Thursday, July 7, 2011

1958 to 2011

WARNING: Below lies a Sad Story.  Don't read it if you don't want to feel saddened.

Back on July 9, 1958, I was bit by a black bear at the East Entrance to Yellowstone National Park.  Here's how it happened.  We had camped in Cody, Wyoming the night before.  Other campers told my parents about how cool it was to feed the bears at the park entrance.  They went to a Cody grocery and bought a big package of Pecan Sandies.  Sure enough, when we arrived at the park entrance there were several black bears waiting to be fed by incoming motorists.  We could hardly wait our turn.  When the time finally came, a big black bear perched on the passenger side of our 1955 Chevy four-door.  I was ever smaller than I am now (height-wise, that is) and was sitting on my Mom's hardcase cosmetics box.  (Child seats didn't exist in 1958 and seat belts were a superfluous oddity.)  I doled out the cookies one at a time to the bear whose head loomed large in the passenger window.  The bear's tongue would stick out and I would put a cookie on its tongue and then the bear would intake the cookie and a dreamy look would seem to appear in its eyes.  This went on until we ran out of cookies.  That's when the trouble began.  The bear assumed we were "holding out" on it and that more cookies existed someplace inside the car.  So, the bear began to climb into the car in search of the cookies.  My Mom began shrieking as only Mom's can shriek.  My Dad popped the clutch on the Chevy and killed the engine.  Meanwhile, in a panic, he pumped the gas pedal so furiously that he flooded the old Chevy six cylinder and we were trapped.  As the bear began trying to squeeze into the car, it began also attempting to find the cookies using its large mouth.  It put its teeth down on my right knee thinking perhaps I was hiding cookies under my pants.  It gently closed its jaws and gave my knee and leg a real good shake.  No cookies there.  So the bear let go and began sniffing elsewhere for the coveted Pecan Sandies.  Meanwhile, of course, my Mom had began smacking the bear in the nose all the while wailing at a most ungawdly decibel level.  The smell of gas from the flooded vehicle filled the air and the whine and grind of the poor Chevy starter provided a counterpoint to my Mom's hysteria.  Finally, the bear tired to wasting its time.  Afterall, many other tourists already waited in line to begin the 1950's Yellowstone Bear Feeding Ritual.  So, it climbed out of the car and went on to more productive food sources.   Meanwhile, dad got the poor Chevy started and we sped off in search of medical help.  When we reached the clinic at Fishing Bridge, the nurse there pronounced my injury "the least serious bear bite" they had ever seen.  That was no consolation to me or my parents as I was indeed lamed up all summer.

OK, let's fast forward to the years of 2007 and 2008.  By and by, after I took the job at RSVP, I told this story one day in the EICAP lunchroom.  No one believed me.  In fact, they all looked at me like I was a pathetic liar.  Their treatment of me stung and hurt my feelings.  If I tell you a story is true, you better believe it.  I will ALWAYS tell you if I am reciting a piece of fiction or embellishing a tale.  But a true story is a true story and that's that.  Anyway, I began to get some ribbing about "the bear story" and that hurt my feelings even more.  So, I called up Mom and asked her if she had a record of the bear bite.  Mom saves everything and would shame even the world's most prolific pack rat.  Surprisingly, she didn't have the record and I was even more bummed out.

Well, Mom took my request for that record as a personal challenge.  Unbeknownst to me she took on the Yellowstone National Park Administrative Establishment in a way that only my Mom can do.  She pestered them until they had no choice but to find the record to get her our of their collective hair. day, much to my abject and utter surprise up shows a copy of the record of the bear bite.  Oh, how excited I was as I began to read the report....until I got to the last line.  As a result of our boo-boo stupidity in feeding the bear and receiving the indignity of a superficial injury the bear was shot later that day.  End of Yogi. I was crushed to learn the outcome of that day oh, so long ago.

There's a saying that a "fed bear is a dead bear" and I played a role in perhaps the early coinage of that phrase.  The death of the bear continues to haunt me and I will always feel foolish for that episode in a Past Life.

OK, let's fast forward to yesterday when the news broke about the killing of a hiker by a grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park.  It's very sad when anyone dies from any cause but somehow a death-by-bear seems to magnify the sadness exponentially.  Last summer, some of you may recall I started a blog called ""  I actually had to stop messing with it because it was so incredibly sad to write than I simply couldn't handle the intense sadness in studying the details of various bear incidents and deaths.  There's no way I will revisit that bear blog gig.

However, when a grizzly kills somebody in Yellowstone for the first time since 1986, it's Big News in this neck of the woods and so I read extensively about it last night.  In a Reuters article, I came across this quote:

"Authorities are still investigating the circumstances of the attack, but initial information indicated the mother bear behaved normally in defending her cubs and would not be killed as a result of her actions, park spokeswoman Linda Miller said."

My, my, what a difference 53 years makes in bear management.  A bear is shot in 1958 for eating cookies and gumming the knee of an Indiana kid.  A bear kills a man in 2011 and stays alive for behaving "normally."  My heart goes out to the widow and the Families involved.  May God's Grace comfort them in their time of grief and sorrow.

Below are scans of the documentation of my incident.  jp


Marti Spudboater said...

Your name is actually Randy? Wow.

Also, now I understand your "fear" or should I characterize it, "discomfort" with bears. I'd always wondered why you got so wound tight about bears. Now I know. If I'd been bitten by a bear as a kid and walked away I'd have been scared, too.
Let's not forget that more people are killed and maimed by dogs. Granted, there are a lot more of them, too. I'm saddened by the grizzly tragegy and for the family of the invidual killed. I'm also glad they didn't kill the mama grizzly. And yes, fortunatley times do change. It's sad they killed the bear that bit you, too.

We all will leave this planet some time. We just don't typically know when it will happen. Perhaps that is a blessing in diguise.

Maggie said...

You've kept this good tale under wraps for a long time. Thanks for sharing it. Twas a darn good tale and I enjoyed it.

Wayne Ranney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wayne Ranney said...

John - I can't believe you kept this under wraps so long. Great story!!