Monday, March 13, 2006

Bear Aware in Yosemite National Park

I had never seen bear proof lockers before. These were squat, cast iron boxes, with a locking device that would challenge most safe crackers. Each tent site had one, with instructions to lock all food items away overnight, INCLUDING toothpaste. Bears are extremely strong and apparently make good locksmiths. Sounds like they keep their sharp teeth in good shape, too. Hence the need for solid lockers with complex lock mechanisms.

It was dark and very late. I had shut myself in the Land Rover to tap out my diary notes onto my little laptop, using the cigarette lighter attachment to power it.

We’d had a fabulous day in Yosemite National Park. The scenery was "drop dead gorgeous". There were huge, craggy granite bluffs that rose right up out of the valley floor. Great gushing waterfalls cascaded down from the heights, with the water feathering out as it dropped into free fall. A cloudless canopy of light blue sky yawned above us throughout the day. I tried to savour it all, and imprint it on my mind. To this day, Yosemite is my favourite National Park (outside of New Zealand).

Accommodation was expensive in The park, although camping was very cheap at $US 3.00 per person. But, it was a cold campsite. Snow still spread in patches over the campground and overhead pine trees blocked the sun during the day. We pitched our tents and, after dinner, locked our remaining food into the bear-proof lockers.

Much later, I had made myself comfortable in the Land Rover to type my diary. Normally I liked this private time between me and my thoughts. I also loved the anachronism of the laptops's space age technology in contrast to the 1960's Meccano-set era of the Land Rover.

It was very dark outside. The others had gone to bed in the tents. Ever so often I ran my tongue over my furry teeth. The toothpaste had been secured in the locker, and I couldn’t work out the locking device to retrieve it. I was ashamed to ask for help and admit that a bear lock had outsmarted me. Perhaps I could ask a passing bear for help? Maybe offer to trade the rest of the food for my toothpaste? Yeah, maybe in my dreams!

Seriously, the bear awareness had rattled me. New Zealand is a campers’ paradise. We don’t have snakes, poisonous insects or large wild animals like bears or cougars. At the camp information centre we had seen photos of what cars looked like after bears had ripped out the windows, usually motivated by the smell of food inside. If that’s the effect dead food has, what about us live human food?

While I tapped away, the odd pinecone would fall, or some other unknown object would made a soft thudding noise in the pine needles. At each unexplained noise outside, I would peer anxiously into the darkness. All I could see was my face reflected in the windscreen, lit up by the ghostly glow of the computer screen. I seemed to get paler with each glance.

There is nothing like the thought of bearing eaten by a bear to sharpen irrational thoughts. While I frantically typed I kept telling myself that this fear was all "silly talk". It was too early in the spring for bears. They didn’t attack people in cars. But still, my mind gnawed nervously at all the ways I could be eaten by a bear. An old poem started up a mad, little loop in my head:

"Algy met a bear
The bear was bulgy
The bulge was Algy".

Substitute my name for Algy and I’d be gone in one gulp! Eeeeeeeeeek!

I slammed the laptop shut and bolted for the tent. I zipped myself up into my cosy three-season sleeping bag and huddled against the warmth of TH. Somehow felt safer beneath the flimsy cover of canvas, rather than the trusty Land Rover. Shows you what being alone in the dark and having an over active imagination does for you.

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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1 comment:

  1. Boy...I could almost SMELL the bear that was lurking around your Land Rover! Good reading...can't wait for the book!


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