It was a sad day at the bachelor estate when I read the announcement of the recent death of Dan Haggerty, who portrayed James Capen “Grizzly” Adams in the 1970s film “The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams,” and subsequent TV series.
The theme of the film was familiar to me. Long before the movie was released, I had read everything in my school library, as well as the local branch of the public library, related to bears and mountain men. These included books about Grizzly Adams.
I’ve been fascinated with bears my entire life.
Grizzly bears are my spirit animal, and have guided me since I was a child. Whenever I am experiencing stress or facing a difficult decision, the bears appear in my dreams and help to show me the path forward. They have done so throughout my life.
They can be terrifying and comforting simultaneously.
Haggerty was an excellent choice for the role of Grizzly Adams. He looked like he lived out in the woods, and he genuinely had fun hanging out with the animals.
One of my first newspaper assignments was writing a review for the school paper about the TV series when it debuted in 1977.
I’m confident that review was utter rubbish, as was most of the stuff I wrote in those days. It did, however, give me an opportunity to write about a subject I enjoyed, and that can be a transformative experience for a young writer (or aspiring writer).
I watched the show every week during its two-year run.
The writing was on the sappy side, and the acting was inconsistent, but taking an hour out of the day to look at spectacular scenery was (and is) a worthwhile pastime, as far as I’m concerned.
And the gentle humor and the chemistry between Haggerty and the brilliant Denver Pyle, who portrayed Adams’ friend, Mad Jack, was fun to watch.
The concept for the series was a curmudgeon’s dream.
Adams was accused of a crime (murder) he did not commit, so he ran away to the wilderness.
Living in a cabin in the mountains with a bear sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
He had no neighbors, and, because he was a fugitive from justice, never had to visit towns or even the local Army fort.
He had plenty of good friends who came to visit each week. Between them and his animal friends, he never had time to get lonely.
Jack brought him supplies on a regular basis, so he never had to go shopping.
He didn’t have a phone, so no one could call and bug him.
His friend, Nakoma, taught him all about natural remedies, so he didn’t need health insurance and didn’t have to go to the doctor.
Adams got plenty of exercise in the great outdoors, so he didn’t need a health club.
He made or traded for the things he needed, so money was not an issue for him.
That kind of lifestyle still strikes me as a good idea, even today.
Haggerty had some challenges in his personal life, but there is no doubt he was born to play that role.
It’s hard to watch a guy having that much fun without being just a little bit envious.
I may never move to the mountains, but, thanks to the magic of DVDs, whenever I need to be reminded of what it might be like to live in a mountain cabin with a grizzly bear for a roommate, all I need to do is pop a disk in the player.
When I do, I will be transported to that place deep inside the forest, where I can step through that door into another land, as the theme song for the series suggested.
In some ways, the themes portrayed in “The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams” are even more important today than they were when the show originally aired.
The writing may have been sappy, but compared to the things we hear on the news daily, sappy doesn’t sound so bad.
One of Adams’ core philosophies was that everyone is a friend until they show us otherwise.
Surely that is better than treating everyone we meet as an enemy. Fear, mistrust, and even hatred have crept into the lives of many people and clouded their view of strangers.
Maybe a dose of over-the-top friendliness would be good for us now and then.
The kind of trust and cooperation portrayed on Grizzly Adams may have been an idealized view of the world, but it may be a goal toward which we could aspire.
A hand extended in friendship is better than a fist raised in anger any day.
I’m cautionsly optimistic that I’m not the only one who thinks so. Amazon.com (temporarily) sold out of titles related to Grizzly Adams soon after Haggerty’s death was announced.