by Marilea Rabasa
Bears are almost mythic nowadays. They’re still around but far fewer in number; we keep destroying their habitat. But once while camping on Mt. Marcy in Adirondack Provincial Park, in upper state New York, though we didn’t actually see the bear, we knew he’d been there.
What’s scary is that we were sleeping in an open lean-to. If the bear had been really starving, he could have attacked us! As it was, he settled for going after our food.
Gene, like all responsible campers in bear country, hung our provisions up on a line out of the bear’s reach, including the bear-proof barrel. We went to sleep in the open air, confident that our food was safe.
As usual I woke up early while Gene snoozed on and went to get our food bag so that I could make coffee. After a long day of hiking the day before, I was hungry for a nice salty breakfast. I could taste the succulent bacon and eggs already, and was glad I’d remembered the salt and pepper packets we always snitched from McDonald’s.
But I was in for a surprise.
Sprinting back to Gene, I woke him up. “Honey,” I whispered, “the line is down and our stuff is strewn all over the ground. Did we get beared?”
“No, I put it up plenty high enough. There’s no way he could have reached it,” he asserted, opening his eyes.
“Then how did it happen?” I asked. “No camper would do that to another camper.”
“There’s always a first time,” he suggested. “Is there any usable food left on the ground? Did the egg holder protect the eggs? Any sign of the bear barrel?”
“No. I’m gonna follow the food trail and see where it goes.”
“Okay. But if it leads to another tent, come back here before you say anything to them.”
The trail led straight down a hill to a stream below. I searched the area for signs of food, and there, plopped in the middle of the stream, wedged between some boulders, was the bear barrel.
I waded out to the boulders, up to my thighs in cold running water. Grabbing the barrel and slogging back to the bank, I sat on a log and nervously scanned both banks for our friend.
Deciding to see what I could salvage, I turned around and went back up the hill to our campsite. All I found were torn wrappers stripped off our energy bars, shredded baggies, the Oscar Meyer wrapper, and some unwashed cutlery minus the food.
For a wilderness camper, food is life. We keep forgetting that they were here first, and have every right to forage for it. We’re in their backyard. But we got “beared” and were out of luck. So we had to pack out early.
Returning our barrel at the park entrance, the ranger gave us a knowing smile. The claw mark of our visitor was clearly indented in the top of the barrel.
Marilea Rabasa is a retired teacher and the award-winning author of her first memoir, A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Her recovery blog is published at www.recoveryofthespirit.com. She and her partner have an orchard in New Mexico. Summers are for grandchildren and salt air at their home on an island in Puget Sound.