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Bear Encounters: Tales from the Wild Side    by Jim Nelson order for
Bear Encounters
by Jim Nelson
Order:  USA  Can
Lone Pine, 2005 (2005)
* *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

Jim Nelson, the raconteur, has an acerbic wit, as evidenced in his preface to this collection of thirteen tales: 'Revenge: An Introduction'. If you are in the habit of skipping introductions, you will miss some lively and provoking comments, as Nelson's intro is worth the read.

The tales themselves range from the comic (Respect) to the fantastical (Ghosts) and the poignant. Many are humourous; some are tragic, as bears are the hapless victims of human greed or stupidity. I don't know if all the stories are fiction. I do know that there are far too many true-life occurrences of the sad fates mirrored in Baby Bear and On the Wire. Even well-intentioned humans can cause tragedies for wild creatures when they are uninformed. Unfortunately, there are also many ill-intentioned humans, but at least one pair meets their comeuppance here. I was positively chortling at one would-be poacher's unnerving experience.

Not all the tales deal with bears: a pugnacious rooster and a canny skunk or two show us that size is not a guarantee of victory, as their human opponents learn to their cost. And certainly, wild pigs are quite as alarming as bears! Nelson has much sympathy for the critters (a bias I share), as well as an entertaining way of presenting a tale. He takes us on a pleasant walk into the world of animals - and definitely safer than a real stroll into a forest filled with bears.

Humour aside, there have recently been several accounts of unhappy incidents when unsuspecting humans met equally unsuspecting bears. People have died; the bears responsible have been hunted and killed. The sad truth is that as we humans expand into what used to be wilderness, we eat away the animals' environment and ensure more frequent encounters. If we want to have wilderness gems to enjoy, we need to reserve and protect some space for their original denizens.

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