Bear Descriptions

People around here joke that we measure rain in feet, not inches. I walk to work. Add those sentences and you see why I use an umbrella. Recently, I had to order a new umbrella. This one is not the kind that folds up in my backpack. It’s old-fashioned, long, big, and sturdy. (Somewhere, the shade of Amelia Peabody is nodding in approval).

This time of year there is a lot of bear sightings because the bears are stuffing themselves before hibernation. My husband calls me a bear magnet because of all the interactions I have with them. When you think that to get to work I walk one-and-a-half miles through their habitat, it’s not surprising.

So as I walked along this morning, my mind wandered like usual, and I wondered how a bear would perceive an umbrella. Since it’s black and long, would it scare him, make him assume it’s a rifle? I doubt he has a word for ‘umbrella’. I doubt he has a word for ‘color’ or ‘black’. I started trying to figure out how I would describe something, if I had to break it down to its barest minimum. A stick like night?

Sometimes in writing, description can carry on too long, or be too much. I think we writers have a tendency to not trust the reader to understand what we are saying, so we repeat ourselves, rewording slightly, to make sure readers get it. That can kill an otherwise wonderful description.

Thinking about the bear made me wonder if describing something from the eyes of an animal might make a challenging writing exercise. Like the umbrella. But then I realized I’d drive myself insane. I suggested a ‘stick like night’ above. But the bear wouldn’t have a word for ‘night’ any more than he would have a word for ‘black’. Yes I know, bears don’t have words, but for the purposes of writing challenges, I’m continuing with the analogy. So ‘bear’ with me please.

In some ways it would be like trying to describe something to a person who speaks a different language. I think it would end up looking like a game of charades. Back to the bear. Would he understand that the umbrella is not a rifle, if I opened it? Well, that would probably be equally terrifying for him. But can we describe more accurately through action? There’s another writing challenge. Instead of having simple narrative in your story that describes the scenery, bring it alive through action or interaction.

I like the idea of taking an object and trying to strip it down to the most basic, simple description. I’m going to try this with a few things lying around and see what I come up with. I challenge you to do the same.


I’ve been thinking about fear for a scary story. Thinking about what scares me and why, what scares people I know, and why. For instance, a sister and a friend are afraid of spiders. Personally, when I find a spider I put it outside. Why are spiders frightening? Is it the way they run so fast, the fact that they have so many legs? But why are those things scary? When people talk about spiders they use words like ‘scuttle’ and ‘dart’. I think it’s the unpredictability, the feeling of being not in control. Well, my sister says spiders have hairy legs but then so does her husband and he doesn’t scare her.

The same friend (I’ll let her identify herself in comments if she wishes) told me she’d be uncomfortable house sitting for us because she’d be afraid to go outside. I assume it’s the lack of any light, the surrounding woods, the wild animals. Those things that I rarely give consideration to. But this is the same friend who managed to walk a lonely road through the woods late at night with no flashlight, because she had no choice. So she has the courage to function in spite of fear. I still wonder though, what is at the root of that fear of the dark. The unknown? The unseen?

This same friend lives in the city and thinks nothing of standing at a bus stop late at night. Now that would scare me. Why? Strangers, noise, crowds. And what is the root of that? Unpredictability, lack of control.

Thinking more about this I realize we also fool ourselves into thinking we are safe. Like the following scenario, which happened to me.

You’re in a tent on a camping trip with your husband and small child. It’s late in the season, few campers, cold at night. Your food is stored in iron ‘bear boxes’ with padlocks to keep the bears out of your food. It’s late, pitch black. You’re cozy in the tent, snug in your sleeping bag, safe. Until you hear the clanging of something banging on the bear box. And hear loud snuffling. And see the wall of the tent bulge inward. At that moment you realize that the safe ‘home’ is simply canvas material, easily ripped. And your snug sleeping bag is simply a trap you cannot get out of fast enough. Finally, you realize that by locking all your food in a bear box, the hungry bear must look elsewhere. And now you’re terrified.

In our case all worked out well, of course. But what was terrifying? Again, at the very root, vulnerability, lack of control. And for me, the sudden terror that I might not be able to keep my child safe. Which could be interpreted yet again as lack of control.

So in this story I’m working on, it doesn’t seem to matter what the character is afraid of so much as why they are afraid. If I figure out the why, then maybe the reader will feel that same fear.

So what are you afraid of, and have you ever wondered why?

The photo below is a bronze maple leaf that hangs in a yew tree. My son says it’s creepy because the eyes ‘follow’ him when he walks by. A fear of something inanimate acting like something animate? Who knows.

And okay, I added a spider for my friend. Couldn’t resist.

Do the eyes follow you?

Do the eyes follow you?

Peppermint - looking spider on a peony.

Peppermint – looking spider on a peony.