Thursday, January 10, 2008


As a student poet, say 19 years old, I was working assiduously though the melancholia part of the curriculum. A couple of fog-layered afternoons while I was still living at home by the zoo, I’d walk down to visit the largest land mammal in North America, the Kodiak bear.

I seem to remember two, but brown bears couldn’t be that social, so there was probably just the one.

Anyway, the Kodiak bear lived in a grotto similar to the now famous tiger grottos, a concrete platform separated from the public by a dry moat, with fake rocks sloping down into the moat on the bear’s side.

The nearby snack stand (now the Terrace CafĂ©) sold standard snack stuff including, oddly, bags of full sized marshmallows at prices that even indigent melancholy student poets could afford. [Note: “indigent melancholy student poets” would be all one word in German.] The zoo had very few visitors on dreary weekday afternoons.

I’d feed a whole bag to the Kodiak bear. Once getting his attention with the first one tossed onto his platform, he’d come to the edge of the moat for more.

I’d throw the marshmallows (I was a baseball player) and he’d catch them in his mouth. If he missed (usually my fault) he’d retrieve the errant piece.

I made the bear do more for each succeeding marshmallow until he wound up sitting on his haunches on the edge of the moat with his feet dangling over the side, the way a human sits on the edge of a swimming pool.

I made him wave one of his forpaws to ask for another marshmallow. We got the routine down before the bag was finished.

A couple of passersby marveled at the interaction, but I’m pretty sure a bear will do anything for marshmallows. I would.

The third time I returned to feed the bear, the snack bar had ceased selling marshmallows. Someone snitched.

The Kodiak bear is long departed. Zoogoers must content themselves with “grizzlies,” whose name sounds fierce, but who are in truth puny cousins to the mighty Kodiak!

Throwing marshmallows to bears today would probably get you arrested.

Marshmallows can’t be good for a bear’s digestion or dental health. But heck! Could you imagine being locked up and forced to eat only “healthy foods” for the rest of your life?

Who’d want to be a bear under those conditions?

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