One of the first questions you’ll get asked when publishing a crime novel called Grizzly Season is this: “What’s up with all the bears?”
Short answer? Bears are badasses. They’re fierce individuals that live off the land, solitary wanderers that peacefully exist on the fringes of our concrete jungles.
Bears are also a powerful reminder of our primal past, a persistent symbol of a time when humans didn’t top the food chain. They’re both the stuffed animal in a child’s crib and the monster in our nightmares, all wrapped up in terrifying package of brute force, fur, claws, and snarling teeth.
I didn’t develop my ursine love affair until I had my first encounter in the wild. I was in my mid-twenties and on a road trip in Central California with my new girlfriend, a hippie from Colorado who loved the outdoors. At the time, I was a rocker dude from Los Angeles who preferred backstage passes to the backcountry.
We were car camping near Kings Canyon, a stunningly beautiful area best known for its giant sequoias, granite cliffs, waterfalls and diverse fauna and flora. Signs posted at the trailhead that day warned of poison oak, rattlesnakes, mountain lions and bears. I was shaking in my Converse low tops as we headed off.
It was a beautiful day and the trail was mostly empty, but my senses were working over time. Every little sound was a reason to stop in my tracks, causing my girlfriend to ask repeatedly if everything was all right. To this day I’m convinced my vibrating fear conjured the black bear that inevitably showed up.
I smelled it before we saw it, a distinct odor somewhere between wet dog and musky B.O. Then we noticed the berry bushes in front of us shaking violently. That’s when the huge, furry head emerged.
My girlfriend and I exchanged glances, silently deciding what to do. Our minds made up, we both sprang into action—she reaching into her backpack for a camera while I took off running back down the trail for several yards before I realized I was alone.
Shockingly, she didn’t hold the “Kings Canyon Betrayal” against me and we went on to enjoy many other encounters together. The second one happened not too long after Kings Canyon, while camping near Lake Tahoe. We stupidly left our cooler out right next to our tent. That night we lay in silence, a thin sheet of nylon separating us from a grunting black bear as it greedily devoured all of our food.
More recently we’ve run into black bears in the mountains northeast of Los Angeles. This is also the inspiration for Grizzly Season, the second book in my Greg Salem series.
Grizzly Season picks up right where my debut novel, Bad Citizen Corporation, left off. Greg and his sidekick, Marco, have escaped a series of ugly events in the beach town where they live, only to stumble on a sophisticated marijuana growing operation run by a sociopathic cult leader called Magnus Ursus.
Magnus is growing a potent strain of marijuana named in honor of the grizzly bears that once roamed around LA, but were hunted to extinction by the early 1900s. SoCal grizzlies were eventually replaced by black bears transplanted from Yosemite.
It’s the descendants of those black bears that we’ve encountered over the years, mostly before bear boxes were installed in our favorite campgrounds. There have been several nights when nearby campers shouted “bear coming” shortly before a hulking shape lumbered our way in the darkness.
I’m very happy to report that the girlfriend from Kings Canyon is now my wife. Not long ago we went to Sequoia National Forest, just south of where we had that first bear encounter. We got the kids up early one morning and went on a hike, quickly spotting a mama bear and her cub.
This time around, my wife and I both took our cameras out. And nobody ran.