It is definitely a bear. No question about that.
I stare through my scrawny tree cover as it snuffles closer to my tent. Fully grown, too. It doesn’t seem to have noticed me yet, but I think I remember reading that they have a great sense of smell. Isn’t that how they find their prey from miles away? Maybe that’s sharks. In any case, the bear has found me, and that is all that matters in the world right now.
I try to remember what I’ve heard about bear encounters. This bear has brown fur, so that makes it a brown bear? It seems logical enough. Now, brown bears can’t climb trees, only black bears can, right? Does that mean I should climb a tree? The bear doesn’t seem to want to attack me right now.
Oh, crap. There’s a granola bar in my pocket. Can the bear smell that? I haven’t opened the wrapper, so shouldn’t the factory seal keep it from being noticed? I turn my head slightly, trying to figure out a path if I need to sprint away. The bear has moved on to my backpack, pawing at it with a vague sense of curiosity.
Maybe I’m supposed to puff myself up, scare away the bear. Do I roar at it? I think I remember seeing someone in a movie rattle a tin can full of nails at a bear once. I wish I had a can of nails. Or am I supposed to play dead, and then the bear won’t eat me? I don’t know what to do – I am paralyzed by indecision.
I end up sitting in that little grove of bushes for nearly forty minutes, watching as the bear disinterestedly paws through my meager belongings. It does find the cooler I left next to the tent, but its claws can’t gain purchase on the latch. It bashes it against a tree once or twice, but gives up; maybe I am a tougher campsite to crack than most. It never glances in my direction. Eventually, the bear ambles off contentedly through the trees, never gazing back on the somewhat mussed and rearranged camp.
Maybe my encounter with the bear sounds anticlimactic. I certainly didn’t fire off a pistol or stare down the bear in an intense Man-vs-Nature battle. But that chance run-in reminded me, and still does, of our own insignificance. All it took was a few minutes in a bush, ten feet from a wild bear, for me to lose all my control, all my calm, all my knowledge and training and teaching.
Maybe someday I’ll meet the bear again. Maybe things won’t go my way next time. I hope I will be ready.