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CLOSE TO HOME: A few lions, no tigers and one bear. Oh my!

  • Bear sightings have increased in the west county in recent weeks. This one was photographed at St. Dorothy's Episcopal Camp & Retreat Center near Camp Meeker. (The Press Democrat)

West county seems to have caught bear fever. The sightings and tracking of a juvenile black bear (or maybe two) between Sebastopol and Occidental are headline news. Our wandering friend may have soon his own Facebook page.

Most of us seem to be rooting for the bear. Maybe we're really rooting for ourselves, for nature and for the wild which we are rapidly losing. It wasn't that long ago that our region was home to hundreds of black bears and grizzlies were the top predator. That was also a time when the Laguna teemed with herds of elk and pronghorn antelope and our waterways were filled with salmon and steelhead.

As a species, we evolved to be in constant relationship to the rest of our more-than-human community — sometimes as predator, sometimes as prey, but always interdependent. Now that we have extinguished the California grizzly and most of the big cats, we are certainly safer from predation. But at what cost?

The world we experience now consists primarily of other humans or things made or grown by humans. I think this makes us lonely, and it makes us forget who we are. We hunger for something but don't know what it is. A misguided pursuit of happiness leads us to want more and more of what we don't really need.

An ancient Greek myth tells the story of Erysichthon, the wealthy landowner who comes across a great oak sacred to the Demeter, the goddess of abundance. His men recognize the tree for what it is and feel an appropriate sense of awe. Erysichthon sees only the bottom line and orders his men to fell the great tree. When they refuse, he seizes an ax, decapitates his foreman who had tried to protect the tree, and proceeds to cut it down. When Demeter learns of this sacrilege, she places a curse on him that whatever he eats will only increase his hunger. He consumes everything he has, including his own children and, eventually, himself.

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