Those who know me, know I am a Nature Girl. I love to be outside...I commune with the trees...I am one with the creatures of the forest. So last weekend when we visited Shenendoah National Park, I seized the opportunity to spend as much time as possible soaking up the Great Outdoors. The boys had done a light hike before dinner, on a trail just outside our lodge. They came back high on mountain air, raving about the view from the Observation Point at the end of the path. Of course I had to see it for myself, so I set off alone when they got back. The trail wound into the woods, shaded, cool, and tranquil. After I passed a family walking their bouncy black Lab puppy, I had the path to myself.
I kept an eye on the ground, to avoid tripping over the large rocks strewn across the dirt walkway as I strode along, making very little noise in my running sneakers. I was SO quiet, in fact, that I was almost on top of the BEAR before I saw it. (Yes, that's him, on the right!) Now, I've done a LOT of hiking in my life, but I have NEVER stumbled on a real, live bear in the wild before. To an outside observer, I must have looked like a cartoon; I came to such an abrupt halt that I almost overbalanced and fell on my face. My heart felt like it stopped dead for a few moments. Then it crashed back to action, and pounded so hard in my chest I could both hear and feel it, and I was sure the bear could as well. I stood as if frozen, muttering some bad words under my breath, in utter shock. As my brain frantically kicked back into gear, memories started flashing across--of everything I'd ever heard or read about how to handle this situation. For instance: "Make noise while hiking, since bears will hear you and avoid the area." (Um, too late.) Next? "If a bear charges, lie down in a ball, hold very still, and pretend to be dead." (Why do I remember this? Well, hold that thought...)
This entire sequence lasted probably 5 seconds or so. Then I backed away very slowly, a few feet. He looked up at me. I stared back at him, trying my best to appear friendly and harmless. He seemed to decide I wasn't going to take his dinner. I concluded he wasn't going to eat ME. In this spirit of peace and understanding...I moved a little closer again to see if I could photograph him. I know, I know, so NOT following the Nature Rulebook. But there was no way I was leaving without trying, unless he charged me (I blame my misplaced "bravery" on Crazy Explorer Shows, courtesy of Animal Planet). After a few more chomps, he apparently had had enough of his Berry Buffet, and he lumbered off into the brush. A couple of deep breaths later, I was steady enough to continue on my way as well.
As Encounters with Savage Beasts go, it was perfect. Although a bear's meal was momentarily disturbed, he suffered no permanent damage. More importantly, there was no mauling of the Intrepid Adventuress. And even MORE critical: I returned with Proof and a Great Story, to gloat--I mean SHARE with my family and friends!