When Eric Aldrich and his friend Axl are setting off on a hike, they encounter a ranger who warns them of a bear frequenting the place where they are going. As Eric and the ranger discuss the matter, Axl, who is on a side-trip of his own, blurts out, “What‘s the bear’s name?” His outburst provokes a reflection by the author:
“When I later asked Axl what he was thinking, he broke into laughter and prevaricated. After the mushrooms wore off, he seemed too embarrassed to explain. When I brought it up again a couple of months later, he’d apparently forgotten asking the question.
“I remember his question, though, because over time I’ve come to ask something broader: Why shouldn’t a bear have a name? Why can’t we respect bears as unique individuals without projecting humanity onto them? When people believe everyone in a particular population to be the same, that misunderstanding results in prejudice, fear, and violence. Does the same not hold true if we deny individualism to bears?…
“If the bear’s name was Erwin and we knew Erwin had been living in Rattlesnake Canyon for a number of years, maybe our respect for the bear’s space and right to be there would mirror how we respect those rights for humans. Were a wildlife biologist to observe Erwin, the bear would exhibit patterns and combinations of behaviors unique from others of the species Ursus americanus. Erwin is not just ‘a bear,’ but a particular black bear.”
Eric Aldrich’s essay “What’s the Bear’s Name?” is is one of many pieces in Deep Wild 2022—essays, stories, artwork, poems–that critically examines the ways humans interact with wild places. The journal will be hitting the streets, and the trails, this June. To learn more and to reserve your copy, visit deepwildjournal.com