Saturday, August 02, 2008

Humans 1, Bears 0

Note: Technoprairie, you’ve read a version of this account before in a letter I sent you. My apologies.

Last summer I went to Shenandoah National Park and Monticello, and when I returned I posted a blog entry comparing Thomas Jefferson with Elvis Presley. (But then again, who hasn’t?) I didn’t post any photos of that trip apart from the one of Monticello and a photo of some pebbles in a stream. It’s time to post my first film clip.

On that trip I saw three bears. Oh yes, I did. I experienced the first two bears as nature intended, in quiet communion--just the bears, the woods, the sounds of birds, and me desperately trying to switch my digital camera settings to “movie.”

The first film clip looks as though the mountains of Virginia are undergoing an 8.7 magnitude earthquake. That’s because I was trying to walk along an incredibly rough trail while looking at my camera--which at the same time I was trying to manipulate the zoom function. Trust me, the shaking has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact I was also busy cleaning out my underwear from my shock and fear.

No. That would be incredibly unmanly, and if there’s one thing I’ve never been described as is unmanly. Or as a cowering excuse for a human being. Or a little sissy boy. Or the most nervous person my friends have ever met. Or Mr. Whimpers. And I’ve certainly never been described by one of my favorite former students as a “quivering mass of ten thousand fear receptacles.” Most definitely not. So I promise you that the shaking you note is due to the zooming element. (By the way, please turn off the audio when you watch the movie. What sounds like hyperventilating is the afternoon song of a wild bird.)

Here’s the story: I was taking a lovely walk and had the woods entirely to myself. Utterly to myself. Eerily to myself. Down the trail I was moseying along as one can mosey along only while alone in a national park, when I happened upon a deer up close and personal. I did not run away from it shrieking in fear. No. Whimpering and shrieking are altogether different.

As I continued along the trail I heard something in the woods. My initial thought was that the deer was stalking me, but I then heard it again. Stone clacking against stone. No, that sounds more like a prospector digging for gold than a deer. Something about that judgment did not set right with me, so I decided to wait and listen. And as I was straining to scan the woods, I noticed a barely detectable flash of black. For the briefest moment through a small gap in the deer-infested flora I saw a distinct black bear paw lift up and fall. And then disappear.

Which prompted a philosophical debate in my mind. Okay, that was definitely a bear. But does that count as having seen a bear? On the one hand, of course it does. But would other people acknowledge that I had seen a bear? In particular, would my mother-in-law acknowledge it? She’s of the opinion that you haven’t seen a wild animal unless you’re close enough to pick ticks out of its hide. Recently when she and her husband returned from a trip to Yellowstone, I asked them whether they had seen any bears. No, they replied, we hoped to see them but we didn’t. Later when they were showing us their photos, there was a photo with a bear in it as clear as day. “But I thought you hadn’t seen any bears!” “Oh, that seemed so far away I didn’t count it.” Nor did they see a second bear. It, too, was at a distance. Let’s face it: a great thing about seeing a bear in the wild is telling others about it. One’s cache as a courageous survivor goes way up with a bear sighting under one’s belt. I feared, however, that telling a story about seeing a bear paw would draw more smirks than dropped jaws of respect.

Fortunately, my philosophical conundrum was broken by what happened next: A bear stepped onto the trail. A monstrous bear. A five hundred pound man-eating beast with razor-sharp incisors and skull crushing muscles. When it reared on its back legs it easily reached eight feet tall.

That’s a lie.

It was not fully grown and probably weighed around a hundred pounds. (If by “a hundred” one means “fifty.)

When it stepped onto the trail, it stopped, looked at me, and we had an old-fashioned stare-off.

That, too, is a lie.

But we did make eye contact and, frankly, I think we made a connection. And yet I wasn’t sure what the connection meant, so mind started whirring furiously to think of what to do in the event it charged me. And here's what I came up with: Nothing. I doubted that the mumbling thing would help. I was already mumbling. I could try to climb a tree, but I didn’t see any ladders around. I realized I had no choice but to fight it. And by "fight it" I mean lose an arm and maybe a leg. But luckily it walked away. After maybe thirty seconds or so of traveling down the trail, it ventured into the woods.

With the second bear, once again I heard something in the woods. Emboldened by my first experience, I decided to go into the woods to meet it on its turf.

No, I didn't.

As I stared into the woods, I saw a face staring at me. A bear face. A predator’s face. The kind of predator that has evolved over million years (or six thousand) to bring down moose. Yet I could tell that this bear was frightened of me. Through word of (predator) mouth he knew I had stared down the last bear and had reestablished humanity as the top link of the food chain. Just a little something I do now and then. For y’all. You’re welcome. When I got home, I showed my videos to the fam. Here’s how my two younger children responded.

Middle child: Oh Daddy, he's so cute. You saw a cub, daddy. He's not as big or as scary as a dog.

Youngest: Dad, bears get a LOT bigger than that. They are huge and they stand on their hind legs.

I PLEADED with them not to call the bear a cub. I asked them outright whether my bear pictures disappointed them. My youngest said, "yeah," and my middle child, ever the diplomat, said, "Daddy, I love you and I'm glad you got to see the bear."

Well, drat it all.

Then this morning when my youngest child saw that I was posting these clips on my blog, she said, “If I were you, Dad, I would have held the camera still.”



justcurious said...

mb, you're so brave. i'm calling the kids over right now to show them the video. however, i'm going to tell them the camera was shaking because you were fighting off the enraged mother bear while filming.

Michael B said...

this is good. thank you. i was basically fending off that she-bear with my leg. it was most impressive.

Technoprairie said...

It's just as good the second time around. Or maybe even better.

Michael B said...

thanks, technoprairie.