Kodiak resident R. Keith Rogan has recently released his book, “A Kodiak Bear Mauling: Living and Dying with Alaska’s Bears,” in paperback.
Rogan’s book revolves around his serious bear mauling in 1998, an event he renders in detail, along with other personal experiences and observations. Rogan said he hopes the book presents an honest picture of bears and Alaskans’ relationship with them, with a larger goal of helping readers to avoid conflict.
“It’s really more about living with bears than dying with bears,” Rogan said in an email.
The new edition includes a photo section by Alaskan photographer Adina Preston.
The following is an excerpt from chapter 1, reprinted with permission from the author.
“I was moving very slowly and quietly with the wind in my face and as I rounded a clump of brush, I looked to my left and saw a bear lying there. She was perhaps ten yards away and looking me right in the eye, crouched low to the ground with her paws in front ready to pounce. I have often wondered what would have happened if our eyes had not met. Would the animal have allowed me to go in peace, or just taken me down from behind after I passed? As it was, the bear just leaped upon eye contact and was inside the swing of my rifle before I could get it up to my shoulder. The next few minutes would change my life forever, leaving physical and mental scars that still plague me to this day.
Meeting the eyes of a grizzly is an interesting experience because those eyes hold real intelligence and power. The eyes of other common Alaskan animals such as moose or caribou reveal little beyond fear or vague curiosity. A ruminant’s brain has very little room for much beyond eating, fleeing and mating. Your attention is drawn to other things on such an animal, the antlers perhaps...
A bear is a different proposition altogether. The wide brown eyes of this predator are expressive and calculating and meeting them is to know that you are looking into the mind of a thinking animal. I cannot stress that difference enough, though it is difficult to articulate this to people who have not had the experience. When meeting a grizzly at close range you generally find yourself waiting for the animal to make a decision - to leave, hopefully. Your eyes will lock with those of the bear and there will be some sort of visceral communication taking place. You can watch the play of emotion and calculation cross the animals face while he evaluates you and tries to decide what your presence means and what he should do about it.
Are you a threat? Are you food? Can he take those succulent salmon or berries you are holding?
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Those eyes may show surprise at first, followed by curiosity (examining you or the fish or berries you carry), to anger, bluster, intimidation, indecision... What you do to influence that animal’s next move may hold the key to how this little drama plays out; whether you go home with a great bear tale or become organic matter feeding the salmonberries and wild roses.
Reading the animals intent takes no particular skill or insight; indeed, the animal’s entire face and upper body has evolved into a useful communication tool capable of broadcasting some fairly complex (and quite unmistakable) messages. The facial anatomy of a bear mirrors many of the same expressive features as that of a man, and those expressions can be understood in the same way. At its most basic level, the face can meet yours in challenge, or look down or away to show submission or non-threatening intent. To express more complex emotions; the brows can raise, wrinkle or narrow to denote surprise, curiosity or anger. The mouth and lips can open to form an “O” of contentment, or curl back to bare teeth in anger or threat. The muscles of the upper body and neck can be instantly “pumped up” to form a threat display that any body-builder would understand and envy; the fur over that massive frame rising like that of a cat to enhance the menacing posture.
The animal will accentuate those visual cues with a wide range of vocalizations. It can use everything from a questioning or neutral “chuffing” to ever louder (and more threatening) snarls and roars, leading up to a very fearful “clicking” or “clacking” noise made by snapping its teeth together; a clear demonstration of the power of its massive jaws, and of its willingness to use them if necessary.
The face changes when the animal reaches a decision. Most often, the bear will simply exhibit a dismissive expression and posture, relaxing its features and upper body musculature before turning its gaze away and leaving in peace.
On very rare occasions, they will decide on another course of action. Not many people have seen the eyes of an attacking grizzly, and many who have are no longer able to tell anyone what they looked like. I can tell you that those eyes show nothing but cold anger and grim determination. The face of an attacking bear is all business - a cold expressionless mask. Adrenaline enlarges the bear’s pupils until they cover the lighter iris, turning the eye into a lifeless black orb shining brightly from between narrowed lids. The ears fall flat against the head and the skin of the entire face draws back tightly against the skull. The animal simply begins running at 35 miles per hour straight at the object of its anger. Still, there is a message to be read here; a short ursine memo under the subject header; “I Am Going to Kill You Now” followed by the brief reminder that it is nothing personal… “
-- From Keith Rogan’s “A Kodiak Bear Mauling: Living and Dying with Alaska’s Bears”