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Sierra Magazine
Last Words:A Question of Moment

Have you ever had a memorable encounter with a bear?

One fall night when I was camping in Yosemite Valley, I was taking a shortcut through the bush back to camp when I stepped on a dry branch with a loud crack! Smokey roared up out of the dark looking about ten feet tall. I screamed and turned tail, running for dear life. I heard the bear crashing through the brush, and only gradually did I realize he was running the other way. I'd woken the poor guy out of a sound sleep and probably scared him as bad as he did me. My heart finally stopped pounding, but I dreamed of giant bears for months afterward. I often wonder if he tells this story too.
Tim Goncharoff, Santa Cruz, California

While hiking a few years ago, I rounded a pile of boulders near the summit of New Mexico's Santa Fe Baldy and stumbled onto a large brown bear 15 feet before me, making serious eye contact. I froze and stammered, "Gosh, it's a bear," demonstrating my mastery of wilderness situations. The bear, suitably awed, dropped his hackles, deposited stool, and bounded off.
Challenger Vought, Cary, North Carolina

I've had an encounter, with a polar bear in a zoo. It was staring at a wall in a too-small enclosure, head moving back and forth hypnotically. I won't forget it and haven't gone back since. Even though zoo habitats are said to be improving, confining a polar bear or any number of other critters for gawking purposes is no longer defensible. Was it ever?
Martin A. Wilke, Boise, Idaho

While kayaking on Flaming Gorge Reservoir with an outdoor leadership school, I woke up one night to a black bear industriously sniffing at my arm. The girl next to me hissed, "What do we do?" and I hissed back, "Don't do anything!" Our visitor examined a book I had left lying on the ground (tearing out a page that I later displayed with suitable drama back at base camp). Then, bored with our pitiful offering of crackers and noodles, the bear wandered up to a campsite boasting bacon, sweet rolls, and such accoutrements as may be brought in by motorboat. Unfortunately, these campers also had a handgun. They shot at the bear and frightened it off. I pleaded with them to pack their food away where the bear could not get at it, but they were determined that no bear--or girl--would tell them what to do. They later wounded the bear, and it had to be destroyed.
Marjorie "Slim" Woodruff, Chandler, Arizona

For years I hiked in fear of the dreaded bear encounter, anticipating the worst. Surely upon seeing me, a bear would immediately tear my limbs from their sockets and suck the marrow from my bones. Finally, the day came. We saw the dreaded bear about 20 feet up in a tree. There, it seemed, the bear found scarfing up maggots from a dead fir more appealing than sucking on my limbs. White knuckled, I pressed the shutter-release of my camera. It echoed a "gu-lunk" where nice cameras make a click. The bear heard this and seemed startled by a sound that resembled the cocking of a gun more than it did any sound a camera should make. The bear fell out of the tree, landed on his rump, and then ran away. Armed with my camera, I live in fear no more.
Linda E. Bayless, Tucson, Arizona

A memorable bear encounter? Yes. Also snakes, boar, scorpions, quicksand, and armed rednecks. But the worst by far is always people's dogs.
A. Barry Chafin, Louisville, Kentucky

Friend Ed, his dog, Torf, and I took three others backpacking in the Eagle's Nest area just after a reported attack on a woman by a bear in Yellowstone. Ed worked summers for the Forest Service and so was our expert on the out-of-doors. He kept repeating, "There are no bears here." For three days we all kept repeating, "There are no bears here." On our way down and out the trail, Torf was running ahead. I followed him around a corner to find dog and strange animal inspecting each other. Genuinely puzzled, I went back to Ed and asked, "What's big and brown and fuzzy but has no tail?"
Katherine Corson, Niwot, Colorado

When I was eight, my family moved to Washington state. On our first family backpack trip in Olympic National Park, hiking along the Skokomish River, we encountered a small black bear on the trail. To this day, I'm not sure who ran away faster, the bear or my mom. Years later, along the High Divide in the same park, some friends and I were camped in a basin several hundred yards off the main trail. It was early September and hillsides were covered with ripening blueberries. As we ate breakfast, Irena and I noticed that we weren't the only ones enjoying a morning repast. On the hillside in front of us were at least half a dozen bears among numerous deer, all peacefully enjoying nature's bounty.
Barbara Cellarius, Lexington, Kentucky

My goal is to never have a memorable encounter with a bear--because these encounters usually end up with the bear being shot or trapped as a "nuisance animal."
Linda Green, Bailey, Colorado

Riding my bicycle around my neighborhood, I sometimes saw a black bear munching on stuff alongside the road. One day I stopped to watch when a German shepherd came up, bit me, and scared the bear away. Evaluating danger is an ongoing thing.
Edward M. Michlowski, Carbondale, Pennsylvania

Just last week I was walking through the woods near my home when I emerged from the trees into a future housing development. There was not a single bit of greenery left. All sand and holes, completely bare. Oh, you said "bear." No, I've never encountered any of those. But I'm still hoping.
Tom Malloy , Wareham, Massachusetts


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