Friday, September 7, 2012

Bear Attack!

Night before last, as I attended a local writer's group meeting (kind of like AA except none of us can agree on the twelves steps we must follow to become better writers) and listened to one of our members explain a poem she wrote, a memory flashed across my mind. That's how memories work for me these days; they run across my mind like a bolt of lightning in a stormy night sky. If I do not immediately stop what I'm doing and write the information down, it is lost forever. It's like trying to catch the lightning with a flyswatter, while it's fun to watch someone else try, it remains rather difficult when attempting it myself. (Adjectives added for Karen who, I know, loves them.)

What caused this sudden flash of memory was when she explained how she could become like a protective mama bear when needed.

Mama bear. Bear.

Memories of a childhood camping trip flooded my mind. The memory came back to me like an epiphany, immensely powerful and equally fleeting. So, I'll remember what I can and take an example from our politicians, just filling in the rest with lies

I was a young child, although I can't remember exactly what age. I was probably just entering my teens since that's when most of the stupid funny stuff began happening in my life. This particular weekend, we were camped out at a public campground along the Skokomish River. Although it was a public camping site, we were the only people there. I mean ... honestly, who really enjoyed camping in the 1970's when there was disco and color television. For us though, camping was different. We were poor. We weren't inner-city poor where subsidized housing and welfare was available to help get one through the hard times. No, we were country (Hillbilly) poor where we worked at least forty hours a week in a blue-collar job so we could make our mortgage payments and spent the little money we had left over to raise chickens and pigs--just in case we needed food in the winter. I remember a few winters when the chickens around our house became quite scarce.

Yes, we went camping because someone in our family had us all convinced that packing up a bunch of gear, suffering an exhaustive ride hunkered down in the back of a musty, gas-smelling, sauna-like truck camper, and hoping like hell we could catch some fish at the river because that was our dinner, was some kind of vacation. Well, I do have to admit, there was always a remote chance that, while camping, we (all the kids) would be treated to a meal at one of the few restaurants the local villages offered. Were not talking big city here, were talking about towns with names like Hoodsport, Lilliwaup, and Duckabush. Bet you've never heard of those towns before. Of course, you may have found familiarization if I'd mentioned a little town called "Forks" but that's on the other side of the Olympic mountains and only became famouse when someone who'd never been there before wrote a trilogy using the town as a backdrop.

Anyway, this was one of those rare occasions when the adults called us all together and told us to load up in the back of the truck. We were all smiles and giddiness as we watched the small group of trailers, parked in a semi-circle around a central campfire as if we'd circled the wagons, disappear through the pine trees. We were treated to our favorite meal at none other than the Hungry Bear cafe. The Hungry Bear offered the biggest hamburger I'd ever seen, and an order of homemade french fries so large it required its own plate. That's how we ate. We were all about the meat and potatoes back then. I mean, don't get me wrong, we had vegetables too if you include the onion, pickle, and lettuce on the hamburger. Oh, and of course, Ketchup counted as a vegetable too.

Hours later, as we pulled back into our campsite, we noticed some strange markings on the trailer that belonged to my second cousin. Upon closer investigation, we found a window broken and what look like a large bloody paw print streaked glaringly across the white paint of the trailer.

Of course we all became very excited about the prospect of some large bear in our camp. Feelings were mixed. Some wondered if perhaps the bear was still somewhere near, lurking just beyond the shadow of the treeline ready to charge back into our camp and finish us off. Others were prepared to round up a posse and hunt the bear down. One thing was certain, in that instance of seeing the bloody prints on the trailer, we were all sure beyond any doubt that we had been visited by a bear. I stood just outside the tight circle formed by the adults and listened as they discussed their options in hushed voices.

"You think the bear was looking for food?" I heard my Uncle Bob say.

"We can't be sure it came from a bear," my father countered. "Could've been a mountain lion, or even a sasquatch."

Yes, we believed in Sasquatch, but that's another story.

Needless to say, by the time all the adults gathered up their guns, and us kids were spooled up into a near frenzy, another truck pulled into our little campsite. Two young men got out of the truck and I could not help but notice, one of them had a hand wrapped in gauze.

The two young men explained that they were tossing a football when one of them threw long and sent the other running. In his haste to catch the ball and keep it from going through the window of the trailer, the second man explained that he put his hand through the window instead. His injuries were bad enough that they immediately drove to a nearby clinic to get him bandaged up. They apologized and offered to pay for the broken window before moving on to their own campsite.

Well, that was a letdown. All of us kids slumped our shoulders in defeat and desperation. We found the fantasy of some beast busting through a window much more appealing than two dudes playing football. With their departure, we were forced to find other things to occupy us. I think I took a hike upstream looking for that massive buck that would attack me so I would have to slay it with my hunting knife. Yes those were my dreams of the time. I was still in my Grizzly Adams stage then.

It is strange to think that fantasy is sometimes so much more entertaining than reality. Nowadays I treasure the thought of joining fantasy and reality together in my stories. It is fascinating to me that one simple word uttered in the context of something foreign to me can spawn such a vivid memory from so long ago.