Well Done, L.A.

L.A. is the queen of unrequited love. She rarely loves you back. A diva. A disappointment. A crush that can crush you.

You know the type.

It’s a funny chore to show a visitor around such a fickle place. You jump on the freeway and immediately run into a steel curtain of stopped traffic.

Your out-of-town guest chuckles in sympathy, feeling sorry that people go through this every day. There must be a reason. The ocean? The weather? The bling? The blang?

I can read my guest’s mind: “I’d trade all this in a second for a mountain meadow or a stream.”


Everywhere I take my pal Steve the locals chat him up. Could not have been nicer. It was like I’d slipped them a fifty in advance to be nice.

So, yeah, there are reasons we all put up with Los Angeles, just as there are reasons Steve puts up with the crush of ski bums every winter in Mammoth Lakes, when they turn his tiny town into Disney on Ice.

Every place has its curses.

As Le Corbusier said of New York, “A hundred times have I thought [it] a catastrophe and 50 times: It is a beautiful catastrophe.”

Steve is Steve Searles, the renowned “Bear Whisperer” with whom I wrote that book I keep proselytizing about … blah, blah, vada, yada, yada. We did a brief book tour of Los Angeles last week, where we spoke of the majesty of wild bears.

As you know, bears are everywhere now, their ranges expanding, from Sierra Madre to Disney World.

Checked your garage lately?

Steve’s rather powerful message: From the time we wake up each day, we are bombarded with troubling news and images. Bears are the antidote to that. Embrace them.

He goes on:

“Sure, it’s a good idea to keep your distance. But bears are nothing to fear.”

Then, after a long pause…

“What else in life are you afraid of?”

The takeaway: If you understand bears, you won’t ever fear them. And if you understand the other things you demonize, maybe you won’t fear them either.

Some heavy, hard truths from this Mick Jagger of the Mountains.

As Mammoth’s wildlife officer, Steve was hired to kill half the town’s troublesome bears. Instead, he developed non-lethal tactics that became the standard.

He went against doctrine. 

In the end, Steve created his own doctrine, his own gospel, of how to live peaceably with bears. Co-existence Tolerance. Appreciation.

He uses these bears as a big, furry metaphor for life.

He stayed with me for the week. Lots of coffee. A beer or three.

“There’s this woman I’m trying to remember,” he tells me one day.

“Her name is either a tree or a pudding,” he explains.

“Figgy? Banana?”

And that was the general tenor of our discussions.

Steve doesn’t get out of Mammoth much. It was a mini-miracle to get him down here.

“Maybe we’ll see a Kardashian,” I tell him one night as we head to The Grove.

“That’d suck,” he says.

Like me, he doesn’t like staying at other people’s houses. But nearby motels are few. He ends up taking Smartacus’ bedroom, which smells of Axe cologne and Oreo cookies.

One day, we’re bumming around town when we pass a giant white tent.

“That’s the only other place you could’ve stayed,” I tell him.

“A pumpkin patch?”

It’s a hellava week, leave it at that: book signings, TV appearances and a couple of the best dive bars in the world: Avignone’s, Shellback, Erc’s.

Let me say: Seeing “The Bear Whisperer” in a TV makeup chair is like spotting Jesus in Las Vegas.

We talk about silly things mostly, then once in a while hit on some hard truth. It’s like tinkering at the piano when you find two new chords in a row and think…wow, amazing!

Revenge, for instance, we talk about revenge.

Bears have no appetitite for it. They never look to get even. No road rage, no need to lash back.

When Steve came across a bears trapped in cars, he learned he could just go over and open the door and the bear would saunter on its way.

“Thank you for letting me out of that car. Good day. sir.”

So, we chat about what a pivotal element revenge is in western culture. How revenge is the No. 1 emotion in so many movies and love songs.

Yet, as we noted that day, revenge never really accomplishes anything, other than compromising our basic human decencies. Generally, it makes situations worse.

By the way: Hazel. The woman’s name was Hazel.

A tree. A pudding.

“What the Bears Know” is nearly sold out. Signed copies are still available at {Pages} in Manhattan Beach, which will ship your order: www.pagesabookstore.com

By the way, one reader, who used to work with Steve, called him, “The most interesting man in the world.” To read the reviews, or to leave one yourself, please click here. Thank you.

Coming soon: Cakes spots an owl.

11 thoughts on “Well Done, L.A.

  1. I am grateful you post these. I really enjoy your writing. It leaves me feeling refreshed somehow. Can’t really explain it. Also, pictures of Cakes are a plus.

  2. Finished the book. I absolutely loved it and I have submitted my Amazon review. I will be buying it for my siblings who are far more like Steve than I am. I’ve always known this, and after reading this book I only feel more strongly about it, but that’s a really good thing.

    One of my favorite things about the book is how much your voice is heard, Chris. It’s a book about Steve Searles, and Chris’s narration of Steve’s story is spectacular, but I love the Chris Erskine pauses and interjections. For those of us who love your writing, we would never expect a tale to be told from beginning to end without a large number of detours and bird walks (bear walks?). Those are what make our lives so interesting, because good or bad, we don’t know what’s coming on the next page or around the next corner. Five stars, and thank you!

  3. My half finished review:

    Chapter 8 is about where I begin to realize what Steve is the the bears, you are to him. Having met him only once at Pages, gruff, quietly sensitive and silently strong. You bring out in your prose, his story.

    Page 80. When you interject your background into what makes this a passion project and the process behind it.

    I’m slowly enjoying this book like a fine meal and really enjoyed seeing you and meeting Steve.

    All the best.

    1. Rick, you had us at “these drinks are on me.” But this note is even better. “Gruff, quietly sensitive and silently strong” is the best description yet of Steve. The book is different, for sure. Glad you’re enjoying it. We really appreciate your support. I think Pages was probably our best evening of all. It just clicked along. And what a great crowd!

  4. Chris, my wife, Nancy, and I met Steve up in Mammoth several years ago when we were Campground Hosts at Coldwater Campground in the Mammoth Lakes area. Great guy, helped us with a small bear issue. My wife became a “bear whisperer” in the campground one night using the bullhorn. Yes people blame the bears instead of taking responsibility. As usual a great read this week, thanks.

  5. As Californians we’ve all done this many times and know it’s hard to host a guy or gal from another world (aren’t we all aliens of some sort when we travel?). You want your visitor charmed and interested, but know their observations and comparisons are clicking away in their heads from “T equals zero” onward; as they subconsciously would in yours. Your son’s bedroom smells infinitely better than a bear’s den; but then, that’s a matter of taste, so who knows? By this account, you did well, re-enforcing your rep as a sort of errant social polymath, able to shape-shift with the psychological environment. Your years of journalistic experience with a broad range of society is a plus. Kudos to you both for staying the course through the hours and the lines, etc. , and etc. the bears may be better off for it, but I probably will not be one to seek out the truth of this. I have my own den of ursine experiences to inform my choices, you know, and none were communicated with whispers; which, of course, is some of what the book seems to want to be about. Thanks for doing it.

  6. Autumn Drifts In

    Autumn is high in the trees, burnishing
    Light flooding plants and bushes with cream;
    The birds are suddenly alert—restless—
    Their dozing August idle burned away;
    Space seems to have widened—expanded again
    After Summer’s final compressive blast
    And some of the leaves have a fired look
    Ruddy with sin, their faces lined with gold;
    The wind seems desultory, almost benign
    Lacking interest that moves things along
    And air is more than just an easy breath
    A hint of spice floating like a prayer
    In its morning ether, something ticking
    On the edge of time, silence waiting there;

    Even love seems to have a finishing
    Sense of proportion, heated fever dreams
    Of Summer like memory’s. cold undress—
    Faded , in a kind of wan disarray
    As if Summer had exploded, its thin
    Heated shards—rusty flowers—now cast
    Against time like the lazy clouds that took
    Forever to cross the sky, looking old
    And wispy, yesterday,; like cloudy wine
    Needing the clarity of icy stone
    To filter its ambiguity, death
    An umber presence in the fields that stare
    At the orange sun with overflowing
    Ripeness—endings, completeness, everywhere…

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