Pants or no pants I’m going swimming.
This was the favorite joke of a darling woman that was once in my life. Even though I (obviously) knew the punchline, it made me crack up every time she told it. Mostly because it gave her such great, simple joy to tell it. Humor is an elusive beast. It is subject to perception, surprise and the random moments in life. I cannot recount, the countless times I tried to relate a funny story and half way through I stopped and said, “Oh, you just had to be there I guess.” Other times a story is born to live a life that exceeds that of the subject. I have one such story to share with you now.
It was perhaps 5 or 6 years ago, sometime towards the end of summer. The Perseid meteor shower was due to arrive the following week and so 3 of us decided to take my truck and drive up to Yosemite, passed Half Dome and up to Tuolumne Meadows, a great flat expanse in the high mountains. Now to tell you, we are 3 sizable men and our provisioning for that trip demonstrated well the reasons for it. Half our stock was beer, a third was food and the remainder camping gear. My truck was a fairly new Ford 350 Super Cab with an 8 foot cargo bed. So for 3 of us, for 2 days of camping, we filled the bed high with supplies with a few more items stuffed in the back seat to share with the odd man not driving.
We left at night to arrive early in the morning at the gate of the campground just before it opened. Upon registering for a campsite we were given a disclaimer to sign. Now I am going to stop at this point to explain something to my non-American readers. There are 4 basic ways to make REAL money in the U.S.
- Build a better mouse trap – By this I mean invent something like, you know, Apple or Tesla, like that.
- Invest in the Stock Market – a la Warren Buffet style.
- Win the Lottery – Every poor person’s retirement plan
- Sue somebody – The American way
So in an abundance of caution regarding #4 above, the park rangers made me sign a disclaimer about the bears that were in the park. (Maybe I should restart this piece with: 3 bears go into the woods.) Anyways, we were all cautioned that in the event that we came across a bear that we should make loud noises, you know, bang a pan, clap one’s hands, etc., in order to scare them away. Okay sure, me, a bear and a singularly loud applaud. Sound like a recipe for success. Like I said, 3 men go into the woods. But truly, how many come out?
After assuring the park ranger in triplicate that we understood the risks, we popped off to our campsite. Oh another caution that I forgot to mention is that all of our consumables, toothpaste included, must be placed in the metal “bear box.” The bear box is a metal locker of a certain discriminate size. I will hand it to my companions as they were able to, after a bit of reverse Jenga puzzle making, manage all of our foodstuffs into this small container. While we were sorting through our belongings a young, earnest park ranger came through to check on us. We chatted a bit and asked him if we could hang some of our belongings in a bear bag? A bear bag is a bag, attached to a rope that has been flung over a branch so that the bag, when hauled up, hangs suspended in midair beyond a bear’s grasp.
“No,” he said, “all of our things must be in the box.” So in the box it all went. After a bite of lunch and a few beers to wash it down, we all thought is wise to seek a little quiet time, read our books and take a nap. The meteors would not be out until dark so we rested comfortably in the peace of the forest. What I remember next started out in a bit of a haze. Like my friends, I had dosed off for a bit of a snore. Something must have made a sound or gotten my attention because the next thing I remember was lazily opening my eyes and seeing two baby bear cubs walking through our campsite. “How cute,” I said to myself. Beat . . . beat . . . beat . . . “Wait, if there are two BABY bear cubs here, then there must be a . . .” I got up out of my chair and peered around the corner. Now I fancy myself a bit of a wordsmith but in this moment I was at a complete loss for words. The only thing that came out of my mouth was,
I kept repeating myself over and over and over. My two friends, in full Keystone Cop fashion flailed about clambering out of their chairs. One friend scurried about the makeshift kitchen in desperate search of a pot to bang, while the bravest of us dived into the tent. So there I was left standing face to face with Momma bear. I had nothing, and for some reason had completely forgotten how to clap my hands. The only thing that came to mind was to try and make myself big, you know like those funny lizards that pop out their hood when frightened. So, arms out to my side, I make myself as big as I can Then I starting moving my arms up and down like I am trying to take off or something. And as much to my surprise, as anyone else’s, this noise starts to emanate from my nasal area. It was a blend of grunt, moan and vocal warming exercise.
Nuah! . . . Nuah! . . . Nuah! . . .
I repeated myself over and over again all-the-while flailing my arms methodically. (Question: Can one flail methodically?) Momma bear and her two cubs, took instantly to my point and ambled off.
A short time later the earnest, young park ranger came around as we were drinking our 16 ounce aperitifs and said, “I heard that you had a bear come through.” I shared my story, and my technique, with him. I tell you, he honestly seemed impressed. Feeling a bit shy and not being used to accolade, I dug my big toe in the dirt and replied,
“Don’t be, I’ve been scaring away single mothers with that technique for years.”
Ba-da-boom! Hand to God, that is a true story.