Sunday, April 19, 2009

Take a hike

On Saturday, I took a hike. Not a figurative one, but a bona-fide, bring-a-canteen, don-t-forget-your-compass, into-the-woods hike. I did it for the children.

It’s probably not surprising to discover that I’m not much of a hiker. I never was, being a city girl. But since I’ve had kids, I’ve been even less of a hiker. That’s because I am now obsessively terrified of bears.

My husband is from Eastern Tennessee, where bears abound. Seriously, they are everywhere. His mom has a picture on the fridge of a black bear on their back PORCH. This amazes me. If I saw a 200 pounder smashing his huge clawed paw on the very spot where I sit down to enjoy sweet tea, the last thing I would do is find my camera. But, you see, they’re used to it. They have bears everywhere. And apparently, bears aren’t really harmful. That’s what David said.

Excuse me if I don’t buy that.

“I may not be much of an outdoorsman but bears EAT PEOPLE,” came my retort.

“That rarely happens,” David assured me. But my brother-in-law, who’s a cop in David’s hometown told me in vivid detail about how a bear mauled a father and child hiking in the national park just last summer.

Also, I saw Grizzly Man. That shit haunts me.

Which brings me to our recent hike. Turns out Tennessee isn’t the only place with a bear problem. New Jersey has a shitload of them. I know because my parents have a place in the mountainous region of New Jersey (I was as surprised to discover mountains in NJ as you are). When we went hiking last summer, I saw a WARNING, an actual parks-department-sanctioned warning posted next to the park map, about the bears.

That’s when I started worrying about them in earnest.

“What are you supposed to do if you run into a bear in the woods?” I asked David in the car ride over to our hiking spot on Saturday.

“People say you should make a lot of noise and wave your arms and stomp, so they think you are bigger than you are.”

That’s when I started worrying about David as our hike leader.

“That sounds like a TERRIBLE idea,” I countered, “I thought you were supposed to stay quiet and slowly retreat.”

“Or you could do that,” he agreed.

“OK, do you have any idea what you are talking about here? I mean, I thought you KNEW about this sort of thing.”

“I do. I’ve seen lots of bears in the woods in Tennessee. One time Daddy and I ran into one just a few yards away.”

“And what did you do?”

“Daddy stomped his foot and then the bear stomped his foot and snorted.”

“So that doesn’t sound like it worked at all.”

“Yeah, he wouldn’t stand down. He was challenging Daddy.”

“Ok, so what HAPPENED for God’s sake?”

“Daddy dropped the donuts and we ran away.”


“Yeah, he brought a big garbage bag full of donuts into the woods to bait the bears so he could hunt them later.”

Now let us pause, readers, to contemplate a few things.

A. What kind of a mean, crazy hunter baits bears, and does so without a weapon?
B. How surprising is it that the bear wanted the donuts more than two human beings, of hardy stock?
C. How utterly unqualified is my husband to be leader of the hike?

I share these contemplations with David and his feelings get hurt.

“I was a Boy Scout!” he yelled.

“I was a Girl Scout,” I yelled back, “And I have the good sense to avoid feral animals whenever possible.”

But it was too late. We had already sold the kids on the idea and driven to the spot. So we hiked, and it was the most stressful 30 minutes in recent memory. Especially since I felt that it was my sole responsibility to look out for, and possibly beat off a bear.

“Why didn’t it occur to me to do a little research on bear safety this morning,” I muttered.
David gave me the malocchio.

“Children, I want you to use all your senses to observe the things that are going on around you. Alert Mommy if you notice anything unusual.”

“Nik!” said David sharply, and the subtext was, “I’ll maul you myself if you don’t shut up.”

“I want to walk to the deepest part of the woods where it is dark,” said Primo.

The farther we walked, the slimmer grew the probability of us reaching the car in time to escape the bear attack. Oh God, I thought, the children are so small, they’ll be the first ones the beast will go for, and he’ll probably be ravenous since he’s just now waking from his hibernation. I know I’m starving after a nap.

So I announced to Primo, “Soon you will be seeing s sign that it is time for us turn around, Let me know when you see it.”

A minute later he encountered a branch which had fallen across the trail and he said, excitedly, “It’s the sign! Time to turn around.”

We managed to make it back to the car where I calmed my frazzled nerves by eating most of the children’s Veggie Booty.

Why do I ever leave New York?