Showing posts with label Minnesota Zoo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Minnesota Zoo. Show all posts

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bear Necessities

I thought of my great-grandfather G. Oliver Riggs earlier this week when I read that the Minnesota Zoo’s black bear exhibit was opening this weekend.

According to David Peterson’s article in the Star Tribune’s South section, “Minn. Zoo bearing up well, indeed,”  the new 15,000-square-foot exhibit is home to three orphaned black bear cubs from northern Minnesota. They are the first black bears ever to live at the zoo, and they already have been a big hit with families who have previewed the exhibit.

The exhibit apparently emphasizes the prevalence of bears in pop culture – and this reminded me of the legendary encounter G. Oliver had with a bear in northern Minnesota more than a hundred years ago.

I mentioned this incident in a 2010 blog post, but it’s such a fun story it bears repeating.

Bandmaster Riggs soothes a bear with a de Bériot tune.
According to the March 6, 1903, edition of the Crookston Daily Journal, the city’s popular bandmaster was chased by a bear while on a trip near Bigfork in northern Minnesota. As he ran, G. Oliver discarded all of his possessions except for his valuable violin, and he finally climbed a tree with violin in hand and waited for the bear to leave.

“After shouting for help ... Mr. Riggs, having heard of the efficacy of music in charming the savage beast, drew his bow and played an air from de Bériot which so pleased and affected Bruin that he went away to bring the balance of his family to the concert, and incidentally when it closed to let the cubs taste of a Crookston musician. When he returned, Mr. Riggs was miles away up the trail. Our artist’s imagination has reveled in the possibilities of the situation with the above result.”

I would love to know more of the facts behind this tall tale. I can believe that G. Oliver would have run across a bear while on a trail, but did he really have his violin with him – was he that devoted to his practicing? If so, it’s no wonder he got discouraged when his students didn’t show the same dedication.

Even though it may stretch the truth, the story does reflect G. Oliver’s ability to perform under pressure. Most concerts aren’t a life-and-death situation – fortunately – but certain audiences can be pretty tough to please.

As for de Bériot, I know that the composer was one of G. Oliver’s favorites in the early 1900s, but I can’t vouch for his popularity among bears. It’s possible that the young bears at the Minnesota Zoo would prefer a tune by Chuck Berry, Barry White, Barry Manilow, or maybe Louis Armstrong’s “Blueberry Hill.”

In honor of the bears and the opening weekend of their exhibit, I will close this post (before it gets too unbearable) with lyrics from the pop culture hit “Bare Necessities” from Disney’s The Jungle Book:

Where-ever I wander, where-ever I roam,
I couldn’t be fonder of my big home
The bees are buzzing in the tree

To make some honey just for me
When you look under the rocks and plants,
Take a glance at the fancy ants
And maybe try a few
The bear necessities of life will come to you