Laura Pritchett shares her bear stories in Grand County
Ryan Summerlin April 10, 2012
“Great Colorado Bear Stories” is not your typical bear book.
The book isn’t about how to minimize bear-human conflict, although there are lessons in it. Rather, it’s about getting to know and understand bears though story-telling, personal essays, investigative reporting, historical narrative, poetry, and scientific studies.
Laura Pritchett – writer, editor, teacher, and Colorado native – spent one year researching and writing this book. She didn’t want the book to be organized chronologically, and it’s not only about Grizzly or black bears, she said.
“In the end, the book takes the reader through an interesting journey,” she promises.
Stories include the death of a logger, two campers who nearly lost their lives, and a story about scientists who crawled into a bear dens to study them (including the author).
“Climbing in a bear den was a high point,” she said. “The bears were making snorting noises. I thought the den would smell rank – I’ve smelled bears before and know what it’s like, and they can smell bad. But the den smelled like clean dirt and rock, not pine, but a tree smell – clean naturey mix of rock and wood,” she said.
She begins this chapter, “Bear dens smell good.” She chronicles the experience of snowshoeing with biologists and veterinarians to a bear den.
Pritchett brings her personal voice to all the bear stories much like John McPhee who “is present in the work but still investigative,” she said.
Her keen sense of detail and drama draws readers into the story with first lines such as how she fell in love with Enos Mills. In the chapter, Falling for Grizzlies and Enos Mills, the story begins:
“I’ve fallen in love with grizzlies. And as sometimes happens, I’ve fallen in love with my teacher, the one who sparked me alive, one Enos A. Mills. He died nearly a hundred years ago, but it doesn’t matter; I’m smitten,” she wrote.
She writes about meeting Enos Mills’ granddaughter in a cabin he built and learns about his bear studies through his granddaughter. In the book’s next chapter, Pritchett excerpts a chapter from Mills’ book, “Being Good to Bears.”
Throughout the book she intertwines her research and stories then excerpts original texts written by Mills and Teddy Roosevelt.
Riverbend Publishing asked Pritchett to write the bear book, since she is a recognized outdoor lifestyle writer. Pritchett acknowledged that she didn’t really know much about bears despite living in bear country on a ranch near the mountains on the Front Range.
“I became more curious, and then I fell in love with bears while writing the book. There is a respect that goes with it,” she said.
Pritchett doesn’t claim to be a bear expert, even after writing the book. She says she is a “student of Colorado’s backcountry and wildlife.”
During her research she stopped at every Forest Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife office to talk and listen to everyone.
“The more I learned about real bears, the more I loved bears. Not in the hug’em goofy sense, but in the deep respect and care that goes along with real emotion,” she wrote.
She researched the grizzly bear that scientists say do not exist in Colorado, and raises the questions whether they still live here – however, no one wants to talk about them.
“While talking to various people in southern Colorado, I got the distinct impression that some people weren’t telling me the whole story – and I got the impression that sightings are more common than one would think, ” she wrote.
Varying chapters interject bear facts, bear safety, a list of all bear attacks on human in Colorado, historical newspaper stories, and one chapter of the funniest, sorriest or most bizarre stories. The final chapter concludes with basic bear smarts.
Thoroughly researched, and written with a distinct voice, Pritchett brings readers on her bear journey as she talks to all people from all over the state who care so much for these animals.
Pritchett is now working on another novel, a sequel to the book, “Sky Bridge.”
Laura Pritchett has written six books including “Sky Bridge,” which won the WILLA Fiction Award, “Hell’s Bottom, Colorado,” which won the Milkweed National Fiction Prize and the PEN USA Award. She is also the editor/co-editor of three anthologies: “Pulse of the River,” “Home Land,” and “Going Green: True Tales from Gleaners, Scavengers, and Dumpster Divers.” She is a regular contributor to 5280 and High Country News.