I went to Glacier National Park a few times as a kid, and I have so many wonderful memories of those trips. The waterfalls on Going-to-the-Sun road, hand-feeding the ground squirrels, hiking to Avalanche Lake, skipping rocks in front of Lake McDonald lodge. That place was paradise in my mind, just pure beauty and Disney-like nature and good times with family — until I read Night of the Grizzlies.

Night of the Grizzlies is an old-ass nonfiction book that details a specific night in 1967 when two girls were savagely, and separately, killed by grizzly bears in Glacier. It has been a very long time since I read it, but I seem to remember the details were quite vivid, down to a description of the “sucking wounds” one girl had, where when she tried to breathe air was drawn into her chest from the areas she was mauled. I think she was the one who lay mutilated in the dark for hours before someone found her and she eventually died, the other girl was grabbed in her sleeping bag and shrieked that her arm was being torn off before crying, “Oh my god, I’m dead.”

Lord. Anyway, that book made quite an impression on me. Suddenly those peaceful Glacier trails seemed fraught with heart-pounding danger, bears hidden behind every bush and tree stump, and even when I went back and visited as an adult, I frenziedly rang a bear bell wherever I went like a deranged Salvation Army volunteer.

This summer we are planning to stay a few nights on Flathead Lake in Montana, and make a day trip to Glacier with the boys. I’d been excitedly telling them about all the cool things we’ll see, and suddenly I found myself saying, “There is this book you guys should TOTALLY read …”

And, like, I meant it! I was completely sincere in my suggestion that my 10 and 12-year-old children should read this book that scared the absolute shit out of me when I was their age, right before our visit so they too could be properly transported, imagination-wise, from “This is an awful thing that happened to some other person,” to “This is an awful thing that could theoretically happen to me RIGHT ON THIS TRAIL TODAY.”

Now that I write this all out I am kind of shocked at myself: why? Why would I want them to be freaked out in the same way I was? And why is this some sort of recurring theme, because I also rented Poltergeist for us a couple years back, even though the storm-counting scene remains lodged some trembling recess of my brain to this very day.

I think, for both of these scenarios, that there was a kind of thrill and excitement to the fear, and that was mixed into the scariness in a way I actually liked, even though I was filled with anxiety. Does that make any kind of sense? At least, when I really examine my motivations for suggesting the book, I am thinking of how I read it, consumed it, and how alive and real it all became in my mind. I guess that is the sort of thing I actually want them to experience: being swept up in a story, real or otherwise, and having that story expanded in a visceral way by the real world of thunderclaps and wooded trails.

However. No guarantee that my thrill won’t be their eventual therapy need, so never mind on Night of the Grizzlies. Ooh, but maybe we should watch Something Wicked This Way Comes … shouldn’t EVERY child be forever scarred by that spider scene?


8 Responses to “I love you and I want you to be scared”

  1. Amy on March 21st, 2018 11:11 am

    I have a theory on the nature part! I’m a huge wimp re: horror films but maybe…it’s exosing them to fear, anxiety, etc. but also brain-expanding preparedness *while you’re there to guide them through it.* Part of appreciating nature in my mind is trying to grasp the unpredictability, and then learning to make good choices and recognizing the lack of control you have. (Do I sound crazy? I have a fever. But I do love that Grizzly Man movie and books about being stuck on Everest/lost at sea/etc.)

  2. Donna Plumley Brubach on March 21st, 2018 2:00 pm

    I think it may not be a bad thing that instead of blithely skipping through the woods they have an awareness of the dangers that exist. I remember that book too. It was pretty graphic. I was more traumatized by my family than any book though lol.

  3. Deana on March 21st, 2018 2:11 pm

    I am the worst mom…I actively encourage horror novels, haunted houses and walking to the mailbox in the dark…LOL…how else do you know you are alive???



  4. Cheryl S. on March 22nd, 2018 7:11 am

    I think it’s good as long as they aren’t paralyzed by the fear. They know there are bears in the woods and bears can eat people, so they are more careful. That’s good. Refusing to leave the house because of the bear threat is bad!

    It’s like my daughter. Her favorite movie is Titanic, but she also loves cruises. But you better believe she pays attention during the muster drills!

  5. Mary Clare on March 22nd, 2018 7:50 am

    I think you said on here that your boys watch Walking Dead. They can probably handle the scary bear stories.

    My husband on the other hand is prone to anxiety and decided to read bear mauling stories before our trip to Alaska. You can be sure he had the bear spray ready on our hikes.

  6. Rachael on March 22nd, 2018 10:45 am

    Oh great, you just dislodged that spider scene memory. I am ruined.

  7. Rachael on March 22nd, 2018 10:57 am

    Also: I always think about Neil Gaiman saying that scary stories are “innoculation.”


  8. Stacey on April 25th, 2018 11:46 am

    Was reading this Sendak article from 2015, and this passage made me think of your post:

    “The received wisdom is that it is not good to scare kids, but Sendak’s belief was that kids are already scared, that what they crave is seeing their anxieties thrillingly laid out. Much of Sendak’s work, then, exists between play and terror, that infinitely intriguing, purely fantastical place where you are joked out of your most serious fears. But those fears are also entertained on the most serious and high level in Sendak’s books; they are not dismissed but reveled in, romped through.“


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