Archive for Thursday, July 17, 2008

Surprised wife bears witness to panic attack

July 17, 2008

One of the things they tell you to do in bear country is make lots of noise.

This is based on the questionable-to-my-mind premise that bears are more scared of us than we are of them. What a bear, which outweighs me by several hundred pounds and has long, sharp claws and a grouchy disposition to boot, has to fear from me I'm not certain, but I guess they're the experts.

The Web site for Yellowstone National Park, which bills itself as one of the few places in the United States where visitors have a chance of seeing both black and grizzly bears, has several suggestions to keep both bears and humans safe in those encounters.

In what park officials refer to as the backcountry that area away from roads and buildings the key, they say, is to avoid surprising the bears. They suggest camping or hiking in groups of three or more. They also advise confining hiking to established trails, and only during the late morning and early afternoon hours. I don't know what you're supposed to do for the rest of the time. Just sit around and think about the bears, I guess.

The Web site makes no mention of this, but I distinctly remember reading somewhere that it's helpful to make noise on the trail, the idea being that the bears will hear you coming from a long ways off and give you a wide berth. (Of course, I've always thought it equally possible that the bear, intent upon mischief, could hear you from a long ways off and hone in on the noise, but what do I know?)

On one of my youthful forays into bear country, on a canoe trip to Canada when I was a Scout, I remember that our guide placed pots and pans strategically around the food as a sort of bear alarm. During one night I awoke to a great hullabaloo, as he ran through the camp, yelling "Bear! Bear! Bear!" and beating on a pot with a big spoon. He said he'd caught a bear in the act of raiding our groceries.

With all this as background, I knew what I needed to do when my sleep was interrupted by a bear trying to get into the cabin. I looked and was somewhat relieved to see that it wasn't a grizzly but a much smaller black bear, probably a juvenile. Still, he did seem to be making headway against the cabin, tearing out chunks of material. He could do some damage if ever he got inside, I thought.

What I needed to do, I reasoned, was to make enough noise to scare off the bear.

So I started to do that, but somehow the words wouldn't come. Several times I started to yell, but nothing happened. Meanwhile, the bear kept digging at the wall. I felt the first, vestigial tinges of panic. I gritted my teeth and summoned up all my determination.

At last it worked. I sat up in bed and yelled, "Bear! Bear! Bear!"

Immediately, I knew something was wrong.

"What's the matter with you?" my wife asked. "Are you all right?"

Confused, I looked around, only to discover that I wasn't in a cabin in the woods but in my own bed. There was no bear.

It was only a dream. I lay back down and settled back into a troubled sleep.

Like Wynken, Blynken and Nod, I had sailed off in a wooden shoe and cast my nets not into the herring-fish that double as stars in Eugene Field's poem, but into a bear. As bear encounters go it was pretty mundane, even if it did disturb our sleep a little.


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