#69: Recommendations — Bears, Crocodiles, And Books

Hi hi, friends,

A couple weekends ago I was at a yoga retreat held near Asheville, and I realized as the weekend went on that we (people who live in Asheville) have reached a stage where we’ve become bored with each other’s bear stories. It used to be that if, say, you were at a party and you brought up bears you would have hit on a surefire topic of conversation. Everyone would be interested. I had my one story about my friend’s father who was attacked by a mother bear and lived to tell the tale. But you didn’t even need a dramatic anecdote for people to care. It just had to fall under the “bears” umbrella. Who had seen one; what were best strategies if you met one in the woods (run zigzags? play dead?); and so on. No more! During the retreat, we were out on a group walk, and one woman, who recently moved to the area from Maryland, kept trying to tell the rest of us about all the bears she sees in her yard:

“There’s a mother with two cubs I see… ”

Polite nods. Everyone keeps moving.

“Sometimes a big one comes on trash day… ”

“Mmmmm.” Tromping through the long grass, not looking up. Mmmmm.

But she was right—there are bears here, they are all over the place, and it’s seems right that once in a while we’d pause and be astounded about it. I’ve mentioned this before, but when I moved into my current house, I used to see a bear every year or so. I now see them weekly. I’m interested in why this is, and what changes might follow on the heels of it (beyond my possible Herzogian demise). For example, the yellow jacket activity on the trails near my house seems much worse than it’s been in past falls—ask my dog 🙁 —and you can guess why this is: there are great torn up patches in the ground where the bears have been digging up the yellow jacket nests. More bears, more angry yellow jackets—an unforeseen consequence.

While this newsletter was on hiatus a few readers were kind enough to reach out and ask, “how are your bears, CAAF?” They’re good! They’ve been especially in evidence the past couple weeks, scarfing up acorns. I took this short video clip of a mother bear with her three cubs grazing at my neighbor’s earlier this week. (I wish I could insert the clip here but I swear it’s worth the click if you’re a bear fancier.) I ran into the same foursome the next day when I was out walking—the cubs were perched up in a tree, looking like the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz.

Then here’s a picture of a bear who was hanging around a lot earlier this year. I mentally refer to him as Little John.

Over the summer a friend texted me this picture of two bears hanging out at her neighbor’s house. (You’re welcome!)


1906-ish photo of two Tasmanian tigers, or thylacines, taken in Washington D.C. The species is now either rare or extinct.

A few other animal-related stories:

• My favorite new gory story to tell people about is marine biologist Melissa Cristina Márquez’s account of being attacked by a crocodile—and the remarkable way she saved herself. (In reference to last week’s letter about creativity vs. reactivity: Márquez’s story is like a parable of the power of not letting yourself be reactive even when you are being dragged underwater BY A CROCODILE.)

• In common with everyone else who read it, I was completely enamored with this story by Brooke Jarvis about the search for the Tasmanian tiger. (Also, if you’ve ever wondered what Tasmanian devils look like but couldn’t be arsed to look it up, here you go.)

• If you’re on Twitter you’ve probably already seen this next link, but if you haven’t yet, treat yourself to this Twitter thread from the Museum of English Rural life and the animal doodles—featuring the family dog and a chicken in trousers—recently discovered in an eighteenth-century mathematics textbook.

Relatedly: I’ve been trying to teach myself how to draw lately. Last month, I drew (“drew”) a fox I keep seeing around the neighborhood that I think of as Ghost Fox.

I realized later that he ended up looking like a Tasmanian tiger.


An absurd number of great books have come out in the past few months. Like consolation for how terrible the news has been. I wanted to highlight three of em.

• First is Sarah Smarsh’s memoir Heartland, which was shortlisted this week for the National Book Award (!!). I was lucky enough to read it early and have been impatiently counting down ever since for when it would be out in the world so I could press it on everyone I knew. It’s a beautiful, smart, and deeply affecting piece of work—it’s been thrilling to see it get its due recognition.

• Nicole Chung’s memoir All You Can Ever Know came out last week, and my copy just arrived in the mail and I’m so excited to read. She’s a pal, but also one of those writers who, whenever they publish, I’m always so glad to have read: thoughtful and funny, pressingly honest and elegant all at the same time. Here she is in conversation about her book with Maud Newton. And on “The Daily Show” last night.

• Last year, I shared a link to Fatimah Asghar’s poem, “Pluto Shits On The Universe.” I really like her poem “My Love For Nature,” too. She now has a new book of poems out, If They Come For Us.

In the past year a couple of friends have sent me books of poems in the mail—Ada Limón’s Bright Dead Things and Adrienne Rich’s Your Native Land, Your Life. So if you’re looking for something to send a friend, I can now vouch for how lovely it is to find a little book of poems unexpectedly in your mailbox, and commend Asghar’s book to your notice.

Next week I have some new words to share and a few more book recommendations.

Until then,
may Tasmanian tigers show up for you in unexpected places,