I write to honor my friend Timothy Treadwell, and commemorate a life lived with passion, dedication and a heart the size of the wilds of Alaska. I write too to ask for restraint in judging events that are not fully understood, where key questions hang like fall leaves.
No one who had seen Timothy's photos and films, or heard him speak did not, for a moment, reflect upon wild nature afresh, deeply, personally, and with a renewed energy to defend it. Looking at his images was as if seeing into the soul of a bear. Watching him perform in a classroom, you saw a magician who explained the mysteries of bears and their lives in such a way that children emerged glowing, as if they too were the discoverers of wild America. Hearing him talk about his bears, by name, with their bonds of affection, quirky behavior, and playful antics, you felt that you were let in on great secrets that few receive today-or have forgotten as wilderness has been paved over and subdivided. In an interview with David Letterman, you saw a quick wit, returning each Letterman volley with panache, sparkle and a hint of an Australian accent. In a filmed scene of Timothy singing to a mother bear, flat on her back, with two cubs nursing on top of her, you imagined for a moment that she too enjoyed the song of gentleness. And you had no doubt that you were hearing a "bear whisperer."
In Timothy's company, you knew you were in the presence of a spirit that loomed larger than life, who flew at an elevation that few achieve, who lived with a depth of conviction rare as gold in these shallow times. The sight of Timothy's blond head above a crush of buzzing children was like a flame crowded by moths - they, hungry for a moment in his light, in the electric current of his love for all wild hearts. Yet for all his brave, bold ways, there was a fragile, ephemeral nature in Timothy who seemed, at times, not of this world really - not slated, perhaps, to be long among pedestrians.
Undoubtedly his story will be become bigger with the telling, in part because of the sheer drama of his life. Like geology, the tale will likely unfold in layers, over time. Venturing to the wildest parts of Alaska as an outdoor novice. Living alone, for the most part, among the bugs and the rain, to record the lives of generations of bears in the tradition of Jane Goodall. Healing himself from a drug habit by dedicating himself to saving grizzlies. Surviving on the edge of poverty, giving away all -- his time, his soul and his photographs - for the purpose of keeping the wilderness wild. Starring in Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, Rosie O'Donnell and numerous films, always advocating for an animal in desperate need of more defenders. Sharing the lives of bears and his own with over 10,000 students a year in California, Colorado and other schools, for free. Protesting today's growing culture of fear and meanness of spirit, by living with courage, humor and a hopeful heart. In the end, dying as all heroes of tragedy do - partly by their own mistakes.
Sadly it is the blood in the water that is today's media focus -- Timothy's, Amie's and at least two grizzlies. Unfortunately, too, bears are being shown in the light of old stereotypes -- godless monsters. And in a defensive posture, the Park Service appears poised to impose more restrictions, further shrinking opportunities to experience the essence of the wild.
But bears will soon be finding dens, Alaska will settle down for the winter, the snows will come, and the press will drop the scent of the story. Then there will be things that those of us who love bears can do. Keep alive Timothy's love of the wilderness, with bears and foxes and salmon and eagles. Look inside ourselves for new ways to tell the full story of bear, with its many other faces - cubs play-wrestling and copying mama fishing for salmon, snoozing in a shady day bed, cooling off in a glacier-fed bay. Promote respect for bears and concern for their future, at a time of unprecedented attacks on their habitat.
For now, it is enough to honor the dead and celebrate a rare life, and the places and creatures he brought into ours.