In theory, I do not find bears terrifying. Polar bears are always fun to watch at the zoo, where they swim, wrestle with each other, and play with their toys. Baby bears are one of the cutest things ever and make me just want to pick them up and give them a cuddle. I love to watch the stories of the most recent panda bear birth and I marvel at how something so hairless and ugly when it is born turns into such a cute, fluffy creature. I know that bears are dangerous, but they don’t threaten me personally…usually.
In reality, on a dark, lonely night, while hiking alone through an unfamiliar forest (after watching a scary movie about a man-eating grizzly bear ), I find bears incredibly terrifying. And that incident was a NON-encounter – something totally in my mind (which probably made it that much worse). A close encounter with a REAL bear happened when Doc and I took the kids to Yosemite National Park. If you’ve ever been there, you know that there are signs everywhere letting you know that bears are around, not to feed the bears, and not to leave food (even gum) in your car or your tent, as the bears are fairly aggressive in their attempts to get to an easy meal. There are bear lockers where you can stash your food and any garbage can is “bear proofed.”
We had two tents – a large family tent, and then a smaller two-man tent that we pitched nearby. The first night, my youngest daughter decided that she wanted to sleep in the two-man tent alone. As we had followed all of the rules and the campground was also fairly crowded, bears and any associated danger was the last thing that I really worried about. About 2am one of my other daughters woke me as she crawled over me to get out of the tent. She needed to go to the bathroom, so I accompanied her through the dark and quiet campground to the restroom. Several times, I thought I saw movement or heard rustling sounds, but I dismissed it as an overly active imagination. However, while we were in the restroom, we suddenly heard loud popping noises that sounded like gunfire! While there was no shouting, we could hear people talking – and then the occasionally loud popping noise again. Apparently, bears had entered the campground and the rangers were trying to scare them away by shooting noisemakers. When the noise died down, we made our way back to our tent, much more alert than we had been before. At that point, I was nervous about my younger daughter sleeping alone in her tent, even though it was right next to ours. I had visions of a starving bear ripping through the tent and having her as a little midnight snack. I tried to climb inside to sleep with her, but she was sprawled out, taking up the entire space – so for the rest of the night, I stayed awake – listening for any real or imagined sound and occasionally sticking my head out of the tent to survey the surroundings.
We all survived that night, and I now live in the desert southwest. We do have some mountains nearby and in the summer, when water is scarce, wildlife tends to come down from the mountains in search of food and water. I usually wouldn’t even think about this – there is a river, a major highway, and tons of other houses with food and water between me and the mountains – so why worry about the wildlife? Then, one summer, a bear strolled into my town in the middle of the day. As he explored, he passed in front of a nearby medical clinic – and the automatic door sensed his presence and opened wide, inviting him to come on inside where it was cool and comfortable. The bear was happy to accept the invitation and you can imagine the chaos and panic that ensued when the staff and patients saw who had joined them in the waiting room! Those that could make it outside did – others hid in the restrooms (where luckily the door opened out instead of in). The bear wandered a bit, attempted to drink out of the water fountain (destroying it in the process) and eventually wandered back over near the door, which again opened and allowed him to continue with his journey.
Now, I wouldn’t say I have an irrational fear of bears – it’s more like a healthy respect. However, I admit that when I’m camping in a lonely part of the forest where I know grizzlies have been spotted recently, I get that same eerie feeling one might experience when they spend the night in a hotel that is famous for its paranormal activity – I don’t REALLY think I’m going to end up as dinner/be possessed, but it’s better to consider the possibility – just in case.