cover image Walking with Bears: One Man's Relationship with Three Generations of Wild Bears

Walking with Bears: One Man's Relationship with Three Generations of Wild Bears

Terry D. Debruyn, Author, Terry D. Bebruyn, Author Lyons Press $24.95 (300p) ISBN 978-1-55821-642-6

Hardworking biologist DeBruyn set out in 1990 to learn the habits of Michigan's black bears: what they do, where they go, what they eat, when and how. To do so, he had to ""habituate"" some bears: that is, to get them so used to his presence that they neither fled nor attacked him as he followed them around. DeBruyn succeeded, making friends first with a wary female he dubs ""Carmen"" (for her distinctive ""dance"") and then with other females and their cubs; his study of their group continued for six years. DeBruyn's book adapts the journals he kept for part of his bear-tracking study, recording its emotional and scientific highlights. He describes, for example, his first experiences of bears' distinctive gaits, and of their charming array of sounds: cubs seem to imitate helicopters, mothers hum and no black bear actually growls. We also learn much about ursine feeding habits. Young bears prefer nitrogen-rich ironwood and learn to flip over rocks and look for ants. Moreover, ""in late-Summer and Fall, bears eat wasps, their larvae, and a gray gelatinous substance"" from wasps' nests. Weighty with detail yet insistently casual, DeBruyn's sentences throw up an odd mix of the academic and the offhand. Footnotes to scientific reference works, and the occasional unglossed term (""hypoxylon canker""), sit uneasily alongside declarations like these (on young bears' close call with a porcupine): ""June was flirting with trouble. Cubs at this stage of life are full of character, yet are heedless of certain dangers."" Few readers will seek out DeBruyn's book for his prose style. But nobody who cares about bears should miss it. (Nov.)