Bears, there I said it — not “Da Bears,” just plain ole bears.
Although I’ve never had a run-in with a bear or a bad experience with any bears on the hundreds of outdoor experiences and camping trips I’ve been on over the years, bears still make me nervous. As a kid growing up in a family that loved to camp and having spent a great deal of time in the woods with our troop at Scout camp, I was pretty familiar with all the animals in the forests and mountains where we lived and could identify all of them by sight and most of them by sound.
Some of the animals of the Midwest and East differ in their nocturnal noises from critters in the West. Nonetheless, sitting up in the middle of the night to the sound of “something” moving through the brush next to the tent seemed to always conjure up images of a big bear looking for something or someone to taste.
Indeed, according to an article about kids’ dreams from “The Cleveland Clinic,” the No. 1 dream that affects kids in their sleep adversely (other than the school maturation program) involves “scary animals,” which certainly includes bears and lions and tigers, oh my!
I remember one summer spending time at my grandparents’ farm in Trenton. We’d been out late, so when we got back to the farmhouse all of us kids just crashed on the sofa and floor in their little living room. Sometime in the middle of the night, I dreamed there were bears prowling around the outside of the house and through much growling and scratching were able to get into the kitchen.
During this part of the dream I saw the two bears rise to their hind legs and begin “woofing” as they inspected each of my sleeping brothers (sizing them up) and then saw me on the couch. I stuffed my head as deep into the couch cushions as it would go, hoping they wouldn’t notice me. The closest bear to me lifted me by my back legs and draped me over its shoulder and started to shuffle into the back bedroom.
I woke from one nightmare into another, kicking and screaming, flailing my arms and fists at the bear’s head, determined not to be eaten alive indoors. The bear groaned as I pummeled its back and shoulders, and then it spoke to me.
“It’s OK, Chad. It’s just me, Dad!”
Ahhh! The bear knew my name! Creepy! Of course it was my dad moving me from the couch to my bed, and he was a good sport about it too in spite of being unceremoniously roto-tilled.
Bears and camping kind of go hand in hand, like melted marshmallows and sleeping bags, hotdog buns that taste like mosquito spray or burn holes in your camp chair. With the easing of the pandemic, more and more people are venturing outdoors in record numbers and as such are having more encounters (close or otherwise) with wildlife, bears included.
I remember seeing the movie “Grizzly” at the Capitol Theater (now the Eccles) when I was a senior in high school, and it scared me almost as much as “Jaws” did. Great, now I can’t go in the water OR camp in the woods.
One of my favorite songs when I was growing up was “Camp Granada” by Alan Sherman, which portrayed a kid writing home to his parents from summer camp and famously began with the line, “Hello Muddah, hello Fadduh.” One of the verses in the chorus says, “Take me home, dear Muddah, Fadduh / Take me home, I hate Granada / Don’t leave me out in the forest where / I might get eaten by a bear.”
Ha! A true camp song classic!
When I was 16, I was elected by my Scout troop to be inducted into the “Order of the Arrow,” a service arm of the BSA which teaches leadership skills. After I was “tapped out” in a special ceremony, I participated in my “ordeal,” which included being blindfolded, led into the woods with just my sleeping bag and spending the night alone. I’m glad it rained most the night since it covered the sounds (along with my chattering teeth) of all the bears that I was certain came around that night.
I’ve never seen a bear in Logan Canyon but I know they’re there. We had a leaflet from the Forest Service hung on the door of our little cabin explaining that a bear had been seen in the area and to follow the rules for possible encounters.
This reminds me how lucky we were on all those over-nighters in Virginia with our Scout troop when most of us retired to our tents smelling of burnt bacon, raw pancake batter and Cheetos. Fortunately for us, all we dealt with were bands or marauding raccoons, possums and skunks (which by the way sound an awful lot like bears in the dark).
I’m sure the bears are just as happy to see hordes of tourists flooding into the woods, as are the park rangers, who are volun-told to educate everyone about “not feeding the furry cows waffles from your car windows.”
I’ve heard that if you do meet a bear, you don’t need to outrun it, just be fast enough to outrun your friends. To that end, I’m available for group hikes and camp treks, just call me your less than speedy bi-pedal food truck security.