Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Bear Box

We’re going camping again, and I really don’t know why. You may recall my June 22, 2011 column entitled “The Mama Bear,” recanting the harrowing tale of my wife’s brave battle with some bat guano-crazy bears at Lake Tahoe. If you have not read it, please do so now. We’ll wait for you.

OK, now that you’re back, we’ll continue. My wife and our friend Carrie have not fully recovered from that incident, and I’m not sure they ever will. After the Tahoe trip, my wife quickly abandoned her Rambo-like bear hunting persona, and reverted back to a more recognizable version of her old self, complete with her former healthy respect for bears, and now an additional non-healthy fear and loathing of bears, brought on presumably by some sort of bear encounter PTSD.

We have been “camping” since the Tahoe trip, but only in cabins. Our last adventure with Carrie and Jeff was earlier this summer at Manzanita Lake in Lassen National Park. Our cabins had four thick wooden walls, a roof, and a door that closed and locked, so the ladies were moderately at ease. Each cabin also had a large steel bear box, located outside the cabin, just like the one we didn’t use quite right in Tahoe two years earlier, so the ladies were also moderately on edge. I figured the Lassen bears were probably just regular black bears, and not the Cheetos and hotdog eating, quasi-domesticated, lethal house pets posing as bears that roam the campgrounds of Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, so I tried to put their minds at ease.

“We’re far more likely to be killed in the night by that giant volcano right there than by a bear. There have been a lot of little earthquakes here in the last few months. This place is ready to blow its top. The bears probably already left.”

They didn’t seem any more comfortable after that pep talk. Go figure.

Since there was no way I was going to get away with any type of behavior regarding the bear box other than strict adherence to the policies that my wife is now intimately familiar with, I began my Lassen trip by “cleansing” our vehicle of any food, food related products, and anything that has a smell of any kind. That was easy. The hard part was figuring out what to do with the kids’ car seats. If you had enough glue, time, and patience, you could reconstruct an entire case of granola bars from the crumbs hidden in the fabric and crevices of each seat. Even though the ten pounds of crumbs are old and stale, they still qualify as food to a bear, so what do I do with these seats? Cleaning them out is not an option. If I was ambitious enough to do that, they wouldn’t be full of crumbs in the first place. I can’t fit all three of them in the bear box and still have room for the actual food, so now what? I finally decided to just remove them from the car and set them on the ground. I figured if a bear wanted them, he could have them, but at least he wouldn’t total the car in the process.

I foolishly assumed I was done with the bear box and other bear-related issues after I had finished unpacking the car and cleaning up after dinner. Boy was I wrong. We stowed all the food and coolers back in the big steel locker with the creaky door hinges and locked ourselves safely in the cabin for the night. Or so I thought.

3:00 A.M.
"Dad, wake up. I need to pee."
“OK, go for it.”
"Don't you dare send him out there alone!!!"
“Hey, buddy, why don’t I come with you?”
Creak, groan (the sound of my body moving at night)
“Dad, do we have to walk all the way to the bathrooms?”
“No, of course not. We’re camping. Pee on that tree.”
“OK… Dad, my foot got pee on it.”
“Important lesson here, son. When you’re wearing flip-flops and peeing on a tree in the dark, stand on the uphill side.”
“Never mind.”

Back to bed

3:30 A.M.
"Honey, wake up. I totally forgot about the Tupperware container in one of the tubs. It has dish soap in it. We need to put it in the bear box right now."
"No we don't. The bears aren't going to do dishes."
"Yes we do, it's scented. Plus I really have to pee, and you need to come with me."
"These are Lassen bears, sweetheart. Not Tahoe bears. The Tahoe bears were certifiably insane. These bears are normal. They don't want to eat dish soap, and they don't want to get you when you pee."
"Wake up!"
"Oh, well. I have to pee too, anyway."
Creak, groan
“Go to the uphill side of the tree.”
“What tree?”
“Never mind.”
“Get the Tupperware into the bear box and then walk me to the bathrooms. Hurry up, I’m cold!”
Whap. Creeeeeeeeeeak. Slam. Creeeeeeeeak. Bang.
“Be quiet!”
“It’s a bear box, honey. It’s not a quiet thing.”
“OK. The soap is safely in the bear box. Let’s go to the bathroom. Watch out for bears.”
“Shut up, that’s not funny!”

Back to bed

4:00 A.M.
“Honey, wake up. I have ChapStick in my purse!”
“No thanks, I don’t need any. Why are you waking me up to offer me ChapStick, anyway? Wait, do you want to make out or something? Sure, I’ll take some.”
“It’s not for you, idiot! It needs to go in the bear box!”
“No it doesn’t. It will be fine in here.”
“My purse isn’t in here. It’s in the car.”
“It’ll be fine. The smell of your rosy hand lotion will overpower the ChapStick, anyway.”
“I forgot about the lotion! You need to go get them both!”
Damn you, mouth. Listen to it inside the brain before you just say it!
“OK. I’ll go take care of it.”
Creak, groan

“Did you put them in the bear box?”
“No, the bear box is too loud. I didn’t want to wake everyone up again, or worse yet, attract the bears. They know what the bear boxes sound like, you know.”
“Shut up, that’s not funny. What did you do with them?”
“I put them on one of the car seats.”
“Great, now the bears are going to eat our car seats.”
“If they haven’t come for the granola bar crumbs yet, they’re not going to show up for ChapStick and hand lotion.”

Back to bed

4:30 A.M.
“Are you sure it’s going to be OK to leave the lotion outside?”
“Honey, I love you, but I’m going to pull all the food out and make you sleep in the bear box if you don’t stop waking me up!”

This next trip coming up is going to be an actual camping trip, where we sleep in tents, not cabins. That should be great.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

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