I read a book: Blindsided

I guess this is a book review of Blindsided : surviving a grizzly attack and still loving the great bear by Jim Cole and Tim Vandehey.  I decided to read this book when I first heard about it.  A well-known naturalist and advocate for grizzly bears writes a book in defense of the brown bear despite two maulings.  Bears plus gruesome details?  That’s right up my alley. (Please note that I did not say “grizzly details,’ even though I could have.)

Jim Cole with book

Jim Cole by ERIK PETERSEN/CHRONICLE

Jim Cole has done some amazing things in his life.  I am not going to contest that.  He knows his grizzlies.  Also, not contested.  This book, however, left me wanting.  The first half of the book is about how he got to be a reclusive hiker and bear advocate.  It’s also about bears, national parks, hiking, and his first mauling in 1993.  The pivot point, half-way through the book, is his second mauling in 2007.  The second part of the book focuses on his hospital stay, his friends, his long convalescence, and his internal dialog during this period.  Perhaps it is because I have personally experienced a long return from a near-fatal accident (with a car, not a bear) that I found this part of the book slow and a bit of a bummer.

It is relevant to say that while reading Blindsided I learned that Cole had died (quietly in his bed) on July 22 of this year.

I did learn some things about the grizzly bear.  I am in even more awe of them after reading Blindsided.  As stated in the title, Cole does not blame the bears for his attacks.  In fact in both cases he pinpoints what he did wrong: not making enough noise and letting his guard down.

So here are some bear safety tips:

#1        When in bear country be aware of your surroundings.  Bears kind of blend in to the scenery and spend a lot of time hunkered down.

#2        Make plenty of noise so you don’t surprise the bear  Forget about enjoying the silence; make a racket.  The bear doesn’t want to meet you and if he hears you coming he’ll yield the right-of-way.

#3        Have your bear spray handy.  Handy, as in near your hands.

#4        Store your food safely.  Bears are always hungry and they have super sniffers.  Cole comments that being lax with his food storage was one of the unnecessary risks that may have led to Timothy Treadwell’s death.

I also learned that there are numerous ways the a national park can kill you.  Most of these ways have nothing to do with bears.  Most people die in parks of causes not related specifically to the park but from health-related causes (such as diabetes and heart-attack) and automobile accidents. These are the ways in which  Yellowstone National Park can kill you (listed in order of liklihood):

#1        Drowning

#2        Falling

#3        Falling into Geothermal Features

#4        Avalanche

#5        Lightning Strikes

#6        Falling Trees

#7        Rockslides

#8        Consumption of Poison Water Hemlock

#9        Bear or Bison

In the period discussed in this list I think that bear and bison tied at 2 fatalities each.  Bear actually have a higher kill to attack ratio.  Bison are by far involved in more tourist encounters.  Here are my thoughts on that.

Bison stand out in the open where they can graze.  Bears spend more time in the woods and bushes.  If possible bears will flee human confrontation and will hide to escape detection. “Hey!  Look at that bison!”

People are taught  that the grizzly bear is a remorseless killing machine.  Likewise we are told that the American bison is an endangered species that was hunted to the point of extinction by the white man.  Therefore people have warm, fuzzy, guilty feelings about the bison.  “We’re looking at a remnant of the American West.  We should really get a picture of this.”

Bison graze at a leisurely pace and, frankly, don’t look very smart or devious. At first glance they look like lumbering nincompoops.  “Let me get just a little bit closer.  I want to get his horns in the picture. ”  Now, hold that thought.

Another thing people don’t understand is that the bison, like the grizzly bear, tops out at a blistering 35 m.p.h.  They also have a pretty impressive launch speed.  “Let me just adjust this shutter speed and…”  BOOM!

There are a lot of things called bison attacks on YouTube.  Most of them are pretty lame.  Here is one that truly is a bison (non-fatally) attacking a human. This woman also got her ass kicked. Maybe it’s because I grew up on a farm and have a passing familiarity of ungulates that I understand that snorting and pawing the ground are warning signals.  I thought that was something hard-wired into people since the days of the caveman.  After watching this guy, I guess maybe not.

OK.  Back to the book.  In summation, this is not a book that I’d particularly recommend.  It focuses primarily on Cole’s life and specifically his convalescence after his second mauling.  These things were not that interesting to me.  I did, however, learn some things.  I learned a little about bears and a lot about bison.  If I’m ever stranded in Yellowstone, I will be really glad I invested the time to read Blindsided.

Per usual, I will close this post with a funny picture I found on the Internets.

Wrong, Jack London. Kodiak would fuck that tin man up.



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