Bears are docile creatures. That's why they terrify us

No matter how long in country, no matter how solid the understanding of the general docility of bears, there comes a certain primal apprehension at the discovery of a grizzly back-tracking your trail in the early season snow.

Suddenly threatened is everything you know to be true about these animals:

That they generally try to avoid people.

That they generally fear us more than we fear them.

That the odds of being attacked by a bear are infinitesimal.

That the risk of being in an automobile accident is so much greater than the danger of being attacked by a bear that these two possibilities don't even deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence.

Replacing rational, cerebral reactions is a reactive tightening in the gut and a heightened sensory awareness. There is no more daydreaming on the trail back home.

Suddenly the ears are tuned to catch every crunch of snow or snap of twig in the woods, and the eyes dart from scanning the wide-open spaces far ahead to probing the dark, shadowed patches beneath and between the trees.

The rational part of the brain factors the odds are that the bear is long gone, but concedes it still it won't hurt to stay alert. The best way to avoid problems with bears is to avoid bears. See them before they see you, and then maneuver around.

The instinctual brain, meanwhile, is busy with other thoughts, calculating the weapons at hand for use in self-defense and pondering the nightmare possibilities of encountering that rare, hyperfagic bear -- hyperfagia being the state of being consumed by the quest for food.

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