The more removed our daily lives get from nature, the less we understand about the wild creatures who live around us. Fear grows in darkness outside our kitchen windows, extending the ancient archetype of the Big Bad Wolf to other species. In Grafton, New Hampshire, black bears have started killing domestic animals, invading personal space, even smacking one woman, creating a psychic and territorial battle between residents and the otherwise shy Ursus americanus.

For The Atavist, Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling traces the origins of this tiny town’s highly independent nature and its tense relationship with wildlife. He looks at competing theories of ursine behavior, and misperceptions about black bears versus the biological reality. What he found wasn’t a simple bear problem, but “a parable of liberty, disinformation, and fear. A parable, really, of America.” Exhibit A: the so-called cat massacre.

Andrew Timmins told me that he’d never received a bear…

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