No bears, no bears at all
Jeremy the Border Patrol guy called last week from Montana with a real story. He claims it's true. He heard it from a game warden on the Blackfeet Reservation, who says he saw the whole thing happen in Glacier National Park. Who am I to doubt?
It seems a tourist from back East went into a store in the park and bought a can of bear repellent. He took the can and his family into the parking lot, lined them up, and sprayed them.
Apparently he thought bear spray worked like insect repellant. Oops, no. His whole family went to the hospital. I only hope, when she recovered, that his wife got a good lawyer and lots of lovely alimony.
Jeremy's been on the Montana-Canadian border for a year now. This summer, he decided to walk his area along that imaginary line. He hiked a little each day, and now he's done. He had bear sightings, but none were too close.
The Border Patrol doesn't issue bear spray, and he's too cheap to buy it, so he checked out a shotgun and took that along. He called it bear spray.
Because inquiring minds want to know, I had to look up bear spray on the Internet. I learned there are several varieties, and all claim to repell bears by spraying it on the bear and not, um, on oneself.
One spray claimed it was "university-tested" at the University of Montana. Yikes. Maybe the best way to avoid bears is to stay away from the University of Montana, since they seem to be on campus. That's almost a no-brainer.
Another spray, called "Guard Alaska," is manufactured in Maryland and New Jersey. New Jersey? Would you trust bear spray from a state with probably more Mafiosi than wildlife? The other brands were manufactured in Arizona and Missouri. I'm skeptical.
Jeremy hasn't seen a bear up really close yet, and he'd like to keep it that way. We do have a common bear experience, though, through a book. It started when I was a little girl, and my mother read me Alice Dalgleish's story, "The Bears on Hemlock Mountain."
It's about Jonathan, 8 years old, who is sent over Hemlock Mountain to borrow a big iron pot from his aunt. He's heard rumors about bears, but his mother tells him, "There are no bears, no bears at all, on Hemlock Mountain."
Jonathan hurries over the mountain. What with one thing and another, he doesn't start back until dusk, lugging that iron pot. He keeps repeating, "No bears, no bears at all," over and over until (gulp) he sees a bear. Not one, but two.
Because he is a resourceful pioneer boy, Jonathan tips the iron pot on top of himself and hides underneath. It's a great book for children, because it's a little bit scary, but everything turns out all right.
My mom read it to me; I read it to my children, starting with Jeremy. When my first grandchild was old enough, I bought a copy, taped myself reading it, and mailed book and tape to him in San Diego. Maybe someday he'll read it to his children.
That's as close as I want to get to a bear. No force on earth will drag me to that new documentary, "Grizzly Man." It's the sad saga of Timothy Treadwell, who cavorted (briefly) among Alaskan grizzlies. He and his friend, Annie Huguenard, were romping with the bears as usual when, uh oh, everything went south in a bad way.
Treadwell had videotape and audiotape running during the whole thing. Luckily, nothing appears on the videotape. The audiotape recorded the attack from beginning to lunch.
Treadwell was probably a nut to begin with, even though he managed to survive among the bears for several years. Funny thing about bears: When it goes bad with bears, there's no middle ground.
So if you're out in bear country this fall, remember to make lots of noise as you walk those trails. If you happen to surprise a bear, back away slowly and don't make eye contact. Assume a non-threatening posture. If a bear attacks and you have bear spray, use it on the bear.
And if you happen to be in Missoula, for heaven's sake, stay away from the University of Montana.
As an addendum, in October, I visited a ranger friend at Old Faithful, in Yellowstone Park. Bob's a back country ranger, which means his crew walks the back trails, keeps them in repair, and arranges back trail hiking permits for visitors. Bob told me a few of his tourist stories, and assured me that the most dangerous entity in Yellowstone is an urban visitor. "They don't know enough to be cautious," is how Bob put it.
He was called out to difuse what park people call a "bear jam," and found a tourist trying to get his little daughter close to a bison for a photo op. "You can't be subtle," Bob said. "These people are clueless. You have to get right in their faces."
Bob quickly got between the bison and the little girl, and motioned her to back away from the bison and her father. When Dad got huffy, Bob said this: "I'm doing this so when you are gored and tossed, your daughter will be safe." Apparently Dad finally got the message.
Rangers stick up for each other; it's a hey-rube sixth sense. I remember one calm and sleepy morning at Fort Union Trading Post NHS, where I worked. I was doing paperwork in the ranger office in the basement, when I started hearing a visitor talking in a too-loud voice to Loren Yellow Bird, the ranger on desk just upstairs. I dropped everything and went upstairs to stand next to Loren. Yeah, me the granny. It was nothing, and the guy finally left. Loren's great at calming down Those Who Should Be Medicated.
When the visitor took his rant elsewhere, Loren just laughed and said, "Guess he forgot to take his pills this morning." That's Loren. And I went back downstairs. It was a nothing experience, but I just want readers to know that we look out for each other in the Park Service, the Forest Service and for sure the Border Patrol.