Walking bear

November 05, 1996|By Andrei Codrescu

A 350-LB. BLACK bear named No Neck walked all the way from the Florida Panhandle across Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana until he got to Baton Rouge. That's the longest walk any recorded bear ever took, and he would have kept walking to the Atchafalaya Basin where about 300 black bears live.

No Neck was apparently looking for a mate and thought the Atchafalaya community had possibilities. There are so few bears left, they must sense each other in the empty air; the bear frequency must ring with the poignant signals of their dying.

No Neck himself had been living in contentment in the Apalachicola National Forest until he was caught raiding beehives, arrested and moved to the Eglin Air Force base. Now, arresting a bear for eating honey is like arresting a bird for flying. So No Neck, finding himself under arrest, lonely and distressed by the silence on the bear frequency, took off for the Atchafalaya.

He walked past malls, where there were once forests; through suburbs where once there were bears; by houses, highways, McDonald's, gas stations and TV towers. He was spotted by people amazed to see him walking like that. He stopped for nothing, accepted no rides and kept on going. If he had any doubts about his purpose or his destination we will never know.

The wildlife authorities were ready to help him cross Highway 55 but decided to bring him down near Baton Rouge. They shot him with a tranquilizer dart and took him back to the Apalachicola National Forest. He might have been allowed to make it to the bear community in Atchafalaya, but it was feared that the industrial and populated shore of the Mississippi would bring him in conflict with rifle-toting humans.

No Neck knew where he was going and so did we: his ear was tagged, his lip tattoed and he had an electronic collar. Back in his forest, No Neck may be too dispirited to raid hives. He probably doesn't care that he set a bear-walking record. He's still lonely, and at night he dreams of strange towering shapes that broadcast to humans in frequencies he cannot and doesn't care to access. But that's how we heard his story, and that's all that we will never know. His bear frequency is inaccessible to us.

Andrei Codrescu edits "Exquisite Corpse: A Journal of Letters and Life" at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, near where No Neck was brought down.

Pub Date: 11/05/96

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