Friday, July 29, 2016

Bear Cam

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"All the truly living, at least once, are born again."
--Ta-Nehisi Coates from The Beautiful Struggle

The live web cams from Brooks Falls are mesmerizing.

A sockeye salmon swims up from Bristol Bay to spawn in the Brooks River, a short run of water that drains Brooks Lake into NakNek Lake, but it's caught by a grizzly bear and never gets past the falls. Padding through the water with the determined fish still flapping its tail from between its teeth, the griz reaches an island of sand and pebbles. The bear sets down the salmon and, keeping one paw on its head, strips off sheets of skin and chews off chunks of flesh, tossing the pieces into its mouth to be swallowed.

The fish kicks in silence. The bear bites again. Skin peels off, the body of the fish is ripped apart by unstoppable jaws, but it somehow continues to flop on the ground under that giant paw. Even if the salmon somehow escaped at this point, what good would it do? Its drive to spawn is so powerful that even half-eaten, its will to press on upriver is undiminished.

The mercy of death finally comes to the salmon, and the bear turns back into the rushing river to catch its next meal. One of its cubs, still too green to catch its own fish, walks to the small pile of remains and eats what's left while attending gulls swoop in, hoping some little piece will float their way.

The bear feeds on the salmon without mercy. It is easier to see things from the bear's perspective than from the salmon's. To watch from the salmon's perspective is too awful to contemplate. We want to turn away, turn off our empathy before the fact of the salmon's violent death sinks in too far, becomes indelible. But to become among the truly living, we have to surrender to the larger story and experience what we thought was too awful to bear. If we can set just one foot through that door, we will see that it wasn't too awful to bear. Indeed, we will enter a new world, rich with possibility.

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