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for people who care about the West

Lessons of the bears


I read Christopher Solomon’s essay on his visit to the McNeil River Sanctuary with great interest (“Bear Essentials,” HCN, 12/25/17). I was especially struck by the idea of humans learning how to interact with bears by figuring out what works for the bears, what their language is, rather than trying to force the bears to accommodate to us and our habitual way.

We would do well to utilize this general approach in all our interactions with the natural world. How much do we destroy and how much do we fail to notice or appreciate when we move heedlessly through our environment, assuming that only what meets our apparent needs or urgent desires is worthy of our attention or nurturing — when we attempt to bend the rest of life, however large or small, to our will?

It strikes me as strange, misguided and shortsighted to measure the intelligence of other beings merely by how well they conform to our immediate interests and demands, how well they understand our language and commands. Rather, we might also gauge our own intelligence by how well we can learn and respond carefully to the communications of other species and individuals with whom we share our environment.

The lesson of McNeil is profound. Difficult as it may be, let us find ways to apply it in all the places we inhabit and to all the creatures with whom we interact. Then we will have shown a truer and more reciprocal intelligence.

Stephen S. Lottridge
Jackson, Wyoming