When Bears Attack!

It’s the night after Christmas and I’m taking Pearl, my brother’s ninety-five pound German Shorthaired Pointer, for a walk through the dark Pennsylvania woods surrounding my parent’s house. The reason my brother’s not walking his own dog is because he and his wife have already returned to New Jersey with my infant nephew in tow. Since it was the little tyke’s first Christmas, my brother’s SUV was crammed with so many presents, luggage, and obligatory baby equipment that there was no room for the poor dog. (And will some one tell me why parents of infant children insist on caravanning more supplies than Napoleon did during his Winter vacation in Russia?) To be a nice guy, I offered to take Pearl home with me the next day.

As Pearl and I range through the woods, I keep my eyes peeled. This morning I found two sets of bear tracks in the snow alongside my parent’s garage. To avoid wildlife interference, the local residents lock up their trash. The bears probably smelled the remains of my family’s Christmas dinner through the garage’s concrete walls and decided to investigate. From the depth of the paw prints they left in the snow I could tell they were big, heavy bears. Surprised at my woodsman’s skills? Just call me Natty Bumppo.

As I listen to Pearl crunch the snow beneath her paws I look up at the night sky. One of the things I love about coming to my parent’s house is seeing the stars. Their grandeur unobscured by the jealous brightness of big city lights, the constellations and clusters shine with a radiance you’d never glimpse inside Central Park. Sadly, tonight’s sky is overcast and a light rain is starting to fall. No stars today.

Suddenly I hear a crash in the woods. Pearl stiffens and points toward the sound, Even though she’s a completely spoiled house dog, the hunting instinct entwined in her DNA remains intact. And even though I’m a completely spoiled rotten urbanite, I have something permanently etched into my DNA too – the fear of being a late night snack for something much bigger than I am. My hand automatically reaches for the folding knife clipped to my back pocket. Then I realize if I’m about to face down a bear, the knife’s three inch blade would probably just annoy it.

As I stare into the malevolent darkness I half remember some advice I heard from a self appointed wilderness guru on the Discovery Channel – the worst thing you can do is run from a bear. They may look pokey, but the average bear can run down an Olympic sprinter so don’t even try. And don’t climb a tree either. That’ll just turn you into meat on a stick. The best thing to do, I remember the hirsute Grizzly Adams wannabe saying, is to to stand your ground. Yell. Throw rocks. Roar. If you don’t the bear will think you’re prey and gobble you up. Then again I was drinking beer when I was watching that program so I might’ve gotten some of the details backwards. What ever happened to playing dead? Right now I’d give my left nut for a .44 Magnum.

I do stand my ground, however. Not out of any wilderness survival strategy mind you – just good old fashioned scared shitless paralysis. Pearl stares at dark spot in the woods where the unknown danger lurks and emits a low growl. Pearl’s a big dog with sharp teeth. Maybe she’ll fight off the bear as I run for the safety of my parent’s house. If I lose Pearl, however, I’ll have to deal with my sister-in-law’s wrath. She’s loves Pearl like a second child. Hmmmm. I think I’d rather face the bear.

Of course, there’s no bear. After a long minute, a white tailed deer erupts from the bush and makes a rapid egress from the area. Now that they’re moving, I can see an entire herd of deer moving underneath the darkness. Pearl’s straining on the leash, eager to give chase. I smile to myself. Just a bunch of harmless Bambis. Not very terrifying.

Pearl and I emerge from the woods and walk up my parent’s driveway. My foot slips on an icy patch and suddenly my out of shape middle aged body is hurled into the air. As I involuntarily look up at the overcast night sky, I see a star peeking out from behind the clouds. It’s very pretty. Maybe it’s a planet. Venus perhaps? My astronomical moment of Zen comes to a halt when I land flat on my back and all the air is expelled from my lungs with a violent whoosh.

My entire body hurts. I can’t breathe. As I lay on the ground helpless a horrible thought enters my head. NOW THE BEARS WILL GET ME! As I wait for my lungs to start processing oxygen I can see my parents moving around inside their house. Wouldn’t it suck to be disemboweled by a hungry predator within sight of safety? Ugh.

Pearl, sensing something’s wrong, lays down next to me. Her muscular and warm presence is reassuring. In the back of my mind I know a bear would think twice about attacking with her around. The dog licks my face and, after a minute, I get some air into my lungs. As I lie on the ground I run a self diagnostic. I didn’t hit my head, all my fingers and toes wiggle, and even though my back hurts like hell, it doesn’t hurt to breathe. No broken ribs.

I lay still for a few minutes and successfully avoid crying like a little girl. Eventually my strength returns, I get up, and Pearl and I walk back inside my parent’s warm house. When I tell my mother what happens she makes a fuss and, within minutes, I’m wrapped in a blanket drinking whisky in front of a roaring propane fireplace. Pearl’s lying next to me on the couch, apparently unaffected by our little adventure. I give her a pat on the head. Rain starts pelting the large window that takes up the entire front of the house. I stare at the woods and sip my drink.

Natty Bumppo my ass.


Comments

When Bears Attack! — 87 Comments

  1. One of the scariest realizations a human can have is the fact that you’re not on the top of the food chain. Being vulnerable to being actually eaten by something else can surely get your attention – Natty Bumpo or no. Happy holidays to the family – hope you enjoy being and uncle as much as I enjoy being an aunt!

  2. “And will some one tell me why parent’s of infant children insist on caravanning more supplies than Napoleon did during his Winter vacation in Russia?”

    Sure… because infants are very fickle, so you need to plan for every contingency. New parents do not yet have enough experience to know exactly how much to pack, so they err on the side of the kitchen sink and you end up with a car packed full of stuff that there is no room for the dog.

  3. Ughhhh, bet that was the scariest minute of your entire life! Glad you didn’t end up as bear-kibble :-)
    Happy Chistmas/New Years/etc!!!!

  4. >The best thing to do, I remember the hirsute
    >Grizzly Adams wannabe saying, is to to stand
    >your ground. Yell. Throw rocks. Roar.

    FYI, the same thing works if you encounter a lawyer.

  5. natty bumppo no… natty booboo – maybe ;)

    as the mother of small chidren, i learned this year that from now on, santa will only come to my house. schlepping all the presents and accoutrement back and forth to grandmas house sucked bigtime!

  6. Next time leave man’s best friend at the house and take your least favorite person with you. So if you encounter a bear, the dog is safe and you only have to out run the person, not the bear.

  7. waiter, im a little disappointed in you. You’re a hypocrite. In typical new york liberal fashion, you advocate for people being disarmed, but the second you think you’re threatened, you’d “give your left nut for a .44 magnum.”

    Why is it so hard to understand that other people feel the same way, and all gun control does is leave people at the mercy of interlopers or corrupt cops?

  8. Bear kibble. That’s good one, Stephan.

    Last Winter two young men got lost while snowboarding up near Taos, NM. Here in Albuquerque, where the two lived, their plight was plastered all over the news.

    I told my wife they would be impossible to find because by then they were bear poop.

    Steve, if you ever get the wind knocked out of you again, the simple cure is to simply arch your back as far as you can. Your diaphragmatic spasm will end and the air will once again go in and out.

  9. Um, OK, last time I checked, there were only black bears, not grizzlies in PA. Black bear deaths in this region are something like 30 in the past 30 years?? They’d probably turn their nose up at a sarcastic ex-waiter.
    But then that rustling could have been a mountain lion…rumor has it that the big cats are back…now there’s something to be afraid of.

  10. A forest ranger told us that if you’re being chased by a bear and you run up a tree and the bear follows you up the tree, then it’s a black bear. If you run up a tree and the bear pushes the tree over to get to you, it’s a grizzly. Tree climbing = fail.

  11. hi waiter!!!:)
    yikes!!! frightening moments in the woods. so glad you were met with a bunch of bambis.:)

    yes stars!!! i miss the stars. i do not see them here in the L.A. area. but in my hometown of tucson, we see billions and trillions of them. really miss the stars.:)

    happy new year!!! and thanks for the entertaining post.:)
    mary

  12. Sing. :) Bears will generally avoid you unless you’re in between them and their young. Take it from someone who lived in the wilds of Alaska (no electricity, no running water) for a year. Sing loudly and keep moving.

    And … uh … your brother is a big Robert B. Parker fan isn’t he? :)

  13. Next time, have your brother take the wife, child, and dog in his car and if you’re going to transport anything transport all the excess baby crap.

    (Anyone ever heard of UPS??)

  14. I have a feeling your real keepsake from this little adventure didn’t show up until the next day. I’m betting when you woke up your body had several reminders that you weren’t a teenager any more.

    What an adventure. And just to make you feel a little better, deer can be just as unpredictable and dangerous as bears. Especially during mating season.

  15. Iv’e been meaning to ask this for awhile…how did Buster come to be your “joint custody dog”? It’s obvious you are a dog lover; how did you not end up with the dog?

  16. Really, an apostrophe in parents? You got paid a lot of money to write a book? There is nothing worse than the errant apostrophes in today’s society!

    “And will some one tell me why parent’s of infant children insist on caravanning more supplies than Napoleon did during his Winter vacation in Russia?)”

  17. Why do the people who make snide remarks always do so anonymously? If you’r going to be an asshole own up to it! Pussies.

    (Well except for FrankD… you’re just an asshole. There are hundreds of blogs out there that deal with endless stories of waiter hysteria. Shoo.)

    Dr Electro! Thank you for that! I have had the wind knocked out of me once, when I was in 6th grade. The 8-10 seconds I couldn’t breathe were the longest of my life and its been one of my biggest fears since.

  18. oh dear the grammar nazis are out and about ^

    great story waiter, in my part of the world I only have to watch out for Kangaroos at this time of the year. A Bear would terrify me.

    I love how mums (oops moms for Mic) cure all with whiskey :)

  19. Is is just me, or are there a lot of extra people rippin’ on Steve? My God everyone, it’s just a blog, not the Holy Bible. Lighten up and just enjoy the writing for what it is. Have a happy new year waiter. :)

  20. We are no longer grammar nazis. We have become grammar ninjas, thank you. We sneak up on bad grammar and pounce unexpectedly. Usually followed by a great deal of pinching and slapping.

    The apostrophe must be kept in its place! (notice the grammatically correct lack of apostrophe in the possessive of it)

  21. “Black bear deaths in this region are something like 30 in the past 30 years?”

    Not all bear attacks end in death, there are many times more attacks resulting in injury then deaths. Most people who are attacked dont die but most are injured. Dont have to actually die for it to suck. Here in Colorado we have several people a year injured by black bears.

  22. I appreciate any and all grammar corrections. Even the snarky “grammar ninja” ones! It’s free proofreading! Who am I to complain?

  23. There’s a reason why editors exist people.

    Waiter, hope you had a great Christmas and have a Happy New Year!

    P.S. Your nephew is a cutie!

  24. ‘…crying like a little girl…’, huh?

    Have you heard a little boy cry lately? No different–just too young to be sexist yet.

    (Not that this sort of thing stopped me from putting your book on my Christmas list, mind you.) ;-)

  25. I’ve been drinkin a little too, but that was frackin’ hilarious. Also, congrats on all of your newfoud haters. They make you famous(that’s Jay-z).

    Keep it up, looking forward to your next book.

  26. Geez. Make a story interesting by publishing a couple of joking cliche liners like “i would give my left nut for a magnum yadda yadda yadda” and “cry like a little girl” and u get called a hyprocrite and a sexist.

    This just proves dat der’s really nothing u can do dat will prevent rigid mindsets.

  27. Thanks for the laugh. Great story and glad you weren’t hurt! Those deer can be ferocious, but that ice will get you every time. I hope the whiskey helped, I know on cold nights it warms me up.

  28. Usually new parents get a pass, and people stressed due to holiday insanity get a pass, etc.

    BUT. Taking the dog to the holiday event AND leaving it behind?? People so clueless and careless about their pet…probably need to re-think whether they are up to distinguishing between the needs of animate beings and inanimate stuff.

    As far as “loving Pearl like a second child….”

    Yikes. Chilling. From any perspective.

    I know, I know, cute story, tossed off writing exercise. A seemingly simple tale, it makes both readers and writer conjure additional levels of meaning.

    I think you recognized the true “bear” here. I see it too.

  29. Ajay… as a mother of a one year old AND a dedicated dog lover (I have had pets for much longer than I have had my daughter), I have to say that you are going a little overboard here. First of all, I am currently visiting the States from Germany. My parents assured me that the amount of Christmas gifts given to my daughter and I would be such that I would be able to fit them all in our luggage upon our return. In reality, we’ll have to mail several things there before we leave because my parents went a little crazy with the gifts. Its a real possibility that Waiter’s brother didn’t realize the sheer volume of crap he would have to cart back home, and that rather than cramming everyone into the car uncomfortably, he decided everyone would survive without seeing their dog for one night and Waiter could bring Pearl back home the next day. Not a big deal. It doesn’t mean they love their dog any less. Actually, I am willing to bet that had they decided to leave their nephew with his Uncle and grandparents for an evening, your panties (or boxers, whichever they may be) wouldn’t be in a wad. True bear? Please…

  30. “And will some one tell me why parent’s of infant children insist on caravanning more supplies than Napoleon did during his Winter vacation in Russia?”

    Yeah, but Napoleon’s winter campaign didn’t turn out so well, did it? He should’ve taken more nappies…

    Sigma147

  31. Natty Bumppo – Thanks for the nod to James Fenimore Cooper and Upstate NY – fyi – may 2009 bring you a bear-free life and happiness beyond imagination!

  32. (Well except for FrankD… you’re just an asshole. There are hundreds of blogs out there that deal with endless stories of waiter hysteria. Shoo.)

    c’ya !

    frankD

  33. Notes that Mic did not close his parantheses.

    Laugh out loud funny, thanks for the smile. “Jealous brightness” was a stroke of genius.

  34. Isn’t the joy of owning such a fine animal as a German Shorthaired Pointer the greatest gift of all? That little nephew is way luckier to grow up with that dog than all the plastic crapola that the Chinese make and send over here.

    Christmas gift-giving definitely got out-of-hand in my family this year. Simplier times must be coming…..

  35. I live in the mountains and hike often. A good cannister of Pepper Spray will work on Black Bears, long enough to get away, no need for the gun. Happy New Year, Steve!

  36. “As I lay on the ground helpless a horrible thought enters my head. NOW THE BEARS WILL GET ME!” LOL! This is the kind of writing that gets 50+ friggen hits a day. My hat’s off to ya, Waiter! Warm Aloha from Waikiki (No more East Cost ice – I got out ;->)

  37. I bought your book the other day and couldn’t put it down! I absolutely loved it! Great writing, so funny, and I love the way you take everything in a thoughtful direction. I can’t wait to keep reading this, and the thought about bears eating you? That would totally be my reaction to falling on ice too.

  38. When I lived in central Pennsylvania, I encountered bears on three occasions. There is nothing, absolutely nothing on earth, that will get the adrenaline going like meeting a bear in the woods. The scariest was when a mountain trail went through a campsite. No one around for miles. Me on foot. And discovering that I was interrupting a bear’s lunch of campers’ (note the apostrophe) garbage. I walked slowly away, and the bear munched on.

  39. The closest I came to being a midnight snack was climbing out of the Grand Canyon at night, I sat down to rest when I heard a mountain lion hiss/growl. I hastened my step for about 50 feet and then said the hell with this let the bastard eat me! Nothing can make me run up the Bright Angel Trail, not even a lion.

  40. I loved this story. It reminded me of a scenario that I created completely in my head when I was out walking in some snowy woods in New Mexico. I don’t what I would have done if I had actually seen physical evidence that they were around!

  41. “(And will some one tell me why parents of infant children insist on caravanning more supplies than Napoleon did during his Winter vacation in Russia?)”

    No. No one can tell you. Only when you’re in charge of an infant do you realize how you need *every single item* in that car.

  42. I enjoyed this post a lot. It just embodies the whole “home w/the family” experience. I live in the city and my folks live down south in rural Nowheresville. Your post was so relatable and funny, though I winced when you went down and got the wind knocked out of you. Ouch! Take it easy there. :)

  43. this year, my mother purchased supplies for the grandchildren (including playpen, high chair, training potty, car seats, etc) to use when my brother and his family visited. even despite all the gear they didn’t bring, they still paid extra to check more than their alloted number/weight of bags for the flight.

    (the best part is it’s expected that once his kids outgrow all these items, me and/or my sisters will then be able to take them to use for our own kids. i’m afraid to say they’ll be storing them a long time!)

    also: whisky cures all that ails. hope your back is ok!

  44. Wow..Anonymous go away please…
    Excellent post! I agree with Brenda in seeing another book. :) I love reading this site, keep it up!

    MA

  45. I’m a first-time writer, too.

    I once experienced a palpable feeling of fear in a zoo. I stood behind the barrier, some 10-15 feet from the cage. The cage was a commercial-grade cyclone fence, set in concrete. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I was not fully protected from the lion lying on the grass, some 35-feet away.

    The male lay at an angle, partially facing away from me. He looked relaxed, and in a single motion raised his head and turned his glance in my general direction. As he did this, he vocalized what may have been a territorial utterance. It was low-pitched rumble that grew in intensity, dropping off sharply, less than a second later. I could literally feel my stomach contract reflexively. A small baby in her mother’s arms began to cry at that instant.

    And I knew why that baby cried; she was scared, just like me. As a rational adult, I had to remind myself I was perfectly safe and there was no danger. The lion was not aggressive. He was probably giving us a languid reminder of whose turf we were really on. But I can’t imagine hearing that sound in the dark.

    JP

  46. THIS former Alaskan and current resident of the Northern California wilderness recommends you remember that you have to do a quick species recognition.
    When encountering a GRIZZLY,if they still charge after you stopped and attempted to look bigger,drop to the ground in a fetal position while covering the back of your neck with your arms/hands. You will most likely get bit and buffeted around,but if you fight back,you are a goner.
    BLACK BEARS will eat you alive if you play dead.If you are CHARGED,than you better have a big tree limb in your hands with which to fight him off.
    Cougars need to be fought off the same as black bears. They will also eat you alive if you play dead.
    With that all said,Happy New Year!

  47. Nice to see there’s some of us still around who can fly a jagged orbit (and yes, I know that’s the wrong book, but … most memorable canine of the author, most memorable writing of the author – go figure :)

  48. @ JT
    “No. No one can tell you. Only when you’re in charge of an infant do you realize how you need *every single item* in that car.”

    Not only that, but there are at least *two* items that you didn’t bring that you also need.

    Nice piece of writing, Steve.

  49. @rabrab

    “Not only that, but there are at least *two* items that you didn’t bring that you also need.”

    But at least one item that you somehow duplicated and must drag with you for the entire trip.

  50. Up by me (also in PA- North Central) a guy on a motorcycle hit a bear last year. He was thrown like a rag doll but the bear just lumbered off into the trees. His femur was shattered. He said the scariest and worst part of the experience was the few minutes he lay there on the road waiting for the ambulance…because he was afraid the bear would come back. I think of him whenever I believe myself to be having a ‘bad day’.

  51. We have a neighborhood bear, if you consider apple orchards and sporadic homes a neighborhood. We take pictures of him eating apples while laying on his back. Most PA bears are herbivores. Most…The bob cats, however, are NOT.

  52. Да это нечто. С этим трудно не согласится, но трудно поспорить. Сколько людей столько и мнений. Удивительная вещь эта жизнь.

  53. Вы знаете, что всякое следствие имеет свои причины. Все бывает, все что происходит все к лучшему. Если бы не было этого не факт, что было бы лучше.

  54. Nice to see there’s some of us still around who can fly a jagged orbit (and yes, I know that’s the wrong book, but … most memorable canine of the author, most memorable writing of the author – go figure

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