After 10 years as an environment reporter at two newspapers, I’ve done my share of urban wildlife stories.
Mountain lions hiding in trees. Huge salmon lurking in the smallest city streams. That dolphin in Stockton’s Deep Water Ship Channel.
Never have I seen the kind of community interest generated by Tracy Bear. (Lodi’s Tom Kettleman turkey comes close.)
The scene in Tracy on Wednesday night was electric as wildlife officials tried to safely remove the bear out of a tree right in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
Yeah, the bear was interesting, but the crowd? Amazing.
People lined up 10 or 15 deep behind the yellow caution tape. They finagled their way as close to the action as possible, even as community service officers tried to keep them back.
One family climbed atop an RV in their driveway for the best possible view. Dads lifted their sons and daughters up on their shoulders, and hundreds of cameras documented the action from hundreds of different angles.
The crowd gasped with each rustle of the tree leaves. Many outright screamed when the bear finally let go.
And then, with the apparent blessing of law enforcement (I think), the crowd surged closer as biologists checked the bear’s condition on the ground. A mass of people descended onto the intersection of Bessie and Whitter avenues from four directions.
Then, another rush as firefighters lifted the bear and placed her in a trailer. Kids squeezed in as close as they could to peer through tiny portholes.
Amid the surge, I saw a few people turn back, evidently fearful they could be trampled. Eventually firefighters were able to clear enough people away from the trailer that the truck towing it was able to leave the scene.
Who says people don’t care about nature?
Who says we’d rather stick our noses into electronic devices?
Who says we’re apathetic about anything outside of our own skin?
The “Nature Deficit Disorder” theory holds that less exposure to the outdoors can lead to serious behavioral problems for children, while also disconnecting them from the natural world and leaving them with less interest and less respect for wild things.
But after Wednesday night’s excitement, I have to wonder if interest in nature is inherent in all of us, even if we don’t often notice it.
Granted, a bear is a particularly charismatic critter. And the cynic might say the crowd was driven more by the news cameras than the furry guest of honor.
I’d prefer to think that Tracy residents experienced a reawakening of what, for some, might have been a long-dormant connection to nature. Maybe their enthusiasm was a reflection of the fact that it had been so long since that connection had been felt.
The trick, of course, is getting people to care about less astonishing natural events. Earthworms in the garden, blackbirds on the back fence, hummingbirds hovering on a Sunday afternoon, etc.
But if what I saw last night is any indication, we still love the world around us.
Thanks, #TracyBear, for reminding us.