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There's wisdom in the cliffs

Sep 20, 2012 - By Betty Starks Case

The huge sow grizzly with two cubs that I wrote about in a recent column may be making a name for herself. Although the soft, fuzzy name of "Bearsy Dotes" that I lifted from an old song for her may be debatable, it could depend on how you envision this big mama bear.

Her name stirred more tender memories than I expected. Some readers said they'd heard it sometime, somewhere. Then there was the stranger leaving the restaurant as we entered for lunch one day. He glanced at me in passing and said simply, "My mother sang Bearsy Dotes to me." Then he walked on out the door and left the writer in me waiting for the rest of the story.

Columnist Bill Sniffin wrote last Sunday of two encounters of Togwotee hikers with a big sow grizzly with two cubs in the Brooks Lake area where we saw them. Bear spray in each case apparently brought an understanding that the hikers did not intend to harm Bearsy Dotes or her babies. She didn't insist on further confrontation.

These events bring me to the possibility that names may possess some kind of power that isn't easily recognized. Including that of Bearsy Dotes.

We apply a good deal of thought to naming our children. We may even expect the name to influence how the world responds to them.

Maggie Kahin, the subject of my first book, observed that naming should not be a casual affair with animals either, that one should assign a name with charm and dignity to assure a good relationship and future for the animal -- and maybe for yourself.

Maggie told of an elderly horse on a dude ranch she'd visited.

"Big and friendly," she said. "Just the right sort of horse for timid ladies or tall, would-be cowboys who come out of cities without knowing one end of a horse from the other."

The horse came to the ranch with the name of "Bob," but a wrangler who didn't particularly like the big, rounded creature started calling him "Bob, The Blob."

This, said Maggie, was fatal. With a name like that, no dude wanted to be seen on him.

They changed the name to "Lord Robert," and everyone wanted to ride him.

In the event you are still wondering about this name game, Maggie offered another story of a horse from her childhood back east, in the horse-show country of New England.

Her neighbor, Jim, bought a black hackney horse at an auction, with a dock tail, blind in one eye, and no background credentials. Jim figured the kids could ride the old black nag and maybe he could use it for light jobs on the farm.

Soon Jim noticed that the horse had an odd habit of jumping fences when the spirit moved him. Jim had heard of a famous hunter some years back with the name "Sir Gilbert," so he decided just for fun to give his new/old horse a name with some class.

Still fascinated with Sir Gilbert's inclination to jump fences, Jim worked with the old horse until he qualified for participation in jumping competitions around Connecticut. Eventually, Sir Gilbert was pitted against a magnificent sorrel with impeccable conformation, named "Incomparable." All that mattered in the event was that the horse got over the jump without knocking the top bar.

The first couple of rounds eliminated all the other competitors, leaving only Incomparable and Sir Gilbert. Incomparable sailed majestically over one hurdle after the other, his chestnut coat flashing in the sun like a burnished penny. Sir Gilbert, eyeing the bar with his one good eye, would wring his tail, then tuck up his front legs and throw his hind ones in a most unorthodox fashion, then bounce over the bar instead of sailing gracefully across as Incomparable did.

Time after time, the bar was raised, and both horses cleared it.

At the height of 5-foot-9, Incomparable tipped the bar with his left hind foot.

Sir Gilbert cleared the first bar, the second, the third and fourth. The crowd went wild.

Sir Gilbert had won the crown at age 19, blind in one eye, ewe necked, dock-tailed, his black hide marked with white scars from harness days.

And why didn't Incomparable, with an even grander name win the crown, you ask?

Perhaps, Maggie suggested, he might have been over-named. Maybe he thought so well of himself he just didn't try as hard as Sir Gilbert.

And maybe Bearsy Dotes somehow got the message that she didn't need to kill humans to save her babies. Wisdom echoes far and wide from those breccia cliffs. Why else would humans need to explore them year round? And if a bear killed a human, might she be removed from this great home with a lake full of fish? Maybe be separated from her cubs?

Still, it seems wise to carry bear spray when you visit the haunts of a big mama grizzly like Bearsy Dotes. Despite the name I gave her, she may have heard that it's her country. Not ours.

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