"Go to the ground with a grizzly bear and the experience changes life." - Scott McMillion, Mark of the Grizzly
I read Scott McMillion’s book, Mark of the Grizzly, over three days coming back to Montana from Cuba. I started it on the flight from Havana to Fort Lauderdale. I read two chapters and put it aside for a little while. I wasn’t sure reading it was such a good idea because I was attacked by a bear last October along the Yellowstone River. I came out of it pretty well. Some of the stories in the book are gruesome. Harrowing.
I saw the threads running through the accounts. For example, it’s clear that looking a grizzly in the eye doesn’t usually lead to the best outcomes. It’s the click. Boom! Grizzly speed. Many cite that moment. When I saw the bear’s eyes from two feet away, I had no question about what was coming next.
I kept reading, pausing between every two chapters or so, unsure whether this was going to disturb me in a generally un-useful way. I believe myself to have been on the fine side of fine when it comes to PTSD-like matters. Why mess with it? Then, as I kept reading one account after another I found myself almost feeling like it wasn't that unusual to get jumped by a bear.
Getting attacked by a grizzly bear. It happens.
Each essay in the collection is sharp. It lays out the story best we know it, best someone can report. Scott’s book took me into the woods, the brush, and meadow. The bear is there. The beast arrives. Big males. Uncertain teens. Sows with cubs who are learning, following their mother through the thickets and brush. Or campgrounds. Some have radio collars. Others don’t. I wondered what one bear thought of another bear’s radio collar. They seem intelligent enough to notice and assess.
In many of the accounts, the people fight the grizzlies. It didn’t read to me like that was the best decision, and yet sometimes one just can’t know how it would have gone down if one hadn’t. Fighting seems to work best if you’ve got two people working as a team, both getting their asses kicked, but fighting for each other.
I did not fight. I was part of a team. My dog was there.
Whoomp! Under a bear.
Fighting did not occur to me. I was going to die.
In the sky between Fort Lauderdale and Denver, I continued to question whether reading Scott’s book would make me scared when I’ve been okay. It got squirrelly sometimes crammed in by a window above the clouds. Each account was vividly written. I was in each scene. I could see clearly the spotting of the bear down the slope munching on a leg stump that was wearing a tennis shoe.
I read the book over three flights and then finished up the next day after landing back in Montana.
I loved it. Tom Cahill’s quote on the cover is no exaggeration. He says: “This deft and gracefully written book is more terrifying than a shelf full of Stephen King novels.”
I’m going to give Mark of the Grizzly "riveting.” I couldn’t look away, except for breathers, and reflection. Even though it can give me the shivers to “go back,” I want to stay close to it. Mark of the Grizzly surely gave me that.