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Bears

I've spent time with bears and men. In the woods, I'd rather run into the bear.

Once upon a time, I got to lie between two bears in their winter den. Given the choice, I'd rather run into one of them in the woods.

Laura Pritchett
Opinion contributor

The 鈥man vs. bear debate,鈥 in which women contemplate which one would make the better companion in the woods, has recently taken TikTok by storm. To the surprise of some men, women have leaned heavily in favor of the bear.

Once upon a time, I got to lie between two bears in their winter den on a high snowy mountaintop in 91影视. Stomach on snow, rocks above, both arms outstretched so as to touch each bear. Talk about magic.

This female bear and her yearling had been tranquilized by the state vet, a woman who was standing at my feet, outside of the small outcropping of rocks that constituted the bears鈥 den, encouraging me to hurry up. But I did not hurry up. Because there were these bears, large and strong and huffing, stomachs rising with breath, wild and real, and I was sandwiched between them. I remember closing my eyes with pure joy, listening to us all breathe.

All this was for a book I was writing 鈥 "" 鈥 and I鈥檇 offhandedly asked some researchers if I could accompany them on their trip to get the GPS collar off the female, since the study they鈥檇 been conducting was now over. (It never ceases to amaze me what authors get to do if they just ask.)

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We鈥檇 just spent the entire day snowshoeing up a very steep mountainside, the most exhausting day of my life, since the snow was what we call "rotten," and the snowshoes kept sinking into feet of snow. I had injured my knee and hip, I could tell, and I鈥檇 cried quietly during the last few hours of the expedition.

Most bears are nice 鈥 and so are most men

A curious young black bear is seen on a trail at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park in Copeland, Fla on June 1, 2023.

But then, the bears. After they鈥檇 jabbed a tranquilizer dart and retrieved the GPS collar and taken blood and hair samples, they let me climb in. Why? I don鈥檛 know. Because I asked, and because outdoors people are nice.

You know who else is nice? The men in my life. They鈥檙e all fabulous, thoughtful, gentle creatures, I tell you. They are doing the world good. My partner, my son, my friends.

But once upon a time, there were two who were not, one resulting in a scar in my forehead, it meeting an open car door, and another who scarred my heart with a shocking loss of temper.

For those two reasons, I pick the bear.

So would Ammalie, the main character in my book "," as she embarks on a solo journey across the planet. Safety is a big concern of hers 鈥 let鈥檚 face it, only a naive person wouldn鈥檛 care. She鈥檚 got pepper spray, a loud alarm, and she鈥檚 got her wits. She may be lost, but she鈥檚 not stupid. She鈥檚 prepared for wild animal or for human animal, she doesn鈥檛 know, though she鈥檚 aware it鈥檚 the second that she鈥檚 most afraid of.

Is it safe to run as a woman?Being a female runner shouldn't be dangerous. Laken Riley's death reminds us it is.

And sure 鈥 it鈥檚 a novel, after all! 鈥 she gets into trouble. But it鈥檚 not man or bear that gets her. It鈥檚 her own anxious psychology, her own isolation, and her own lost-ness that is the real danger. This is why she bravely sets forth on this journey, ready to encounter bear or man, because, perhaps, the most dangerous thing of all is to live a small life, one you were not proud of.

That day in the den, with my cheek on snow, I closed my eyes and listened to my breathing and their breathing. I smelled bear scent 鈥 surprisingly good, I鈥檓 happy to report, although it was freezing and perhaps I was too exhausted to have my nostrils do their work.

Eventually, I backed out, stood up, and turned to face the group of scientists, a bunch of strangers, all of us on a remote mountain.

Laura Pritchett

I was in the woods with men, women and bear, and it all turned out great. Night was coming and so we slid down the mountainside on our avalanche shovels, which is not as fun as it sounds. That night, alone in my cold hotel room, I surveyed my cuts and bumps and bruises and swollen knee.

Yup, I sobbed. But it wasn鈥檛 because either bear or man had scared me. I cried because it had been one of the best days of my life. It had been exhausting and had pushed me to my limits. I was living the life I wanted to, and there is a certain amount of pride in that.

Laura Pritchett is the author of seven novels and two books of nonfiction, including her latest novel, "Three Keys." She has been awarded the PEN USA Award for Fiction, the High Plains Literary Award, the Milkweed National Fiction Prize, the 91影视 Book Award, the WILLA Fiction Award, and shortlisted for many others.

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