Maggie Gallagher

This view of nature has nothing to with what nature is, of course: Nature is ruthlessly indifferent to human sentimentality, and death and killing is abundantly part of the cycle. But the alleged nature-lovers urge alternative methods of bear control, educating humans on how to co-exist with bears ("Toss the nice black bear your lunch, dear"), or sterilizing bears, rather than killing them. I am not sure why, from a nature-lover's viewpoint, interrupting the reproductive life of bears is preferable to hunting them down on occasion. Perhaps bears would even prefer, if they have preferences, to mate and have babies and occasionally die young to a regime of contraception and sterilization. Bears may not share the sexual preferences of New Jersey urbanites.

But, of course, this not really about bears. It is about the intense inner meaning bears have for people.

Same goes for the hunters of bears, too. The bear-hunters are overwhelmingly men, seeking some kind of intense inner pleasure that from the outside (i.e. to most normal women) looks like a form of insanity.

"Rising at 4:30 a.m., Mr. Hefferan, dressed in a camouflage jumpsuit and blaze orange cap, loaded his truck with a thermos of his wife's creamy tea and his transitional Yeager rifle, a re-creation of a 1750 muzzle-loader," the Times reported. With temperatures in the teens, "Mr. Hefferan seemed thrilled to sit in the cold for more than eight hours waiting for a bear."

People pay money for this?

So the ritualized battle continues: One side seeks communion with Mother Nature as warm and loving but fragile, while the other looks for a brief re-enactment of the primal wilderness, a fierce implacable contest between a man and the elements.

The bears? They are just an excuse.

Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.