Shadow of the Bear

Writers move into dangerous territory when they start talking about inspiration coming from dreams. But Brian Payton manages to be both unsentimental and poignant when describing the dream that started his quest. Shadow of the Bear, Travels in a Vanishing Wilderness is the best kind of travel book: eloquent, thoughtful and beautifully written.

With a style reminiscent of Bruce Chatwin and Paul Theroux, Payon shares his quest to find the eight remaining bear species left in the world. He follows a trail leading to India, Cambodia, China, Italy, France, Peru, Canada and the U.S. Along the way he meets poachers, hunters, researchers, conservationists, biologists and shepherds, each involved in some way with bears.

With an acute eye for details and a sympathetic ear, Payton explores our often mythical relationship to the bear while vividly capturing its magnificent power. With each place he visits, the one underlying theme is the decline of both the bears and the environment and sometimes the magnitude of this destruction is sobering. But his honesty and sly, often self-deprecating humour adds depth and prevents the book from sliding into an overwrought diatribe. The result is a meaningful study on the fate of wilderness and this impressive creature.

Shadow of the Bear, Travels in a Vanishing Wilderness
By Brian Payton
Viking Canada, ISBN 9780670044092, $34