Hungry bears no laughing matter

By Glenda Price: CNJ columnist

One summer my husband and I ran what was called a “guest ranch” in the mountains. It was a group of cabins built so they enclosed a middle open space where children could play and grownups could visit. Wood for the fireplaces was stacked in there as well.

Besides handling reservations, supervising the cleaning, etc., we had a string of horses, and took guests for trail rides in the surrounding forest. We even tended flowers around the cabins. The place was all new and in a beautiful setting.

The bears also thought it was beautiful. One night they got into the corrals, and by the time we got there, some of the horses had broken down the fence and run off. Luckily, none were badly injured.

Many mornings the gorgeous setting was a bit mangled. Most of our guests were watermelon lovers, and they pitched the residue from their feasts into trash cans outside each cabin’s back door.

Bears also like watermelon, and bear-proof garbage containers hadn’t yet been invented, so we spent many mornings cleaning up watermelon messes. It’s sticky, and the seeds scatter everywhere. To this day I don’t like watermelon.

Many guests, as you might expect, hoped to actually see a bear. I’m not sure what they thought, but I think it’s sorta like a scary movie. During the movie you’re so close to danger, but afterwards you’re perfectly fine. The booger-monster-whatever wasn’t so scary after all. It was make-believe.

We couldn’t seem to convince those folks that bears are not make-believe; they are wild animals that don’t want to be friends with visitors from the flatlands.

One group of teenagers talked my husband, Gene, into staying up late with them on a “bear watch” one dark, moonless night. Later, he said he only did it because he knew they were going to, anyway, and he figured they didn’t have sense enough to keep from getting hurt.

Sure enough, about eleven o’clock they hear snuffling behind one of the cabins, then a trash barrel tips over.

He and the kids sneak close, then turn on a big flashlight. Mr. Bear, of course, takes off with the humans lunging behind. Gene picks up a clod and whispers, “Want me to conk him?” The kids say, “Yeah, do it.”

He’s joking, but darned if his clod doesn’t really land on that bear’s head. Luckily, Mr. Bear decides to run rather than fight.

Meanwhile I’m in our house, about 30 yards from the cabins. I hear a commotion and a bump on my front door. Thinking it’s Gene I open the door — and something dark is moving and making strange sounds on the porch. It is not Gene.

I scream and slam the door. Then I think maybe he’s in trouble and I’ve locked him out. I open the door a crack and try to see something in the murky darkness.

I say, “Gene?”

Laughter bursts out of the shadows as Gene and the kids all yell, “Scared you didn’t it?” I did not think it was funny.