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by David Yehudah, Bellflower, CA, USA


Patty and I love to camp in the high country. The rates are reasonable, and most of the campgrounds are easily accessible. Due to age and health problems we can't stray as far afield as we'd like, and our consideration for the environment doesn't allow us to "rough it" in undeveloped areas. When we leave an area, we leave no traces we've been there for others to clean up.

We are like kids at the zoo when we see wildlife in its natural habitat. Neither of us is squeamish about what critters we might encounter, but we are not so blasť as to walk up and try to pet them or feed them.

One night we had made it to a remote campground on the Eastern Slope of the Sierra Nevada, west of Bishop. There were the usual signs warning about leaving food out where the bears might find it and probably find us as well. Bears are nice at a little distance, but neither of us has an urge to get up close and personal with them.

The last three trips we'd made into various campgrounds Patty had seen bears up close. I had yet to see my first bear in the wild. This time I planned to see one. Stupid me, I hung a piece of watermelon rind over a limb nearby and stretched out in my tent where I could watch it. Patty and I were in separate pup tents about ten feet apart. We lay there and chatted for a while, wondering in a joking way what would happen when I saw my first bear up close. Within five minutes I was sound asleep.

The next thing I knew Patty screamed, "Bear!" so close it sounded as if she were in the tent with me. It turned out she was, but I thought it was the bear come to get me. Now I ask you, what would you have done if you were camping in an area where there was likely to be bears, and someone right in the tent with you screamed, "Bear!" Right. That's just what I did. I hit the rear of the tent so hard I tore the back panel out and ran through the forest with it draped around me. I didn't really need the panel, but it was easier to take it with me than to leave it behind. I was trying to scream, "Bear!" myself, but muffled by the tent panel, it sounded more like, "Aaaaarrggghhh!"

In the campsite next to ours was an elderly couple with their three small grandchildren out to enjoy nature. Apparently Grandpa was just dozing off when I came running toward his tent, an amorphous blob looking suspiciously like a wild bear waving wildly about and shouting, "Aaaaarrggghhh!" His nerves had already been worn thin by the constant "Look! There's a bear!" he'd been hearing from the kids since sunset. By the time he got to his bedroll he was beginning to see them himself.

The first I knew he was there was when I shed my wrappings and saw a small pup tent suddenly rear up, scream "Bear!" and run over a large camping tent, followed by blood-curdling screeches coming from both tents. The small tent collapsed the big tent, which began attacking the small tent. Grandma and the kids were all screaming "Bear!" and kicking and pummeling the monster that had suddenly appeared in their midst. With two layers of tent between the combatants, neither side knew who was doing what to whom with what, but all parties involved were determined to sell their lives dearly. Grandma and the kids had been awakened by Grandpa's yell and figured he knew what he was talking about, so when that old bear jumped on their tent, they were ready for him.

When I got back to what was left of my tent, Patty was waiting, angrily fussing at me because I had gone off and left her at the mercy of whatever critter she had seen. Well, actually she hadn't seen it. Some large animal (it probably was a bear) had stuck its nose under her tent and up under her pillow and made a loud "Whoof!" sound, as if she had bad breath or something. That was when she decided to come share the news with me.

I found my bedroll back in the trees. Apparently it had been caught up in my draft and followed along. Or maybe it, too, was trying to get away from the bear.

Patty and I spent the rest of the night in the car.


Editor's note:

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