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Discovering the spirit of sport and the wily saxifrage

Out of the Woods

Posted: Sunday, May 20, 2001

I was in the airport recently, waiting to meet someone and standing near the polar bear. From there I had a good view of another stuffed bear, the one inside the secure area. I tried to ignore them, but couldn't. They bug me and I'll tell you why. They are either sport trophies or dead bears, depending on how you look at them. Provocative, isn't it? Perhaps that makes them art.

It's OK in Alaska to sneak up on and kill members of many species for the heck of it as long as you have a sport hunting or fishing license and you time it right. We humans tend to dwell on the biggest and the best of things, sport hunting included. When we successfully sneak up on and capture something that has a very large hat size, it's considered a trophy. The hunter can have the specimen stuffed and put in a glass box, suitable for airport or mall. But where is the sport? I puzzled over that in the airport. The conquered bears were set in alert and confident poses and gave no clue as to the circumstances of their demise. We can't tell whether there was any admirable gamesmanship. I can imagine a few scenarios.

It was the bottom of the ninth, the bear was pitching. The hunter, in full camo and face paint, was able to steal home and win the game. Or perhaps the hunter and the bear were neck and neck in Scrabble when the hunter was able to spell "xyster" in a triple score zone. The bear would have turned immediately to the dictionary, but it would all be over. The mounts in the airport would be a lot more interesting to me if we had more information about the conflict. The viewer could get into the spirit of the sport if there were a score sheet or the actual game board in the display. Photos of some of the key plays and interviews with spectators or a short video of the action could tell the story of a dead bear in a case.

I don't know why we still have trophy hunting. Out-of-state hunters must use a guide and often go far and dig deep. The hunter needs time off, transportation and gear. There is an incredible amount of work and expense involved in preserving a carcass. Then, where are you going to put it? There is a question that begs an answer. There have got to be easier ways in this modern world to challenge one's mettle than stalking and whacking huge mammals. I can imagine a few.

Try to locate (in the wild, of course) samples of all non-threatened members of a plant family. Saxifrage, for example. Would it take skill, courage, arduous bushwhacking and perseverance? You bet. Photograph them in their natural setting, select and preserve specimens and write an essay on their natural history and the personal journey you undertook tracking them down. That would be much more interesting than a dead bear in a box. Want more danger? Set up a blind in a scree slope near a collared pica burrow and document the "hay making." The film you make would be in constant demand and make you wealthy. That brings up an important question. Does the dead bear display owner pay to put their case in the airport or does the airport pay for the pleasure of hosting the curiosity?

My friend showed up and I left the airport, but had several notes and sketches for breathtaking, educational, perilous exhibit assignments for worthy sportsmen. Who's game?

Nita Nettleton can be reached at nitan@alaska.com.



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