Heeding what we considered sound advice, we never went into the Alaskan wilderness without carrying along a can of bear spray. It was as essential as waterproof hiking boots, a good GPS, rain gear, a water bottle, and a first aid kit. We were told in a somber tone if you forget the bear spray and encounter a bear, none of those other things is really important.
Bear spray is a non-lethal means of stopping an attack and giving you time to get to a different ZIP code as fast as possible. Bear spray serves a live-saving dual purpose — it reduces the number of bears that are killed by people in self-defense, trying to stop aggressive behavior. It also reduces the number of humans injured or killed by bear attacks.
These are not the bears you see in Disney movies — they neither sing nor dance. These also are not Yogi and Boo Boo, who are only interested in the next pic-a-nic basket they can heist. Bear spray is designed for grizzlies that can reach 8 feet tall and weigh 800 pounds. They have claws that can shred human flesh with one swipe, and jaws that can crush a human skull. Bear spray also is effective with smaller black bears that usually are less confrontational, but still present significant danger in certain circumstances.
So as strongly encouraged by the locals that know the area and are familiar with the unpredictable disposition of bears, we carried bear spray in Alaska, and on trout fishing outings in the Montana back country, in the deep woods of Manitoba, where a float plane put us on prime walleye and trophy pike waters, and even in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where most of the state’s bears reside.
Bear spray is made from the oily residue of cayenne peppers, with the naturally occurring ingredient Capsicum that puts the fire in the food. When mixed with a propellant and streamed into the face of an attacking bear, the spray immediately reduces the bear's ability to see and breathe. As the bear deals with the sting and temporary blindness, you exit stage left.
I’ve had relatively close encounters with bears along Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park in Washington, at Yellowstone National Park, and in the Adirondack Mountains, but I’ve never had to use bear spray. Following the developments in the news during the past month or so, I think there might be another practical application for this potent defense in a can.
You have to wonder if the lengthy list of Harvey Weinstein’s victims might have been more abbreviated if one of his early targets had answered his alleged unwanted super-creep advances with a good blast of bear spray. It says on the label it repels attacks by predators, and I think many of the women who claim he targeted them would consider his groping and assaults as highly predatory.
Quite possibly we also might be talking about a different scenario if the first time NBC’s Matt Lauer hit the secret button to lock his office door, trapping one of the victims of his alleged sexual assaults, the woman whipped a canister of bear spray out of her purse and sent him into a blinding, choking, gagging fog for the next couple of hours. He might still have a morning show, once the bloodshot eyes cleared up.
The list of these two-legged, position-of-power predators goes on to include numerous politicians, NPR icons, more movie makers, award-winning actors, media moguls, and the music director emeritus of the Metropolitan Opera. To make their actions more disgusting, many in this rogues’ gallery of hypocrites proudly preached one line in public, then apparently practiced a perverted and dehumanizing form of behavior when the cameras were off, the doors closed, and they were certain no one was looking.
The first line of defense when a large predator approaches you in the woods is to make a lot of noise, wave your arms around, and attempt to make the beast retreat and seek out less-challenging quarry. If that fails, it is time to unleash the bear spray and its punishing burn.
When dealing with this different species of predator — these grizzlies in Armani suits or luxury hotel bathrobes — maybe the potential victims should skip the vocal display and go straight to the bear spray. In a staggering number of cases, in the office, boardroom, hotel suite, and dressing room, the make-some-noise defense might have failed to escape the grizzly’s chosen den.
If “No!” is not understood or interpreted to mean “No!” then maybe a blast of bear spray will get the message across the next time some man of power decides to roll out the casting couch.
A few of the victims were men, and some young men, but the majority are women who were preyed on by men who used their stature and power to threaten and intimidate — not all that different from a massive grizzly standing in the trail and poised to charge.
As a man with eight sisters, all of whom have been in the business world or higher education, I wish I had supplied them with bear spray many years ago, just as a precaution.
As a father to three daughters, I worry about the current environment out there. Our youngest came into this crazy world too tiny to survive, so she has the protection of Heaven on her side, but my other two bright, beautiful, and kind daughters are young women who are making their way with a solid work ethic and a strong set of values. When their dad gives them a purse-size container of bear spray for Christmas this year, he will explain it repels predatory beasts. Regrettably, the definition of that type of monster has expanded to include numerous powerful men.