Thursday, August 30, 2012

Yogi and His Pinata

I had the laser pointer on Teddy's head after attracting Seth's attention.  Is that mean? 

Don't answer that.  At least Seth didn't swat Teddy.  That was nice of him.

The whole family is here, everyone on their own media.  Adrian is playing a video game, I'm on the computer, Nick's playing a game on his new computer, and Mike's looking at his iPhone, probably checking my Facebook page.  He doesn't have his own Facebook page, but he likes to look at mine.  Does that make him a Facebook stalker?

It's getting dark in the living room and no one has bothered to turn on the lights.  I'm the one who always wants lights.  I live with moles.  They groan and blink their eyes when I turn the lights on.  I just want to keep from falling over the Legos on the floor and various other birthday gifts. 

So, I promised to tell you more stories about canoeing.  Where was I with that?  Yesterday, I went for a walk with Rachel and we had to keep the dogs on leash the whole time because people we passed kept saying there was a mama bear up the trail with two cubs.  We walked as quickly as I could.  Rachel walks a lot faster than I do.  And we whispered.  No luck.  At one point, I heard a rustling in the brush, but we never did see the bears. 

Did I tell you about the bears in camp?  There are often bears in camp.

By the time I was six years old, I had fed Pitter Patter Peanut Butter cookies to baby bears in Tennessee.  Yup, you guessed it.  We were on vacation in the Smokey Mountains and it was my parents who had given me the cookies and told me what to do.  My mother wanted me to hand it to the bear instead of rolling it down the hill so she could get a better picture.  I couldn't make myself do that, so I rolled them instead.  I was lucky that time.  Later that week, my parents also laced a garbage can, not bear-proofed, with honey and crackers and proceeded to shine a bright light into another bear's eyes.  He charged, but didn't even come all the way across the road.  He didn't want the light in his eyes, but he didn't want to be deterred from his honey either.  Again, we were lucky.  Three years later, when I was nine, my mother tried to take a flash photo of a bear in Yosemite.  I can tell you, after being charged by bears twice, that they do not like bright lights shined into their eyes.

On my first canoe trip with Mike and the Explorers, I wasn't surprised to see bear scat and claw marks on a nearby tree at one camp.  It was a beautiful camp, positioned along the Raquette River in the Adirondacks.  I remember that because that was the campsite where a couple of our experienced advisers crunched their canoe.  I told you about that, remember?  But I don't think I told you about what happened after dinner that night.

See, it was late dusk when we finished dinner and hung our bear bag after that canoe-crash and subsequent rescue.  It was the perfect site for a bear bag, we thought, not quite out of camp, but with a solid branch that came out at a ninety degree angle.  It would be easy to toss a carabiner over and lift that pack full of our food.  The branch was high enough off the ground.

Or so we thought.

We were finishing the dishes and getting a campfire going, when we heard somebody banging on the canoes.  We had them piled up at the edge of camp by the river.  The sound of an aluminum canoe is distinctive.  The voyageur for our trip walked back out to the bear bag to add the dish soap and some odd snacks the kids had found in their packs to put in.  He was almost out to the bag, which happened to hang roughly over the canoes, when, in the dim light about ten feet away, he finally saw the bear.  This guy was standing on top of our canoes, catching the bottom of the bear bag with his claws.  The thing was swinging like a pinata after a good whack. 

"BEAR IN CAMP!" he yelled cheerfully.  He hopped back to where we'd piled the clean dishes and grabbed a pot and a metal spoon.  Banging it, he walked slowly toward the bear.  Yup, toward the bear.  This guy was a seasoned camper.  A bunch of us clapped our hands or banged what we had and reluctantly, this poor bear climbed down off the canoes and sauntered off across the river. 

Then, the rest of the advisers stood around and talked about how the bear bag site had been too easy and too close.  I may have had experience with bears, but what I didn't have was experience hanging a bear bag.  Because my mom hated camping, I'd almost always stayed in a camper.  I could see what they were talking about though.  It was just too obvious plus, it was only about fifty feet in front of the Adirondack and the fire pit and not away from camp.  It needed to be hung higher too. 

The kids were excited and scared.  I was pretty sure the bear wouldn't come back, but when the girls came to me, afraid, that bit of uncertainty showed.  I was used to persistent Yogi bear types, the ones that were really used to people. 

"I'm on my period," one girl said.  "I heard that bears are attracted to the scent of blood."  Wow, I had to take that one to Mike.  We talked to her in private though.  Would the smell of blood on one girl among fifteen people really turn a lazy black bear into a vicious man-eater?  I doubted it, but I quietly asked Mike anyway.

"You don't have anything to worry about," he told her.  She persisted and they talked about how there were fourteen people in the group and even a bear used to people would be uncomfortable around us. 

"What about when I have to go to the bathroom?" she asked.  After that, I became the designated escort for each of the six girls.  It wasn't good enough to have them go in groups.  No.  They needed me.  I wasn't used to being the mom back then.  I was only twenty-seven and hadn't had my own kid yet.  I went with them, but only reluctantly. 

The bear never returned, but the next year, we did come across a camp full of scouts that had lost all of their food to a bear.  Maybe it was the same bear.  We were on our way out, done for the week, so we gave them what we had left.  It was something, but not enough for them to keep the trip going.  I'd guarantee that their mistake was that they didn't do a good job of hanging their pinata. 

Thank you for listening, jb

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