Yellowstone’s grizzly stalker

  Chuck Neal is a retired ecologist whose nickname, “Wild Grizzly Stalker,” says it all: For more than 25 years, Neal has followed grizzlies around the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem — 28,000 square miles in and around Yellowstone National Park. Eschewing bear spray, bells and just about everything else, he has seen more than 3,000 grizzlies, and any reader with an adventurous bone in her body cannot help but envy him.

Admittedly anti-social, Neal rejoices in the wild creatures around him: “I believe in my inner being that the best way to learn about an animal is to go naked, so to speak, into his domain.” Neal begins Grizzlies in the Mist with some scientific background: the bear’s home, its history, its life cycle and food habits. It’s technical at times, and some readers may be tempted to skip over the first third to get to the grizzly encounters that follow.

Don’t. Scattered throughout the science are some riveting observations and biological facts. He writes about bears that smash ant hills, then lick the victims off the bottoms of their feet. And he describes a phenomenon called “delayed implantation” that allows cubs of the same litter to have more than one father.

The book is peculiar in some aspects. The small black-and-white photos scattered throughout are unrelated to the text. Most striking — but also charming — is Neal’s writing. It hearkens back to another era, that of Emerson and Thoreau — if Thoreau had stuck it out on Walden Pond for 30 years with grizzlies in his mi(d)st.

Neal’s book is not all anecdotes and science. He delivers a strong conservation message, reminding us that space — not mere numbers — is imperative for Old Ephraim’s long-term survival.

Grizzlies in the Mist
by Chuck Neal
160 pages, Homstead Publishers, 2003.