I Like Big Bears and I Cannot Lie
There’s nothing wrong with being a human, but other species have a better lifestyle. Like Ursus horribilis, the grizzly bear, whose concentration on eating and sleeping give us much to envy and even aspire to. Especially the bears of Katmai National Park in Alaska.
The biggest and baddest of the bunch live near the Brooks River, which come summer is so chock full of organic wild salmon that it puts Whole Foods to shame. You can’t literally walk across the backs of fish to cross the river, but you could walk across the backs of the bears gorging on them.
These are celebrity bears, like Yogi or Boo-Boo. Their every waddle is observed on bear cams, and in October, fans vote for their favorite fatty in the National Park Service’s Fat Bear Week contest, although many bears prefer to think of themselves as big-boned. I’m voting for Chunk today. He’s in the finals against 747, but he’s already down by 1,000 votes. Rotundity is in the eye of the beholder.
Chunk is estimated to weigh 1,100 pounds. When I showed a photo of Chunk to my friend Ron, Ron said Chunk was pregnant. Chunk is a male. He just has a huge gut, and no body shame. The opposite, really. His size lets him stake out the best fishing spots on the river, typically on top of the little waterfalls the salmon must leap over to continue up the river to spawn. Chunk’s giant maw is waiting for them, his incisors flashing like a sashimi chef’s filleting knife. He may eat 90 pounds of raw salmon a day, the same amount you have to eat at Nobu to get a free meal and your photo up on the wall. Imagine Chunk at the Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest. Not only would he smash the existing record of 73 dogs in 10 minutes, he’d eat Joey Chestnut, too.
Chunk can’t help himself, and he doesn’t have an eating disorder, either. He has hyperphagia, a condition that doesn’t allow him to feel full. He needs all the fat reserves he can put on, as he’ll wake up in the spring after six months’ hibernation having lost as much as 30% of his weight.
That’s right, six months of uninterrupted sleep. Diet sleep.
And he gets out of holiday gift giving, writing cards, and dinners with family.
Plus, this year, a November election. And a deadly pandemic. I don’t see a downside. If Chunk has room in his den, I hope he’ll shove over and make some space for me. I’m already in a hyperphagia stage, eating banana bread and cannelloni at every opportunity, and using my bulk to dominate the ice cream aisle at Wegmans.
Chunk and I will awaken in late April, with the turning of the earth to spring. The Brooks River will shed its thick ice and once again run free, and the salmon will heed the ancient call to return. Having taken it easy for the winter, we’ll allow ourselves one last moment to take it all in, grateful for nature’s unceasing cycle of death and renewal.
Then, it’s back at it. Those rolls of fat aren’t going to put themselves on.