Into the Wild

We take it on faith that Alaskans love the wilderness. Yet many of the state’s city-dwellers say in surveys that they avoid venturing deep outdoors for one reason: bears. It defies reason. Even in a state where grizzlies roam in the tens of thousands, attacks are rare compared to the threats of everyday life surrounding people and their machines. Compare the notion “of perishing in a car accident with that of being reduced to meat by teeth and claws,” writes Sherry Simpson, exploring one of the many bear-human dualities in her gripping and sweeping Dominion of Bears: Living with Wildlife in Alaska (Kansas). “The prospect seems not only horrific but also profoundly wrong because it fractures our idea of ourselves as the apex species.” Simpson gracefully weaves her observations and interviews with historical and scientific accounts in riffs on the bear as a metaphor, social animal, target of nature-watchers and hunters alike and, not least, as predator. At her best, Simpson keeps company with the likes of Barry Lopez, Rick Bass and Gretel Ehrlich.