I saw a bear once. Well, I thought I saw a bear once.
Many years ago, my husband and I went backpacking in the Great Smoky Mountains. In hindsight, I’m not sure what we were thinking.
Reading about “bear-proofing” is one thing, but putting principles into action is quite another. We’d been car-camping and had seen bear boxes — big metal lockers in which to store your food so as to keep it out of the paws of any wandering bears. We’d seen bear poles before — metal poles with hooks on top, on which to hang your food so as to keep it of the reach of any wandering bears.
But we were unprepared for the bear poles in the Smoky Mountains. Those things were like 15 feet tall. Smoky Mountain bears are either monstrously huge, or very good jumpers. Or maybe they work together to build bear pyramids.
Do you have any idea what it takes to hoist a bag of food up 15 feet in the air and hook it onto the top of a pole? After about 30 minutes, we were ready to lay out a picnic for the bears and invite them over for dinner.
As we hiked through the park, we saw few other people. But the ones we ran into always asked the same thing. “Seen any bears?” We dubbed this state of mind “bear-anoia.”
On the last day of the trip, we were hiking along, arguing about how often I was allowed to take pack breaks, when I took one anyway. I shed my pack, plopped down on the side of the trail and took off my boots and socks to tend to my blisters.
There was a rustling in the woods behind me, up to the left.
“Squirrel,” I thought.
The rustling got louder. And took on direction.
Before I could even finish the thought, “Something’s coming out of the woods headed straight for me,” a small ball of black fur burst out onto the trail.
My husband said he’s never seen me move so fast in all his life.
It could have been a bear cub.
It was a puppy, an adorable little black hunting dog wearing a tracking radio collar.
Turns out the puppy had been out training with his owner several days earlier but had gotten lost.
The puppy was as scared of me as I was of him. He kept his distance, but he did follow us out of the woods and back to civilization and, we hoped, his owner.
I was kind of hoping I could keep the puppy.
I could have named him “Bear.”
Contact Lisa Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org