Edward Hoagland, a novelist and writer of what might be termed social essays, is the author of the story on bear specialist Lynn Rogers that begins on page 32. An Easterner educated at Deerfield and Harvard, Hoagland roamed the United States as a young man, and later spent a year in lonely exploration of the wilderness of British Columbia. (He also put in some time exploring the wilderness of New York's Lower East Side, an even more perilous undertaking, in its way.)
"There were periods during my childhood when I stammered so badly I couldn't talk at all," Hoagland says, when asked how his absorption with animals began. "So I had a lot of dogs. Then I had snakes at a certain age, and turtles at another.
"When I was 18 I worked with the Ringling Brothers circus, taking care of menagerie animals. I used to rather deliberately risk my life with the big cats. Only the ones I felt I could trust, though. Once I climbed into a mountain lion's cage and she bounded at me and put her paw on my face, but she kept her claws withdrawn. Some of the leopards would pull my hand into the cage with their teeth, but not hard enough to hurt. Other boys, at 18," he observes, "drive cars down the middle of the road."
Bears have been the subject of Hoag-land's prose before. In The Courage of Turtles, a collection of essays about turtles, women, stammering, carnivals, the circus, civil disobedience and other matters, he passed on the understandably vivid impressions of a man "who had lain helplessly under a grizzly." The grizzly was eating a moose when the man encountered him: "At nearly the same instant they saw each other, close up—the bear's head lifting, bloody and aswarm with flies. This shocking sight, really before he could take it in, was followed by the impact of the bear bashing him over...."
March 26, 1973
Hoagland himself has never had a personal experience quite that disagreeable with a bear. You can't risk approaching a grizzly the way he did the circus cats, he says, "because a bear's eyes are too small—you can't read them. And a bear has no expression on its face. Black bears, though, are not fearsome. I encountered one on the road to my house in Vermont, alone at night. I picked up two stones just in case, but I wasn't afraid of him. I felt a hunter's exhilaration and a brotherly feeling."
Clearly, Hoagland has a good deal in common with Lynn Rogers, who beards bears in their dens. Rogers is one of several dedicated woods zoologists around the country who, says Hoagland, "love animals, with real closeness and intensity. In these times we're losing contact with animals, reducing them to assembly-line products, or objects to be gawked at. These scientists have the old 19th-century empathy and understanding—like frontiersmen, only they are closer, because the animals aren't threats to them."
Hoagland recently has been to visit a man in Liberty, Texas, who is a student of red wolves, and there is a manatee man he wants to seek out, and a wolverine man. At 41, Hoagland is no longer unable to talk to people, but he retains a preoccupation with animals. They are what he likes to talk about.