The Grizzly Maze: Timothy Treadwell's Fatal Obsession With Alaskan Bears by Nick Jans (Dutton/Penguin), 272 pages, $24.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
For 13 summers, Timothy Treadwell pitched a tent in Alaska's grizzliest bear habitat. He carried no rifle, mace or scientific credentials. His presence was quite the oddity, until he got famous.
This he accomplished, in part, by breaking the rules of bear country. Edicts like "Keep clear of mama bear and cubs" and "Leave no chocolate in tent" were lost on this confident Californian. So were other unspoken guidelines like "Don't pet bears." Yes, Timothy Treadwell pet wild grizzly bears. If that's merely stupid, there's also the inexplicable.
As Nick Jans reports in his wildly interesting book The Grizzly Maze, Treadwell was often seen crawling around bear-style on all fours and was even spied tromping around a field of bears in a tuxedo. With the public, Treadwell took a "the bears have been misunderstood" tack and, though not in so many words, promoted a touchy-feely notion of "his bears," to whom he awarded names Disney would reject for being overly cute. Booble, Cupcake? Nuff said.
For his efforts, he received more publicity than any other wildlife maven in recent memory. And on October 5, 2003, he got what many had feared and others expected was an inevitable comeuppance. A day before he and his girlfriend were to be picked up by bush plane, the two were mauled and eaten. Rangers arriving the next day filled two body bags with a mere 40 pounds of their remains.
Jans does an admirable job of sorting through Treadwell's mythology, applying a healthy dose of journalistic skepticism without bludgeoning him with judgment.
The fascination of Treadwell's story isn't just the overload of tragic irony. Much like Chris McCandless of Jon Krakauer's Into The Wild, Treadwell expatriated himself from middle- class America. Among grizzlies, he hoped to create the authentic life he couldn't find in the mainstream.
He was hardly noble, certainly misguided and, arguably, selfish. But Treadwell lived life on his own terms, without apology.
He was a man hungry for something greater than the material success many of us struggle so hard to achieve.