A woman park warden who works in a Rocky Mountain National Park spends her time on such tasks as bear patrol, locating tourists who are lost or in other physical danger, and policing park rules. She has a particular affinity for grizzly bears, largely stemming from an experience she had in a Neolithic cave in Spain. During her work and her travels, she observes various ways in which bears are mistreated in parks, sometimes even by researchers with seemingly good intentions. While an out-of-control fire rages through the national park, the woman park warden, with two grizzly bear skulls in hand, begins a difficult and dream-like journey to the park boundary–where wild animals can seem like ghosts and trauma can strike as suddenly as lightning. One of the grizzly skulls, the one that was given to her, begins to talk to her. Told in an experimental style that mixes realism and magical realism, and interrupted by photographs and by the voice of a bear, Bear War-den explores themes of personal and ecological loss, trauma, and of women and non-human animals dealing with oppression within a male-dominated, and often paramilitary-like Parks Management system.
The last thing my mother had said was, “Don’t forget to breathe, up there. That alpine air is as thin as a negligee and the wind can smother you if you’re not careful.” Ever since she started reading about Buddhist meditation, breathing had become my mother’s favourite word.
My mother had not wanted me to go up to the bear cave near the monastery at Mont Serrat in Spain. She could only go so far. It was one year ago, when she watched, biting her lip as I walked away from her. I was searching for an artifact, a splinter of bone or a room of death in the memory of ancestral peaks. A sliver of pre-history that I could hold and listen to until, like dreams, I would have to let it all go. My mother had said that, in desperate circumstances, I could always sell any find at an auction. I had reminded her of that when I had started out for the bear cave.
The truth was that my mother never wanted me to hike alone anywhere.… So, now, after my termination from work at Rocky Mountain National Park, I decide to hike to the park boundary to return a grizzly bear skull. I try to explain myself to my mother on the phone.
—You like to spend your weekends in the living room of physics, sitting on your couch while you divide numbers to solve the riddle of Pi. I like to explore all the rooms in a house, our shared ecological house, for example. The Earth’s room of ungulates, deer, moose, elk, or the room with predators, man, wolves, and bears, wherever they take me. Dead or alive. Rooms that suffer under our present economy, this so-called house management.
—Don’t go complaining about my job with the mining company again. And what do you know about economics—or suffering, for that matter?
…She sighs, releasing a gurgling breath that trickles into silence.
—I’m sorry, Mom, but I’m tired.
—Have you been tested for lyme disease? You’re surrounded by ticks out there in the wilderness all by yourself.
I take a deep breath and try again.
—The wood ticks are better company than some people I know.…
—Well, don’t be out there in the dark. And call me when you get home.
I hang up the phone.I remove my metallic watch because of the sudden rash that has appeared on my wrist and take some aspirin for a budding headache before I enter her room to pick up the photos. I will go to the bear trap first.