Learning To Love The Bear That Attacked You

BY Herschel Smith
7 months, 2 weeks ago

The New Yorker.

As far as radical interventions go, getting mauled by a bear is about as extreme as it gets. Few events are so undeniable, so borderline cheesy; the metaphors, embarrassed by a lack of subtlety, keep their distance. For the French anthropologist Nastassja Martin, this difficulty in meaning-making heaps insult on (devastating) injury. In August of 2015, Martin was hiking down a glacier in the Siberian mountains when she ran—almost literally—into a beast that would crush her head in his mouth, rip off a piece of her jaw, and flee only after she jabbed him with an ice axe. The encounter left her with a mutilated face and a ruptured sense of reality. “For me,” Martin writes in her new book, “In the Eye of the Wild,” translated by Sophie R. Lewis, “a bear and a woman is too big an event. It’s too big not to be instantly assimilated into one system of thought or another; too big not to be . . . consumed and then digested in order to make sense.” But what the book actually suggests is that such an event can never be assimilated; it can only be accepted. Martin’s narrative, with the bones of a personal essay and the lift of a prose poem, reciprocates the creature’s failed act of incorporation, and hunts for beauty in what remains occluded and apart.

The result is heady and obsessive, as Martin smashes again and again against the limits of what anyone can know: What is a self? What is “the other”? She considers her scars, her jaw now fitted with metal. “The figure,” Martin writes, meaning her body, “is reconstituted following its own unique pattern, but out of elements that are completely exogenous.” As a narrator, Martin can be humorless (understandably), and is often frustrated, angry, lost. While studying animist beliefs in Alaska, she’d theorized an “unlivable frontier,” implied by “the encounter between two beings from different worlds.” She now exists in that frontier, which she believes triggers a “cycle of metamorphoses” that usually ends with death. (She offers the example of a hunter who wears his prey’s scent, dons its pelt, and returns to himself and his people once he’s killed the animal—or been killed, “swallowed up by the other.”) But both bear and Martin have survived. The metamorphic dance continues, and with it the loneliness.

Drawn to the bear, Martin makes a list of what he might represent: “Strength. Courage. Abstinence. Cosmic and terrestrial cycles.”

[ … ]

Yet Martin’s rage speaks to a poignant anxiety: Just how precious or sacred are you, really, if a bear can suddenly rip off part of your head? Her crisis acquires new dimensions in an era of ecological precarity. “All you have known will disintegrate and be reshuffled,” she writes; reality “will metamorphose and become an ungraspable thing.” Martin, who worries about heat waves and melting ice caps, sees the entire planet as a desperately fragile treasure. An alarm inside her “is ringing in response” to climate change. “The misery my body is expressing,” she realizes, “comes from the world.”

I don’t know.  I think the bear screwed up her head, and the writer at The New Yorker sounds like she’s never left the confines of the city.

I’m left wondering whether reader The Alaskan thinks about things like this when he encounters a bear in the bush?  I think I’d just rather have a large bore handgun.


  1. On December 28, 2021 at 11:50 pm, Dan said:

    Some people either cannot or will not accept the reality that humans are NOT at the top of the food chain. They insist that reality bend to match their perceptions. When that doesn’t happen their thought processes misfire and the go round the bend into LaLa land.

  2. On December 29, 2021 at 12:09 am, Steve Miller said:

    The bear is actually living – rent free (h/t to Mike Vanderboegh) – in her head. I hunt bear on the Olympic Peninsula. While doing so I am armed with a BHA AR-500 in 500 Automax (440 grain WFNGC Wide Flat Nose Gas Check), my 460 XVR revolver (8 3/8 in barrel), and my S&W Model 69 44 Magnum revolver. Two reloads (speed loaders) for both revolvers, 6 rounds (one in the chamber 5 in the mag) for the rifle

  3. On December 29, 2021 at 4:57 am, Nosmo said:

    “Some people either cannot or will not accept the reality that humans are NOT at the top of the food chain.”

    Actually, we ARE at the top of the food chain, but only with the necessary tools. Until humans discovered things with points and sharpened edges and developed the ability to employ them over distances with some degree of accuracy we were “food.” It’s the brain that learns, evaluates and develops, and the tools that came from that, that put us at the top of the food chain, and it’s the only thing that keeps us there. Which is why Herschel keeps repeating the ” I think I’d just rather have a large bore handgun” mantra.

    Naked vs naked, there aren’t very many mammals larger than a house cat that humans can reliably whip. We need the tools. Fortunately, most of us understand that. Some don’t.

  4. On December 29, 2021 at 8:12 am, Mike Austin said:

    That woman was insane long before she encountered the bear. The mental gibberish that came forth afterwards only pointed this out—quite brutally in her case.

  5. On December 29, 2021 at 8:38 am, Fred said:

    All you have known will disintegrate and be reshuffled,” she writes; reality “will metamorphose and become an ungraspable thing.”

    That kinda rings true. Clearly she was living in a reality without any understanding of the nature of life in the fallen world. Now she knows. Sadly she has looked for answers and what did she find? One of America’s favorite idols, climate change.

  6. On December 29, 2021 at 10:47 am, Bradlley A Graham said:

    There is a video on You tube dated Sep 1, 2020 on KRTV 3 news concerning a grizzly running towards hikers in Glacier Park. My Sister in law was one of those hikers in the video.

    Hell, even my own mother used to feed pork chops covered in honey to a runt black bear when the had their cabin in Show Low, AZ.

    No bells, no bear spray, no big bore gun….No brains. If you look like food you will be eaten.

  7. On December 29, 2021 at 11:28 am, Bruce Gordon said:

    As a 50+ year resident of bush Alaska Bear Country, I can think of only three times when I carried a FireArm outside our compound, as Bear protection… We have both Black and Coastal Brown Bears in my area.. The Black Bears are local Residents, and the Brownies are Traveling rhru from one area to another because there isn’t enough Food for them to stay local for long, except during “Salmon in Stream” Season… We just laugh at the FlatLanders that come up and visit during the summers, decked out with Bear Spray, and all manner of BIG Bore Pistols… They likely couldn’t hit a Barn wall at 50′ with them but they carry that crap around like 1870s GunHand…We did have a miscreant Brownie come thru a few years back, and us locals carried firearms for a week, or so, until the Wildlife Trooper dispatched him, after he charged a FlatLander… but mostly it was a non-issue… Keep your trash cleaned up, and disposed of properly, and leave them alone and they are just BIG Chipmonks…

  8. On December 29, 2021 at 11:54 am, Herschel Smith said:

    @Bruce Gordon,


    Your IP address is IPv4 address owned by Off Campus Telecommunications and located in Lindon, Utah, United States.

    You’re lying. Nice try.

  9. On December 29, 2021 at 12:13 pm, Mike Austin said:

    @Herschel: You could teach Dick Tracy a thing or two. But I think you might have hurt Bruce Gordon’s feelings.

  10. On December 29, 2021 at 12:17 pm, Bradlley A Graham said:

    I just want to see a 400 pound chipmunk….

  11. On December 29, 2021 at 3:53 pm, Fred said:

    Hmmm, perhaps bears do cause mental instability to include hallucinations of giant rodents.

  12. On December 30, 2021 at 12:33 am, To Absurdity and Beyond said:

    Bears are a construct of the white male capitalist imperialism and will be redistributed to America for the good of the glorious people’s unity collective.
    Any hatecrime or wrongthink directed towards the bears will result in cancellation by order of the enlightened beings committee who meet in the faculty lounge at Marxist U. Jonestown for cargo cult Kool-Aid deployment.
    If a bear should attack, do not resist and sing kumbaya or show your coexist sticker and it will move on.

  13. On December 31, 2021 at 1:30 am, TheAlaskan said:

    No Herschel, I don’t think like that when I encounter a bruin in the bush, regardless of model. And frankly, I don’t know what you’d call that thinking but I can say with certainty, it isn’t critical thinking. Any bear I’ve met in the bush causes me a clarity of mind that becomes laser focused on bear and only bear, period. ALL BEARS are my enemy and I’m always tooled up to meet that reality..always, except maybe winter, not so much. But now it’s moose..also dangerous, only in a different way.

    I see people like her coming up here during bear season, packing into the bush completely unprepared for a bear encounter. A yearly observation.

  14. On December 31, 2021 at 1:35 am, TheAlaskan said:

    Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I’ve never thought of them as “big chipmunks”…never.

  15. On January 4, 2022 at 8:55 pm, TheAlaskan said:

    And for the record, there are no chipmunks in Alaska.

  16. On January 4, 2022 at 10:09 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    This reminds me of a question that has perplexed me for a while. You talk of transporting firearms through Canada into Alaska, but why does it have to be thus? When I come visit you one of these days and bring my .44 magnum, why can’t you just do it on a flight?

    Also, when you order ammo online, why do they stipulate that they will do no deliveries to Alaska? My guess is something about transporting explosives aboard flights?

    How do y’all get ammo there?

  17. On January 7, 2022 at 12:56 pm, TheAlaskan said:

    Herschel, you can do it on a flight. Your 44 has to be in a locked case without ammo in case. You pack it in baggage AND declare it. They will mark with a big red sticker that screams “FIREARM,” which I think is stupid btw.

    You can no longer transport any handgun by road across Canada.

    All ammo is shipped to Alaska by container ship. It can be shipped by air but it is extremely expensive by chartered hazmat flight, so mail order ammo does not offer air shipping.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Animals and was published December 28th, 2021 by Herschel Smith.

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