Midday Matinee is our people watching, people doing and people being feature. Join the Woodland Creatures for an afternoon break.

Addisnana’s story about a thunderstorm at her campground took me down memory lane and since she asked us to share bear stories, I’ll do that.

My first encounter with bears in their native habitat (remember that: when you go camping you’re in someone else’s native habitat) occurred at Glacier National Park. We were hiking back down a trail from a glacial lake when we spotted a grizzly pacing us. My mom panicked as my little brother was only seven and she was apparently thought the bear would view him as the most enticing morsel among us. My aunt and uncle, seasoned hands in the Montana woods, just said, “Stay on the trail, keep walking and talking and it’ll leave us alone.” It did.

But the next morning we awoke to a ruckus. Everyone in the campground came running to find a man standing at his Coleman stove beside his tent babbling in total excitement. A grizzly had come up while he was frying bacon. So as he said, “I grabbed the biggest stick I could find and drove him off.”

He was holding a 12-inch twig.

That night the forest service set a trap and caught the grizzly. We all got a good look before they transported him farther into the wilderness, well away from people. The bear was going to get another chance, but he was tagged so they would know if he returned to populated areas.

Because, you see, there’s nothing as dangerous as a bear that isn’t afraid of people.

When my son was three months old, we decided to travel from Florida to New York to visit relatives. Our budget didn’t run to motels and we already had camping gear. Somewhere near Luray, we pulled into a campground. And there, walking among the gathering, excited people was a mother bear and her two cubs.

Me: “We’re leaving. This bear has cubs and isn’t afraid of people.”

Former spouse (hereafter FS, although this should give you an idea why he’s a former) “No, look she’s not bothering any of the people. Everyone’s having a good time.”

Me: “You don’t get it. If one little thing frightens her, she could kill. And she’s after easy food.”

FS: “Don’t worry, I’ll pitch the tent well away from the food.”

Ugh. So he did, about fifty feet away from where we kept the food and ice chest on a picnic table. I was still not happy and I grumbled and muttered accordingly. I kept telling him he had no idea how strong bears were or how dangerous they could be, especially when they had cubs. He didn’t listen. Indeed, he told me I was being silly, that no one else was afraid.

That night after dinner, we took all our waste and dishes down to the central point that had been set up for dish washing and garbage disposal, to keep the bears out of the campsite. Apparently they forgot to brief the bears on this plan. When we returned to our campsite, momma bear was busy ransacking our food.

Me: “We’re leaving now. We can come back for stuff in the morning.”

FS: “Just let me get the tent.”

Me (shrieking by now): “Are you crazy?”

Uh, yeah. He got out of the car, saying he’d stay away from the food, and went to tear down the tent. Thank goodness Momma had a bit of caution, because she drew back to the edge of the woods. I could see her eyes glow in our headlights.

While FS was packing up, every so often she’d try to come back out to get at the meat she’d been eating. I, sitting in the car with my baby in my arms, pressed hard on the accelerator to make the engine roar. With each roar she withdrew to the edge of the woods. I was shaking head to foot.

Well, FS wasn’t content to get the tent. No, he went over to the picnic table to pick up what he could. At least he had the sense to leave all the meat rather than try to take it. I had to press that pedal a lot of times, though, to keep her back.

In the morning, FS was astonished as he looked through what he had dumped into our trunk the night before. Not only was the steel ice chest totally twisted and broken, but apparently the coffee can had gotten in the bear’s way. With one swipe to knock it aside, she’d penetrated it completely with four of her claws.

I looked at FS. “Now will you listen to me about bears?”

He did.

(Next time I’ll tell you about the tornado at our campground. Tis the season.)

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