You are not the dominant species out there. That’s what my buddy Doug Peacock says about traveling through Grizzly Country. (If you don’t know Peacock, he’s a Vietnam veteran who was the model for Edward Abbey’s famous eco-saboteur George Hayduke, and one of the nation’s leading wildlife advocates.) His words came back to me the other day, when I ordered some bear-proof containers for an upcoming hike along the Appalachian Trail, where black bears are a regular concern.
I say “came back” but the truth is, when you spend as much time in the outdoors as I do, your place in the food chain is never really in doubt. Predators are all around us. I was recently fishing in the Gulf, and we left our stringers on shore so we would not attract sharks; and then a friend on FaceBook posted about how she’d seen a 12-foot blacktip off the jetties near Surfside, Texas. The state parks around Houston are chock full of alligators. A coyote ran across my yard in the urban matrix the other week. Meanwhile, most of my summer will be filled with fishing and swimming and surfing the Atlantic off the Cape Cod National Seashore, and you better believe I took notice when after generations the white sharks began showing up sparking a panic reminiscent of Jaws.
This is all a long of saying, we share this vast planet with a great many creatures, both large and small. And some of those creatures are likely to take a bite out of our hide. But that’s no reason to stay inside. And it’s no reason to hate them — I find it bizarre how many people kill rattlesnakes in Texas and beyond. I mean, I get it, if you live in LA, and there’s a mountain lion on your local trail, it’s something to be concerned about. Just like the sharks in the surf — whether that’s the Gulf Coast or Longnook Beach. But if you stay alert, it really brings into perspective important truths that are frequently MIA amid the screens and shows and urbanized malaise of modern life. As Peacock notes, this is one of the great gifts of traveling among predators (for Doug, that’s usually grizzlies): that you can’t help but feel wide awake in their presence.
So I’ll be taking my kid into the bear-ridden woods of Georgia soon, stashing our food in odor-proof jugs, and later in the summer we’ll dive into the waves, keeping a wary eye out for tell-tale dorsal fins while we laugh and splash. Honestly, I’m more worried about her driving the freeway, and the reports of gunshots on my local bike trails. People scare me more than predators. Still, in the end, the scariest thing to me is that we might forget we evolved co-equally with these creatures — and if we can learn to share and respect their habitat, and maybe give each other a little space while we’re at it, well…. how great would that be?