After graduating from college, I (coauthor Roy) spent five years in Alaska, thanks to a research grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. During that time, I spent one summer working at a fish camp with a 70-year-old Athabascan Indian named Al Frank. Al and I passed our days catching and drying salmon. He used the salmon to feed his family and his team of 18 sled dogs throughout the year. When the salmon were spawning (that is, swimming upriver to lay their eggs), Al had to catch and store as many fish as he could to survive the fall and long winter.
One windy afternoon, I was standing on a bluff overlooking the Yukon River, watching Al work. Suddenly, a black bear burst from the brush at the river’s edge and galloped straight at Al. Sensing the threat, Al looked up, dropped his gutting knife, and took off running as fast as his legs could carry him. But he didn’t run away from the bear. Instead, he ran toward it, waving his arms and hollering. Mystified, the bear skidded to a stop. Then it turned tail and headed back the way it had come. I was dumbfounded! For his part, Al walked back down the riverbank, picked up his gutting knife, and got back to work as if nothing had happened.
I scrambled down the bluff and ran to Al. Wide-eyed and excited, I asked him what in the world had made him run at the bear. Completely calm, Al answered, “What were my choices?” He explained, “If I’d stayed where I was, he would have gotten me. If I’d waded into the river, ...