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Just the Bear Facts

While visiting Alaska, my lovely wife, Joan, and I embarked on a hike to Exit Glacier. We hadn’t gotten too far into our adventure when we spotted a group of about 50 people, stopped in a huddle along the trail. As we got closer, the click of camera shutters grew louder, and we realized that something interesting must be right around the bend. As we approached, we saw the subject of all the photos—a bear, sitting squat in the middle of the trail.  I peered up the trail to the other side and saw about as many people coming down the trail, peering at him from the other side. It was a standoff, between the hulking beast, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 tourists, 50 from each direction, snapping photos, whispering in hushed tones.

We watched for about ten minutes, but the sky was getting dark, and a storm was clearly coming. Not wanting to get caught in it, and somewhat anxious for the bear to move, I decided it was time for action. Honestly, I was getting a bit tired of the tourists gasping and backing up in fear every time the bear so much as turned his head in their direction.

 Joan was taking pictures along with all the other tourists, but when she saw me step out in front of everyone and start walking towards the bear she sort of froze up. I was hoping to get a picture with me and the bear. No such luck. I can’t say I understand why she was worried, as I had pretty much sized the situation up before I started towards the bear. I noted that the bear wasn’t a grizzly, there were no cubs in sight, and with so many other people around, I figured I could at least outrun a few if he came at us. Especially the elderly couple with a cane and the young kids.  

I approached the bear, talking to him first in a soft voice, and then an increasingly louder voice. I got his attention and he even stood up on all fours and faced me. Then I started to clap my hands. He stood up on two legs, and the crowd gasped and backed away. For a minute, I seriously paused to reconsider my decision, took one more glance to verify there was still at least one elderly couple in the crowd that I could outrun if I had to, and then began clapping a little louder. Then another brave soul emerged from the crowd. He joined in my clapping, walking up to me as he said “I was wondering how we were going to get the bear to move.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that this doesn’t always work. And I didn’t object when he moved slightly in front of me.  

The bear stared at us curiously. Took a few cautious steps toward us, then decided that our rhythm was disturbing his peace. He cocked his head one last time, then ambled off the path and into the forest.  

Now free to continue along the trail, the rest of the tourists rushed through the opening we’d created, approaching wide-eyed and anxiously watching the forest to make sure the bear wouldn’t return. In fact, I’m convinced that most of them would still be there if I had not chased the bear away.

As we started up the trail ourselves, we found evidence that the bear had marked his territory.

I attempted to reach to the top marks but failed even on my tippy toes.