Column by Terry Berkson: BEAR!

Column by Terry Berkson


There was an orientation video playing while Alice and I were signing in for a cabin in California’s Sequoia National Park. It gave a lot of information about bears. The narrator warned not to leave any food in your car. Then they showed a bear ripping off a station wagon’s door to get at the goodies some careless visitors had left behind. It was impressive how agile this lumbering animal was. I noticed that Alice was paying close attention to all that was said.

Naturally, we transferred all edibles to our assigned cabin that, to me, seemed less secure than the PT Cruiser we had rented. Alice looked a bit alarmed when she inspected the lock on the door. I had seen better security on outhouses. “Maybe we should have stayed at a motel,” my wife mused.

Later, when I returned to the cabin with another load from the car, I scratched instead of knocked on the door. Alice opened it with a raised hiking boot in her hand and threatened to brain me. “Okay,” I said. “I won’t fool around anymore.”

Unfortunately, there were Pilgrims wherever we went. In spite of the high elevation and the gigantic trees, the atmosphere reminded me of taking a walk through Central Park. I wanted a wilderness experience, so I convinced Alice that to really feel the spirit of Sequoia, we had to take one of the less frequented trails. “Okay,” she said. “But I’m not going without some rocks.”


“Yes. The video said that if a bear approaches you, throw rocks at him and he’ll go away.”

We wandered around until we found a quiet trail. The path was steep and meandered east to west as we climbed a mountain. A sign had said that if we made it to the top we would be rewarded with a magnificent overlook. Alice had her camera hanging from a strap around her neck. She also had a rock in each hand. About twenty minutes into our hike I spotted a big buck in velvet. “Give me your camera,” I whispered while showing her the deer that was about thirty yards off and on a shelf just below us. A minute later, some movement behind a fallen tree caught my eye. When I focused in I saw that it was a bear, a big bear! Foraging for food. I turned to Alice and mouthed, “Bear!”

She smirked and dismissed my announcement with a wave of her rock-filled hand. Again, I mouthed, “Bear!” while shaking my head yes. Alice’s mouth dropped open. By now the bear was out from behind the tree. I was excited and could hardly hold the camera still as I clicked in rapid fire. It occurred to me that we had no protection — except for Alice’s rocks that were already airborne when I turned to check on her. She had dumped them and was now in speedy retreat. I looked back at the bear who was eyeing me with an expression that said, “Who you lookin’ at?” Our eyes were locked together. I remembered hearing something in the bear video about making yourself look big, so I shot my arms over my head and shook them like King Kong. I yelled, “Stay! Stay! Don’t you dare run!”

In my mind, that bear was a great big dog and I knew the best way to make a dog bite you was to run from him. The brute checked me out for a moment and then decided I wasn’t worth the trouble, so he moved on as I slowly backed away. “I got three shots of him!” I proudly called down to Alice who looked quite upset as I drew near.

“Why were you yelling at me?” she asked.

“I wasn’t yelling at you!”

“Oh yes you were! You shouted, “Stay! Don’t run!”

“That was to the bear,” I offered. “I wanted to get his picture.”

My wife looked at me sideways. Actually, making a lot of noise was another suggestion on the video. I was trying to play down the encounter so that Alice would continue with the hike, but rocks or no rocks there was no way I could convince her to continue on up the mountain.

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