Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Bearly Escaped

Alert readers will remember my previous reminiscence on bears. This past weekend we returned to the remote New Mexico cabin of St. Pauli Girl's brother and sister-in-law who I affectionately nicknamed Mr. and Mrs. Grizzly because they built the cabin themselves on a mountain in the middle of nowhere.

This cabin is in an area populated by people who do not wish to be found (all six of them). It is so remote that mobsters will tell you that you only need to go about a quarter ways up the road if you want to bury a body. It is so remote that even UFOs are afraid to go there (and we all know how much UFOs love New Mexico). But more importantly, this is a place where you learn what "night" really means. If you haven't been in the dark hundreds of miles from the nearest city light, you don't know about night.

During the weekend, St. Pauli Girl kept making fun of me for being afraid of bears while I maintained that I had a healthy respect for bears. She apparently thought that if a bear appeared, you packed it up a nice picnic basket and sent it on its way. We spent the day hiking up the mountain while practicing our bear scare tactics like stepping on broken branches, banging on rocks and calling out to the bears so as not to surprise them. Meanwhile, I imitated the sound of a .50 caliber machine gun and World War II howitzers thinking that would best scare bears. After barely making it back to the cabin before a thunderstorm, we spent the remainder of the day and night in the cabin.

Main Cabin
The cabin had only one bedroom and a loft which is where we slept last year. However, this year, Mr. and Mrs. Grizzly had set up an old small camper behind the cabin as a little guest cottage. We said goodnight and headed to the tiny camper.

Guest Cottage
After we went to bed, I looked out the window and noted, "It's much brighter tonight than last night."

There was a half-moon and some cloud cover which provided a surprising amount of light. About forty minutes later, as I was drifting into unconsciousness, I suddenly opened my eyes. I didn't hear anything so I must have sensed the dark now coming through the window. I saw a silhouette of an animal's head and two large paws in the window. A bear!

My bear survival instinct immediately kicked in, and I screamed. As St. Pauli Girl sat up, the shadow disappeared. We looked at each other and realized I had had a bad dream. But then the shadow popped back up in the window. So apparently, dreams can't come true, but nightmares can. I leaned forward and closed the window while we both yelled and screamed at the bear to go away because bears are supposedly frightened of humans making noise. The bear disappeared again, and we thought we were safe.

Then it appeared in the back window. I struggled to find the handle to close that window. We kept yelling and pounding on the side of the wall. I got the window closed then tried to close the curtains thinking that would save us. Then I thought that's stupid, I can't see what's happening. I pulled the curtains open and saw that was one ugly, mean looking bear. So I closed them again right as he slammed a paw against the window.

Meanwhile, St. Pauli Girl put a pillow up against the window. I sat back and tried to think of something to scare the bear.

"Oooga-Booga-Boo!" I shouted.

"Wait," St. Pauli Girl said. "Did you just go Oooga-Booga...?"

"Well you're the one trying to start a pillow fight with him!"

I then resorted to pirate talk, "Arggggghhhhh!" I shouted. I noticed the cabin lights had come on. "That's good, I guess Mr. and Mrs. Grizzly heard us. They'll save us. They must have a machine gun or a bazooka to deal with this thing."

A minute later, we heard Mrs. Grizzly on the deck banging on pots and pans. At last, this disrupted the bear because he was torn between engaging in a pillow fight and getting called to dinner.

Mr. Grizzly came out onto the deck and sized up the situation. He looked at the bear then at the twisted, dented skillet in Mrs. Grizzly's hands. "You're gonna need a bigger pot."

He grabbed a shovel and waved it over his head, cautiously approaching the bear which lumbered away. He grabbed a small flashlight and set off after the bear. And by small flashlight, I mean it would have been good for a dentist looking for cavities but not so much looking for a 300 pound black bear in the dark night.

We finally felt safe enough to step out of the camper. Figuring our noise and the shovel had scared the bear away, we began to calm down and relax. Mr. Grizzly called out from the darkness that he couldn't see the bear anywhere.

"I think he went under the camper," St. Pauli Girl said.

I jumped back about five feet. "Then why are we standing right next to it?"

Mr. Grizzly shined the light under the camper, but the bear was nowhere to be found. We all stood next to the deck and breathed a sigh of relief. After a few minutes, Mrs. Grizzly shined her flashlight just beyond the camper and onto the bear's head. He had been sitting there less than ten meters from us the whole time. Now if Yogi was smarter than the average bear, this bear was valedictorian with scholarship offers from Harvard, Yale, Stanford and naturally, the University of Maine.

We shouted and yelled and banged on the pans again. He slowly got up and began to saunter away like he had been caught with a fake ID at a bar. As he moved up the trail, he looked back over his shoulder at us. I couldn't decide if he was thinking, "You guys are no fun" or "yeah, I'll be back."

We weren't taking any chances. We moved our belongings into the cabin and the spent the rest of the night in the loft.
Outhouse in the distance. That's a really long walk after dark.
The next morning we conducted a postmortem over coffee. We decided had we simply closed the windows and kept quiet, the curious bear would have eventually left of his own volition. We also learned that bears can be vewy, vewy, quiet, fearless and leave no footprints despite the rain of the previous day. In short, bears probably prowl the area more than anyone realized. But then the discussion degenerated into puns like "we bearly escaped" and "it gives you paws for thought."

But if you're keeping score at home: Bears: 1, Pots and Pans: 0 (with one skillet on the disabled list).


  1. I laughed all the way through this -- so well written! But seriously, get yourself some bear bells, bear spray and an air horn before going back there again.

    1. Air horn, great idea! Yeah, in retrospect we realized our hiking was much more dangerous than being in the camper/cabin at night. We definitely need to take more precautions when hiking. We will be better prepared next time. Thanks for the comment!

  2. I'm sorry, but I'm laughing here as I picture the bear sitting there quietly watching all the idiot humans carrying on like - well - idiots! lol

    Good story, Dexter. I'm a bit concerned about that caravan/trailer, though...is it really leaning on a slope like that; or did you take those pics after imbibing a few bourbons to calm your jangled nerves? ;)

    1. In retrospect, we laughed about it as well. As for the photo, it's mostly the result of my poor editing skills. The pic was taken the day before by St. Pauli Girl. When I imported to my pc, it was huge and sideways. So I had to turn it and crop it, and that's why it probably looks funny. The camper is actually quite level. Thanks for the comment!

  3. I don't think I'd want to be that close to bears. Just saying.

    1. I'd probably prefer not to as well. But it's better than a mountain lion. Thanks for the comment!

  4. I meant to ask you, Dexter...did you find out if the bear really does what we think he does in the woods? Or is it actually those who come across a bear in the woods who do it?

    1. Oh indeed they do, that's how we were alerted to their presence. That and all of the overturned rocks where they search for food.