued to be a wonderful mother to Hope, and even though Hope was pretty large by then, they denned together. How beautiful those daily videos were! Two large beings sharing a tight space, and being utterly content and peaceful while doing so. In January labor began and Lily gave birth to two cubs, a male and a female. They were later named Jason and Faith, and the viewing audience grew, and newspapers around the world printed stories about the Ely bears.
Lily was a devoted mother to all three of her cubs, and she allowed them to nurse at the same time. That always brought a chuckle when I saw how patiently she allowed huge Hope to burrow in to her belly at the same time the tiny little Jason and Faith did. The researchers commented about how fabulous it was to see big sister Hope accepting her little siblings and learning to be gentle and maternal with them as well.
Unfortunately, little cub Jason died early in his life. An autopsy revealed a couple of things that prevented him from growing up to adulthood — I learned that these things happen more than you might suspect. So a trio of females went on — big mama Lily, yearling Hope, and quickly growing little cub Faith.
I kept visiting the bear study website to see what was up with the three bears. I can’t even begin to explain the happiness I felt watching these beautiful creatures. I showed them to my grandchildren. I told friends about them. Everyone was kind and patient with me. The world could check in and see Lily and Hope playing together as they walked through the north woods. If you’d like to see a short video taken just a couple of weeks ago of Lily nursing her yearling Hope and smaller cub Faith at the same time, click here. See how patient she is! See how they play together after they’ve had their meal…such a happy wonder.
So in mid-September when the daily updates reported that Hope was missing, my heart sank. It’s bear season in northern Minnesota right now, and I couldn’t stand the thought of someone killing Hope. Black bears are plentiful in this state, and some people actually eat bear meat, so being able to find and shoot a bear in our area would not be difficult.
When bear hunting season opens, Lynn Rogers and his bear researchers affix brightly colored ribbons to the radio collars to identify the research bears. They post signs in the woods and ask hunters to please refrain from shooting research bears, those with beribboned radio collars. Many hunters do comply and take uncollared bears instead.
But this year that was not the case. As the days went on and only mama Lily and the newest cub Faith could be found together, it seemed like the unthinkable had happened. Early this week it was confirmed that on Friday, September 16, 2011, a hunter shot and killed Hope. He had put out a bait station (which is legal in Minnesota) and had seen a lone yearling come to eat. He says he did not know it was Hope, because she didn’t have a radio collar around her neck. The bear folks had tried to put a collar on Hope many times, but she didn’t like it and kept working it off. This hunter hunts for yearlings because of the quality of their meat, and now Hope will provide several meals for him and whoever sits at his table.
I’m not trying to vilify this hunter. He was doing what people have done through the millennia — hunting for his own food. My husband Michael has hunted for white tail deer each November for forty-eight years. I have never been thrilled with his hunting but it’s the culture in this state, and I’ve just accepted it as such. I have tried on occasion to eat venison and have never really taken to the wild flavor.
But I do eat cows. And I eat chickens too. And fish. And the occasional pig. And here is part of my crisis, if it is a crisis. I don’t want to eat animals anymore. But I like the taste of animals. I have been an omnivore for so long I wouldn’t know where to begin to become a vegetarian. I have read books on how to slowly become a vegetarian, and can’t seem to do it. We have people in our house that I don’t think could live without eating some meat. I can’t make them feel what I’m feeling. I know how to eat less meat and cook with less meat. So I have had seasons where I’ve done that. But I have this quandary — I’m seeing animals in a new light and I don’t know how to do anything about it. I don’t think it’s wrong to eat meat. I know it’s not always the healthiest choice, but I don’t think it’s wrong.
Here’s another facet of the turmoil I’m feeling. Why, oh why, am I so torn up about the death of Hope the black bear, when human beings are killed every day and my emotions don’t seem to run as deep and ragged for them? Troy Davis, very possibly an innocent man, was given a poisonous lethal injection recently and died in a Georgia prison. Did I mourn? Yes, but not like I mourn for Hope, Lily and Faith, the three bears. What’s up with that? Can anyone explain this to me? I see newspaper photographs of innocent people who die all over the world — the victims of war and disease and human contempt. Do I mourn for them? Yes, and I often pray. But does that tear me apart inside like the knowledge of the hunter shooting Hope and cutting her up for his freezer and table? No. And it seems like a crisis of sorts that I don’t mourn as deeply for hurting people as much as I do for these simple bears.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do. About eating meat. About how much I hate the death penalty. About why I’ve felt so deeply about these black bears. About why I’m not as saddened and/or outraged as I should be about the pain and suffering that permeates our world.
It feels like a crisis of sorts. But I don’t know exactly what to do about any of this.
And it’s not as if there aren’t a few other teeny things going on around here too.
So I’m going to pray about everything.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.