A Modern Transcendentalist
The common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility and murder”. Great minds like Thoreau preached that humanity is harmonious with nature. In reality this was not their point.
They sought nature as an escape from a society they found flaws in.Timothy Treadwell seemed to be truly harmonious with nature. For 13 years he lived among the bears in the Alaskan wilderness. With his video camera, he captured moments much closer, and personal than any journalist could dare. The camera was his only defense from nature. He became an overnight celebrity and activist for animals. In fact Treadwell never charged a fee when he talked at schools. He enjoyed his work so much, it was a passion and a way of life, not a career or scheme. Yet the story behind Treadwell goes much deeper. Treadwell grew up missing something, he felt as if civilization wasn’t for him. After college he turned to alcoholism to “cure” himself from the ever corrupting world. Treadwell’s rage is almost incandescent. He fights civilization itself. Just as Thoreau had in Walden, Tredwell turned to nature to awaken the unwakeable inside him. He seemed to connect with animals in a way he couldn’t connect with people. Treadwell pursued the Alaskan wilderness and quickly became fascinated by bears. He was all alone, except for his video camera. “The camera was his only present companion.
It was his instrument to explore the wilderness around him. But increasingly, it became something more. He started to scrutinize his innermost feelings, his demons, his exhilarations. Facing the lens of a camera took on the quality of a confessional”. In front of his camera, Treadwell seemed to show his inner thoughts. His problems with relationships, and his desire to get away from it all. Treadwell said “I’m in love with my animal friends. I’m in love with my animal friends. I’m in love with my animal friends. I’m very, very troubled”. He knew his problems. It wasn’t ignorance that killed him, Treadwell merely killed himself. Treadwell may just have been the true modern Transcendentalist. Cast out of the same shadows that summoned minds like John Muir and Thoreau into the woods. Muir himself stated “I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news”. Tired of society these men took to the woods to escape it all. Treadwell was not very different, and I think the wilderness was calling his name. Thoreau wrote in Walden “All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be.” Treadwell needed to be somebody. And his inner struggles from his past made it all worse. Treadwell’s carelessness seems to spark from this very idea. It wasn’t that he wasn’t afraid of the bears, but simply his inner problems were more harmful than the bears in his mind. He was not ignorant, just incompetent. “For once there is weakness they will exploit it; they will take me out; they will decapitate me; they will chop me up into bits and pieces. I’m dead. So far, I persevere” said Treadwell. His hatred for society was deep. He was willing to risk it all to fight for his “cause”.
The only thing stopping him from truly escaping it all was Park Services, who were truly concerned of his well being. To Treadwell, they were the adversary. Treadwell ranted in front of his video camera “How dare they challenge me. How dare they smear me with their campaigns. How dare they, when they do not look after these animals themselves. And I come here in peace and in love—neutral, in respect. I will continue to do this. I will be an American dissident if need be. There’s a patriotic time going on right now, but as far as this fucking American government is concerned: Fuck you, motherfucking park service. Fuck you.” In his mind, Treadwell was a martyr in the fight against society. He knew what he was he doing, but his hatred was so deep. Deep enough that it meant more than his life to him. As the filmmaker Werner Herzog points out, through Treadwell’s camera, he wasn’t capturing wild nature, but the meaning of his life, and frankly death. Treadwell was never able to connect with people well. After college he struggled to make friends, and turned to alcohol. For years he was consumed by alcohol, as if his life had no purpose. In fact his alcoholism was sparked by his isolation. He was never good with women, and I personally believe this is where his problems started. “I’ve always wished I was gay. It would have been a lot easier.” Treadwell said.
In the wilderness, he believed he had finally found true companions; the bears. He named all the bears he encountered, and he centered his life around them. Of course the reality was different. Herzog sums it up perfectly; “I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food. But for Timothy Treadwell, this bear was a friend, a savior”. Because bears couldn’t criticise Treadwell, they became his dearest friends. He had found his something to be, his pseudo-purpose. Why didn’t the bears attack Treadwell? You may ask. Maybe he was a true companion, and was harmonious with nature? Or maybe it was just natures disinterest in Treadwell because he was such an outsider. As the coroner puts it, the bears might have thought he was retarded, and let him be. Whatever the reason, Treadwell was able to get much closer to the bears, than anyone else in documented history (who wasn’t being attacked). “O God of love, o King of peace. Make wars throughout the world to cease”. These very words from a hymn written in 1697 might describe Treadwell’s actions. Was Treadwell a true martyr like the face of Jesus Christ? Many argue he put a spotlight on Park Services, and their mistreatment of nature. He also pinned down on for society as a whole, respecting nothing but nature, but in ways he may have done more harm than good. Humans and bears have a certain attitude towards each other that goes back centuries. They fear us, and we fear them. By interacting with these bears, Treadwell may have changed the way bears view humans.
If a bear showed up on your lawn, because he was no longer afraid of you, I believe it was for the worse. Treadwell’s real enemy was himself. “I would never, ever kill a bear in defense of my own life” Treadwell stated. He was so lost in his own mind being fed up with society that he accepted death for his fight against it. Treadwell couldn’t refuse the bear, just as Jesus couldn’t refuse the cross. Treadwell’s “something to be” had a huge price tag. Thoreau did not give his life for the woods. He had basic respect for his life and society. Treadwell on the other hand was different. Treadwell was not a Martyr. He was fighting for an unworthy cause with essentially zero support with no results. I believe his mission was more to figure out his own life, and seek his fate, than to truly protect nature. It wasn’t that he was harmonious with nature, but that he cared so little, that he would enter the “danger zone” to get closer than anyone before. The lesson to be had here is not that societal ties are unbreakable.
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