Who would have every thought that a tiny felt elephant pincushion made in 1902, would have become the inspiration for the teddy bear? And, that the first teddy bear would go on to inspire all kinds of other soft toys, like giant stuffed bears. A giant stuffed bear can certainly be a teddy bear, but, it can also be a grizzly bear, a black bear, a panda bear, or even a polar bear each and every one of them makes one terrific giant stuffed bear.
Charlie Vandergaw is a 71 year old retired school teacher who has been living off and on in Alaska for the last 20 years. His remote, self-built cabin located 50 miles northwest of Anchorage in the Alaskan wilderness, is called 'Bear Haven' because Charlie has spent years living there among the many bears (including grizzlies and black bears) who come to visit him there. He feels that he is the one that has encroached on the bears land and as is the case, he does not feel it is his or anyone's right to deny them access to it. In 2008, British filmmaker Richard Terry made a documentary called Stranger Among Bears, about the extraordinary relationship Charlie has with the bears.
In the documentary, we learn that Charlie was once a bear hunter but 20 years earlier, after an encounter with one, he ceased hunting them. The encounter took place with a black bear that came into Charlie's yard and crawled on its belly up to him. Charlie did the same thing in return to the bear and so began his long lasting love affair with bears. Since that time, Charlie has had generations of bear families come to visit him; cubs he was first introduced to by their mother return to his cabin as adults bringing with them their own cubs.
Charlie and Bear Haven are highly controversial, especially in the state of Alaska; because Charlie feeds the bears that come to his cabin, the state has beefed up their laws so they can prosecute him for feeding them. Charlie, however, not only feeds them he walks with them, plays with them, trains them and even hand feeds the cubs something he has been doing for 20 years. None of this goes without consequence, however; Charlie has been nipped and slapped around by the bears, but that does not deter him. The only protection he uses when he is amongst them is a large walking stick or a paddle from his canoe. The bears respect Charlie just as he respects the bears.
A giant stuffed bear has no business being out in the wilderness just as we have no business being out there with the real thing. Charlie's relationship with bears is unique, special, and a once in a lifetime gift not everyone can be as fortunate to live what he has lived and still come out alive to tell the tale. And, that's why a giant stuffed bear is a much better alternative.