'A fat bear year-er': Juneau writer brings humor and depth to Katmai's fat bears
The winner of Katmai National Park’s Fat Bear Week is 747 Bear Force One, who weighs in at 1,400 pounds. People around the world voted in the competition for the park's biggest brown bear. The tournament has gotten so popular that the state’s largest newspaper hired a writer to cover it.
Juneau-based writer Christy NaMee Eriksen is a self-described superfan of the fat bears in Katmai National Park.
“You just look at two pictures of bears and you’re determining which one is chonkier, it’s just wonderful. It’s delightful,” she said during a recent interview over Zoom.
Eriksen started following Fat Bear Week during the pandemic in 2020. This month, she poured her knowledge into daily reports tracking the tournament’s big brown bears for the Anchorage Daily News. Watching the bears provides relief and comfort — not just in the pandemic, but in everyday life.
Eriksen is a poet, and she takes her inspiration from the natural world.
“As I learned more about the bears I thought there were so many really wonderful stories that could be told about them. As a writer, I’m most interested in: How can that connect back to my own experience of what it’s like to be a person in this world?” she said.
“But Holly is more than a bear who is heavy; she is a bear who knows heavy. She has witnessed the traumatic loss of her child, and she sat with that loss for five years. Anyone who knows grief knows you don’t need a tree to feel stuck somewhere for hours. Anyone who knows grief knows what it’s like to cry someone’s name and never have them return. Why did 435 Holly adopt 503 Cubadult? Everyone asks; no one knows. They were not related. And yet, they could relate” - an excerpt from the Oct. 7 report.
Each bear has a story, and Eriksen examines some profound experiences. In one report, she traces how bear 435 Holly adopted an abandoned cub years after one of her own died.
"What values does Holly represent that other people might get behind?" Eriksen asked. She also has questions about other bears. “What lessons can I learn from Otis? Why don’t we like about 856? What does that say about us as humans in community with each other, that we don’t appreciate bears who pick on smaller bears? So I use them as a large metaphor to really talk about us, humans.”
Eriksen’s updates are like reading a long text from a friend. She said her writing is lighthearted because it’s influenced by the social media accounts of Katmai National Park, which has become some of her favorite American writing.
“It’s a masterclass, honestly, that I’m taking just by following their social media. I’ve seen alliterations up to like nine or 10 words in a sentence from them. It’s truly inspiring,” she said.
Even though the fattest bear has been crowned, Eriksen will still be scanning the bear-cams for months to come.
“I’m a year-round fat bear week-er. I’m a fat bear year-er. And I feel like I’ve gotten to know a lot more about the bears over the years,” she said.
Eriksen hopes writing about the bears will also help us discover a little more about ourselves.
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