Wednesday, October 21, 2009
A Stranger Among Bears
I want to tell you about a show that I have just finished watching on the Animal Planet channel called "Stranger Among Bears".
"Stranger Among Bears" is about an extraordinary man called Charlie Vandergaw. Charlie is a 70 year old retired science high school teacher from Alaska who spends his summers in a cabin in the Alaskan woods called "Bear Haven". Charlie has been spending his summers at Bear Haven for 20 years. During this time he has formed a remarkable relationship with the bears that come to visit "Bear Haven".
The thing that makes Charlie an amazing human being is that he is able to interact with the bears and they have seemingly accepted him into their world. The only protective device Charlie takes with him is a big stick and if one of the bears gets a bit obnoxious he gives them a whack across the nose. Otherwise the bears are happy just to walk along with Charlie or watch him canoe down the river.
Charlie actually was at one stage a hunter of bears. His relationship changed with them 20 years ago when a black bear appeared on his yard and crawled up to him on its belly. According to the Animal Planet Web site, Charlie reciprocated, and the encounter started "a long-lasting love affair" with bears.
Charlie has got himself in trouble with the law as he openly admits that he feeds the bears (a big no no in Alaska). The last piece of information that I could find was that Charlie was fighting this in court.
He could spend a year in jail for feeding the bears. His plane that he uses to access "Bear Haven" has been confiscated by authorities.
This show was filmed over six months at "Bear Haven" by British cameraman Richard Terry. Richard found out pretty early on in the piece to approach his subjects with the utmost respect and caution. Richard was delivered a nasty bite when he tried to get in between a mother and cub black bear. Richard freely admits that it wasn't the brightest thing to do at the time but he was more focussed on getting the shot.
I'm not entirely sure why this show touched me so much. By the time Charlie left Bear Haven for the last time I was crying like a baby. I guess it seemed to me that Charlie had found his own little piece of paradise. Something that he got so much enjoyment and happiness from. How many of us can say that we have ever experienced this? He seems like such a serene man just interacting with nature that it appears to me an injustice not to let this man live the rest of his days with the bears.
Even though so many people think Charlie is a nutter, he is my hero. He has a love and acceptance of animals that more of us should at least try to understand.
Unfortunately most of the clip packages of this show aim at demonstrating the ferocious nature of bears. In the entire 6 month filming I think Charlie had maybe 3 instances where the bears got a bit testy but they use those same clips over and over again.
I wish they played over the scenes where Charlie and a huge black bear are having a nap on the lawn or a sow is nursing her young on the lawn. Or when a bear comes inside to his bar and he says "of all the bars in all the world you had to come into mine."
I have a clip which focuses on the episode where Charlie confronts hunters at Bear Haven. Showdown at Bear Haven: Hunters Arrive
If you want to watch anymore clips you can at Animal Planet. http://animal.discovery.com/videos/stranger-among-bears-videos/