Lie #48 my parents told me when I was little: If a bear comes just run into the water. Bears won't go in the water. Was my whole childhood a fraud?

Lie #48 my parents told me when I was little: If a bear comes just run into the water. Bears won’t go in the water. Was my whole childhood a fraud?

I have spent the last hour googling pictures of brown bears. I’m trying to desensitize myself. It’s not working.

Tuesday morning, I popped the garage door open to three grizzlies standing in my driveway. A sow and two grown cubs, one of them standing right in front of that big stupid wide door I had just opened onto the place where the dogs and I had some measure of safety. That expression–the hair stood up on the back of my neck–is not an expression. It’s a thing that happens. A very real thing. Afterwards, I felt as if I’d been struck by lightening. The feeling didn’t go away until later that night. And I thought, way to go body, that’s exactly how you should feel. An encounter like this should make you feel as if something mopped the floor of the forest with you. I don’t ever want to be complacent.

I have a very healthy fear of bears. I’m going to keep that.

Hey, how's it going?

Hey, how’s it going?

I also have a deeply disturbing phobia of brown bears in particular that I would love to shed but don’t know, if I ever will. They’ve smashed through my nightmares since I was a kid. The dream bears have magical powers and abilities. They walk upright and know how to work doorknobs. They drive cars–when they’re not flying. They talk on phones. They stand outside the strange weird dream-office where I sometimes file papers and make me work overtime while one by one I watch them eviscerate my dream co-workers as they try to leave the building. Don’t leave, people! The bear will eat you! And then they all die because nobody ever listens to me.

I want to state now that the purpose of this post is not demonize bears. Live and let live. This is Alaska and there are big things with big teeth all over the place. Deal with it. I abhor trophy hunting and people who would just kill a bear because it’s a bear. People who do that aren’t worth the pile of shit a bear takes in the woods, real or proverbial. Bears are an important part of our ecosystem and are absolutely necessary to remind us we are vulnerable, even in our own yards. We have to see ourselves this way, or we’re not going to survive.

That said:

Real bears are scary. Symbolic, anthropomorphical, SAT-proctoring dream bears paralyze me with terror. I might be a ninny.

I tried for an hour to find photos of bears that were neutral. I failed. There is no image of a bear for me that does not show a massive intelligent predator.

This bear doesn't even know me and it already doesn't like me. I can tell.

This bear doesn’t even know me and it already doesn’t like me. I can tell.

Those bears in my yard? They weren’t cute. They weren’t fuzzy wuzzy, adorable or just out for a stroll while their porridge cooled. They weren’t even beautiful. They were dirty and wet and had bad bad looks on their faces. They were out to fuck shit up.

The bears in my dreams have magical powers and abilities as demonstrated by this "Jazz Hands" bear.

The bears in my dreams have magical powers and abilities as demonstrated by this “Jazz Hands” bear.

So what happened? I discovered my own magical powers and somehow teleported to the button that closes the garage door–seriously I don’t remember getting to it, just hitting it. The bear veered away at the sound, thank god because our garage door takes something like 36 minutes to roll down and close properly against the floor. I gotta have my husband fix that.

I am not going to be the one to tell her she's got something in her teeth.

Oh god. She has something in her teeth. I am not going to be the one to tell her.

Honestly, I’m a little afraid to go to sleep tonight for fear of what will be lurking in the shadows. I’m also frightened every time I have to take the dogs out to pee. I can’t see in the dark, but I sure hear every leaf wiggle and grass rustle.

Argh!... can't... reach... stupid fish!

Argh!… can’t… reach… stupid fish!

They say though, you can smell a bear long before you see it. (I know a few guys like that, too.) But I’m not so sure. That sounds like another Lie #49 my parents would tell me, if I got scared on a camping trip.

I used to go steelhead fishing at Deep Creek a lot with my dad and brother. I remember one trip in particular. There was no fish, but who cared? We were on a beautiful river. Sound of rushing water in our ears, the brightness of gold leaves in our eyes. We stood for hours in a long pool, casting and casting and watching the far bank. It’s one of  my favorite memories. When we got ready to leave, finally turned around to gather our gear off the sand/gravel bar behind us, that’s when we saw the bear tracks. Right behind us.

Right. Behind. Us.

A bear had come out of the woods, walked right up to us, checked us out then walked away. We never smelled a thing.


Real bears, even though they look magical.

6 Comments on “Dream Bear vs. Real Bear

  1. This may sound a bit melodramatic, but I just had a face-to-face, armpit-itching, molasses-legged, scream-caught-mid-throat, turn-and-run-for-your-life, frantic-car-key-searching, “please-let-me-get-in-the-car-before-it-gets-me” bear encounter and feel seriously full of love right now: your writing brings me much joy and happiness.

    Also, I did not drop my grocery bag with my coffee on the bear’s toes and that too makes me teary-eyed with gratitude.


    • I saw your post about it! That is so scary! Was it in the dark? My bears were in the daylight at least. But my god, they just turn your bones to water! I’ve been ringing my little bike bell when I go outside while the dogs are peeing, figure they’ll hear me so I won’t surprise them.


  2. Nice post! I sometimes see bears while running and one charged my dog a few years back, which scared me so much that I wet my pants. What I took away from it, after the fear subsided, was the wildness of it all and how in a second your life can veer from calm to utter chaos. In a way, I welcomed that reminder. I also dream of bears, too, and in my dreams they are mystical and scary creatures, much the way I envision God (except I don’ t think God would smell as rank). But I don’t romanticize bears. They are wild animals. They would tear me apart in a minute, under the right circumstances. (Please, bears, don’t tear me apart in a minute,okay?) Cheers and nice writing.


    • A bear charged the Beebs?! How rude! Or maybe not. If she’s like my dogs, she calls bears by every bad name she knows. My dogs hate them.

      And I love your comment about how you don’t romanticize bears. There’s always that tendency and even at times a desire in us to see things around us as beautifully significant, but I think it’s as dangerous and self serving as seeing them as something to just be killed and hang on a wall.

      Meanwhile, the bear is just being a bear. I just have to be a little more vigilant and careful. I want to live where bears live, evidently. So it’s time to relearn the rules of the neighborhood.


  3. Yeah, I had a brown bear momma and two cub running experience last year that drove me write Craig’s List to look for treadmills. I often have bear dreams as well.

    That “every hair is standing and even my pores are trying to stand” feeling while invigorating is something I don’t want to feel too often.

    Glad the bears didn’t eat you. Or your dogs. (And yes, I stand listening in the little pool of porch light listening for the bears that might eat my dogs and me at midnight when the damn elderly dachshund has to pee.)

    Now, as all things, how will you use this in your writing? (At least if we get to be terrified we can use it some way, right?)


    • The dogs know I’m spooked now and just kind of mill around my legs. I’ll be glad when snow comes and the brownies go to bed. It’s funny, I’ve already written a play that has a bear in it marauding around a cabin. Every time I work on it I get a very uneasy feeling like I’m calling something in. That’s crazy, I know bears don’t read plays that much. 🙂 circumstances of life can definitely change in a split second. I remember a documentary I saw on a couple living I the brooks range. They were raising two children and every time the mother went outside she strapped on a .44. Even if it was only to walk 10 feet to the woodpile. They had a grizzly that hung around and it would come at all times and harass them. They showed footage of her in the yard standing guard while her kids played in the dirt. She was constantly vigilant, exactly like a mother bear. I didn’t doubt for a second she knew how to use that gun.

      I’m just staying inside for awhile!


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