Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Lions, (No Tigers) and Bears--Oh My

Matt G commented on my last post that I grew up with bears.

Well, not really. Just occasionally.

When I was seven, we went on vacation to Yellowstone National Park. My parents had lectured me exhaustively about not approaching the apparently friendly bears. These were Wild Animals, they said, and unpredictable. They Could Hurt Me. When we saw our first bear on the side of the road, they smiled with pleasure and turned around to ask, "Did you see the bear?" But I had disappeared. I was under the blankets and coats in the back seat, out of sight of any bears, and, perforce, my parents. They laughed about that for YEARS, sigh.

Later on the trip, we stopped with other tourists at one of the geysers or hot springs on the side of the road, and as we headed afterward for our cars, here came two cute bear cubs tumbling across the road. This put us between the cubs and their mama, a grizzly, coming out of the woods on the other side. As my dad hustled us quickly to the car, he laughed as a man called out, "Come on, Myra! Let's get out of here!"

My mother was a very popular seventh grade teacher, and a few years later, we had a surprise visit one night when one of her 12-year-old students and his uncle proudly drove out to the house to show us the black bear the 12-year-old had just shot. At least 300 pounds, it filled the pickup truck bed. I was awed. My parents oohed and aahed enthusiastically as the boy stood there proudly, his uncle's proud hand on his shoulder. Later, they insisted on gifting us with a bear roast, which Mother soaked in vinegar and whatever overnight, then roasted in the oven. I thought it was pretty good.

Skip forward to my teen years, when one of the favorite places to park in the county was the Cloudcroft dump, 29 miles away up the Sacramento Mountains. (We weren't supposed to go up the mountain on the two-lane highway with a very steep grade, but of course, we did.) Nothing was more conducive to having the girl scoot across the bench seat right next to the boy behind the wheel than a 300- or 400-pound bear walking right beside the car on his or her way to the dump. Oh, yeah.

I was a dud, though--I always wanted to watch the bears. (Yes, Matt, really.)

Last possible hearing, if not sighting, was a vacation in October not long after I married. We were at a campsite outside Santa Fe, N.M., the only ones there. We slept in down sleeping bags in a two-man tent, and in the middle of the night, I heard loud crashes and bangs from the metal trash barrel.

"Raccoons," I told myself, and sank deeper in the goose feathers. It probably was.
I never checked.

Black bears are making a comeback in Texas, though, and cougers, too. There's the occasional 8 to 10-foot gator in the rivers and lakes.

Hey, you throw in fire ants, chiggers, and killer bees (not to mention wood asps and mosquitoes) and Texas is challenging Montana for perilous places to camp.

And believe me, I'm not waiting for no black bear to get within four feet before I dash inside.