A Close Encounter with my Namesake, by Bear Michelson
Kenai Peninsula, Alaska – July 1995
Yep, that’s right. My childhood nickname was Bear. Mostly because my father thought it was funny to name his little girl after a ferocious animal. So I grew up making growling noises, trying to look fierce half the time, which is a tough to do when you have with buck teeth and pigtails.
I did get pretty close to a bear once though. I was in my mid-20s and we were hiking overnight into the Alaskan wilderness. We headed high up into the mountains to a lake to go fly fishing for graylings. (I had wanted to get dropped off by a helicopter for a week in Denali, but my camping companion wasn’t convinced I could survive by myself in wild if something happened to him. He did have a point.) That summer in Alaska, it was a cold and rainy, with a lot of bear activity. In fact, multiple campers had reported sightings and false charges just a day earlier. A false charge is when a bear runs right at you and at the last second veers off to the side (but not before you poop your pants, I imagine.)
I was fully aware of the bear problem and had taken the necessary precautions.
First, I was wearing a 12” can of bear mace around my neck the entire 3 weeks of our camping trip. Now, bear mace only works within a 10 foot radius, which is unfortunate. I’m not sure exactly how wide a reach a bear has, but I bet 10 feet is within spitting distance of getting swiped.
Second, I was wearing bear bells tied to my pack. The constant jingling is 1) irritating, and 2) supposed to let the bear know you’re coming. You never want to surprise a bear. You also never want to come between a mama bear and her cub. These are good rules to follow. You can tell if a bear is dangerous just by looking at him. In Alaska, bears are tracked by a tag system. One human attack gets the bear a yellow tag in his ear and relocated out of the area. Another human attack and the bear gets a second yellow tag. Basically, you see a bear with 2 yellow tags and you’re toast.
So the entire camping trip I was on alert for bears and taking no chances. I was determined to let the bears know we were in the area, singing constantly and telling stories about the nymphs who lived in the woods.
That is, until I had a reason to shut up.
Coming down the trail after a night in the tent, I spotted some tracks in the mud. And then I spotted something else….a big steamy pile of bear shit.
Gulp. A very large animal indeed had made that mess. More importantly, it was steaming, which meant it was fresh and the bear was close by. So while I didn’t actually see the bear, I did see proof of his existence.
And you know what? That was close enough for me. ‘Cause while I might have practiced my fair share of growling growing up, I am no more ferocious than when I was four.
This entry was posted on Sunday, October 25th, 2009 and is filed under Erin Then.