by Phillip Cheng
The world was quiet and at the same time hostile. I had been standing in the middle of the living room for an eternity in a state of panic and fear. His 400+ pounds of muscle stood there, unwavered like a mountain, as my mind devoured the oxygen that 200 beats per minute provided. All I could see were paws like mini machetes, a body as solid as a rock, and I am what stood between him and his meal. As the drool slid down his mouth, it soaked the pine floor as he stared at me from the doorway. There was two ways in and two ways out, I believed I was going die.
I had driven up to Lake Tahoe in the summer of 2009 for my seasonal position with the California State Parks. My duties included collecting camping fees, explaining the rules of the park and what to do when encountered with a bear. Most of the seasonal employees had stayed in the dorms, so naturally it is where all of the bbqs were thrown. We had been warned that bears do stop by on occasion and it would be best to seal all the food and spray Pine Sol on the stairs as to deter animals, most notably bears. The warnings went unheeded.
As I stood in the hallway and the bear at the doorway, I began to recall what I had been telling all the park visitors to do when encountered with a bear. "When you are in sight of a bear, remain calm, make yourself look as large as possible and make loud noises to scare the bear away." I had begun to build up my courage to move, my legs infused with fear and rigor mortis as it followed the contours of the bench next to me. As I stood at the precipice of the bench I began to stomp my feet, flail my arms and scream at the top of my lungs, "GO AWAY BEAR! SHOO! GET OUT OF HERE!" The bear, unaffected by my taller stature and war cries (almost literal cries at that point), he began to take one step forward into the house and grunting as if saying, "No human, I came for what’s mine!" From the top of the bench I could see the bear was eyeing a bag of food from the night before. The food was lying on the floor and it is when I had realized that the bear had already been in the house. The fridge was wide open with milk pouring onto the floor. That is when I realized that if the bear had wanted to attack me, he could have done so in my sleep.
With that epiphany, I had found more courage and I was able to call the Park Ranger for assistance. With my death grip on the phone, I was able to snap some photos of the bear as the sound of tree branches crunched under the weight of the Ranger's 4X4. With the sound of tires pulling into the driveway the bear immediately went into the house, grabbed the bag of food and retreated back into the forest area behind the dorms. The Park Ranger had watched as the bear headed away from the dormitory, grabbed her gun, fixed her sights on the bear and pulled the trigger. The bear was marked with a red dot as he retreated back into the woods. The bear was shot with a paintball gun which I came to realize was meant to deter the bear away from human occupied areas while not harming them. The bear had ran away, the ranger had arrived and I was left intact, scarred and with a new respect for nature and wildlife.
Nature is beautiful and it can be scary. What you choose to get out of the experience is up to you.
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