As a troubled young man fleeing bad habits and bad company, Timothy Treadwell travelled to Katmai National Park in Alaska. There he developed another consuming passion – the grizzly bears that inhabited the region.
He spent thirteen summers in Katmai, and considered the grizzlies his family. The bears learned to tolerate his presence. He named them, watched them grow through successive generations from cub to adult to parent, and when they died, he grieved them as one would a human being.
Acting as his own writer, cameraman, and narrator, and living much like a bear himself, Treadwell documented grizzly lives and habits. Each winter, he returned to the US to educate people – albeit unconventionally – on little known facts, faces and habits of North America’s top predator.
The risks he took – which he knew well – seemed to feed his passion. “I will die for these animals. I will die for these animals. I will die for these animals,” he repeated often on camera.
Werner Herzog’s disturbing 2005 documentary Grizzly Man includes some of Treadwell’s own camera work. In spite of his eccentricity and lack of formal scientific education, Treadwell is reluctantly credited with doing what no wildlife specialist had done. He peeled back the mystery and allowed the world an unprecedented glimpse of North America’s number one predator in its native surroundings. Because of Treadwell, grizzly behaviour is less a mystery, and grizzlies themselves – powerful, majestic and deadly – even more astounding.
The Grizzly Man often filmed his own rants – bizarre expletive-laden tirades against legitimate nature conservancies, hunters and tourists and the wildlife authorities that monitored the park. As the summers passed, he became increasingly unbalanced. It seemed obvious that his passion for the grizzly had consumed his spirit. And in the end it came as no surprise to anyone that the grizzly also consumed his body.
It seems Treadwell stayed longer than usual in Alaska that thirteenth summer – long enough for the usual community of bears to move out of the area and another – unused to his presence – to move in. A large male killed both Treadwell and his girlfriend. Only the day prior, the filmmaker had videoed that very bear fishing in the river.
As I write, I’m sitting at a lovely lakeside in Saskatchewan’s Qu’Appelle valley. On the way here, I admired a young fox peeking up from the ditch and as I type a few pelicans are fishing on Echo Lake’s calm waters. God’s awesome creation and the unending wonders of both flora and fauna continually amaze me. Each encounter I’ve had with nature and wildlife brings me to a deeper reverence for our Creator, and a never-ending wonder of what it means to be in relationship with his son, Jesus Christ.
Though we have the privilege of experiencing and caring for creation, the Bible warns us not to worship it – or anything in it. As Timothy Treadwell’s life and death so starkly remind us, when we worship anything other than God, it will eventually consume us.