Classic Dave's Place: Bears on the Brain

Sometimes our thoughts make us behave bizarrely.

Field & Stream Online Editors

In case you missed it the first time around, here's a vintage Dave's Place from the archives.

I admit it. I'm afraid of bears.

I never used to be. After all, the odds of being killed by a bear are incredibly slim. During the past century, bears have killed fewer than 100 people in North America; meanwhile 1,500 people on this continent died while swimming last year. And I'm not afraid of swimming.

But last year, doing research for a magazine article on bear safety, I stupidly read all those stories about people getting their faces slapped off by angry grizzly bears. Now, I might have been okay with that, seeing that I don't live in grizzly country. But I also read the stories about people getting their limbs gnawed to the bone by peckish black bears. That did it.

A short while after researching that article, I went camping with my friend John in the Adirondacks, to a place where black bears are known to roam. On the first night, sitting by the campfire, I had bears on the brain. I wasn't looking forward to the long night alone in my tent. My goal was to keep John awake and talking for as late as I could--but the only thing I could seem to talk about was bears. I rattled off all the disturbing facts I'd learned and retold a few of the more gruesome attack stories. After a while, John casually agreed that being eaten by a black bear would not be fun, and then strolled over to his tent.

"Sleep tight," he said.

In my tent, I stared wide-eyed into the darkness and listened. Every rustling leaf, every scampering mouse, and especially every raccoon was, beyond the shadow of a doubt, a black bear coming to eat me.

Finally I got up, stumbled around the campfire, found what I was looking for, went back to the tent, stuffed some toilet paper in my ears, and fell to sleep.

When I got up in the morning, John--an early riser--was sipping coffee and staring at the ashes from last night's fire.

"I was going to make a fire this morning," he said, "but I couldn't find the hatchet."

"Hmmm," I said. "That's strange. Why don't you pour me a cup of coffee and I'll look around." I disappeared for a few seconds and then returned. "Here it is."

"Great," John said. "Where was it?"

"Ahhh, over there," I said, pointing to a wide and general direction behind me.

The next night was much like the first. I finally got to sleep, but in the morning, a little after first light, I woke suddenly. This time, I really did hear the rustling footsteps of a large animal outside my tent. This was no raccoon. I started to panic. Then I heard, "Hey, Dave."

I unzipped my tent door to see John's mug staring in at me.

"Can I have the hatchet?" he asked.

"What d'ya mean?" I said a little sheepishly.

He gave me a knowing look. I pulled the hatchet out from under my pillow and handed it to him.