Bears, Bears Everywhere

Idaho. Nevada. Arizona. California. Oregon. Washington.

In every state I drove through last month, there was a recurring theme: Bears. I saw evidence of them everywhere I looked. Bear boxes. Warning signs. But mostly, sculptures.

Bears carved from wood. Bears made of bronze. Humorous bears. Ferocious bears. Abstract Bears. Bears standing on their hind legs for all eternity. Bears holding signs, and most likely grateful to have a job in this economy. Here a bear, there a bear, everywhere a bear, bear. They even started entering my dreams.

The only thing I didn’t see was an actual bear. That’s probably a good thing. The only bears I’ve ever seen in the wild were in Alaska, and I was grateful to be able to observe them with awe from the safety of a vehicle. Bears are amazing and worthy of respect. I’m glad they’re out there. I’m also glad none have ever tapped me on the shoulder.

What follows are some of the postcards I collected from my Pokemon Go application while passing by all these bear statues. Enjoy!

Like this quirky little blog? Then you’ll love this book!

Amanda’s Awful Adventure

In the delightful little town of Yachats, Oregon (pronounced YA-Hots) you will stumble upon the beginning of the Amanda Trail. This got me curious. Who was Amanda, and why did she merit a 3.7 mile trail from Yachats to the top of Cape Perpetua, the highest point on the Oregon coast?

When I inquired at the visitor center, I was told that Amanda was an Indian who used to live here, and halfway along the trail was a statue to honor her and her people. Having seen nothing but lily-white faces since I’d arrived, I suspected that Amanda needed a great deal of honoring, indeed.

But I’m 51 and out of shape, so the thought of climbing to the highest point on the Oregon coast gave me pause. No. That’s not true. It didn’t give me pause. It gave me a huge case of Oh Hell No.

But then the lady at the visitor center told me that the part of the trail from Yachats to the statue wasn’t so bad. It was rated “moderate”. It didn’t become “difficult” until you went from the statue up to the cape. Moderate didn’t sound too hard. I figured I could handle moderate. So off I went.

After illegally parking in someone’s driveway, thus shaving off about half of my walk, I set out, intrepid hiker that I am. And got lost. Karma. After backtracking and picking up the trailhead (well, the trail middle, technically) I set out through the woods.

And the view of the coast from here was stunning. I’m not used to being alone in the woods and yet hearing the waves crashing on the beach, but I liked it quite a bit. I tried not to think of bears, or, worse yet, humans of the serial killing variety. I just concentrated on enjoying the scenery.

But moderate, my butt. After climbing over some roots that were thicker than I am, and scrambling up several steep slopes, I began to wonder if this was intentional. If you want to honor the Native Americans here, it seems, you have to be pretty freakin’ determined.

At one point I slipped on the loamy soil and came down hard on my tailbone, knocking the wind out of me. As I sat there recovering, I wondered how long it would take for someone to find my body up here. It is, after all, shoulder season.

But now I was feeling kind of stubborn. I was going to see this statue, even if it killed me. I went around a bend in the trail and came upon a bear statue. Bears. Great. The statue was well done, but seemed out of place here. Like a human invasion in a deserted landscape. And all around it were elk hoof prints. Onward.

Next, I came upon a laminated sign nailed to a post. “The Amanda Statue contains a satellite tracking device that will alert authorities as to it’s (sic) location if the statue is moved. Due to ongoing vandalism to the statue, visual surveillance has been added.”

Sigh. It says a lot about man’s unbelievable level of greed that one would trek all the way up here, over hill, over dale, over big ol’ honkin’ roots, to steal what one can only assume is a heavy statue. Or maybe greed isn’t the motivator. Maybe some people want the past to be forgotten. Now I was really intrigued.

Finally (Thank you, Lord) I entered a grotto, and could see the statue in the distance. But before I approached, I stopped to read the informational sign. And what I read broke my heart.

It spoke of forcing tribes that had lived here for hundreds of years off their land. It spoke of treaties violated. It spoke of starvation and violence and abuse. It spoke of Indian agents hunting “squaws” and “bucks”. And it told the story of Amanda De-Cuys.

Amanda lived with her husband, a white settler, 50 miles off the reservation. She was old and blind, and had a young daughter. The agents ripped her from the arms of her family and marched her back up the coast, barefoot, over jagged volcanic rock, for 10 days. Her feet bled so much, it was said, that you could track her by the blood trail. No one knows what became of her after that.

Tears in my eyes, I then went and sat before the statue. I felt ashamed for complaining on my way up this comparatively simple trail. How soft we have become.

I tried to imagine what Amanda would say if she saw me now.

“Your people stole our land, starved us, tortured us, ripped our families apart, dragged me blind and bleeding over rocks for 10 days, and all I got was this lousy statue.”

Funny. You don’t see that on any of the t-shirts in the quaint little shops on the Oregon tourist trail. And still, I went back, embarrassed at how relieved I was to return to my hotel room and support the local economy, and disgusted by the fact that I might still consider retiring here some day.

A big thanks to StoryCorps for inspiring this blog and my first book.

The Tragic Tale of Twenty-Two Bears

It pains me to write this so hard on the heels of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, but the only way I can get this horrible story out of my head, it seems, is by putting it into yours.

Our National Parks have a very checkered past. Our efforts to “tame” nature often had disastrous results, and then later, as philosophies changed, our efforts to restore nature to its original state were often just as bad. This very topic, the fight over the best way to control nature, is the subject of a new book, “Engineering Eden” by Jordan Fisher Smith.

I haven’t read the book but I’m looking forward to doing so. I heard the author discuss it on the radio. He was a park ranger for 21 years, so he speaks about the parks with a great deal of experience and authority.

One of the stories he told was about something that occurred at Yosemite back in 1973. It seems a tourist was in the back country and came across the corpses of 22 bears at the foot of a cliff. There were adults and cubs, and some of the bodies where caught in the trees. Three of them were skinned.

The tourist informed some reporters, and it was discovered that these bears had been killed by park rangers and tossed off the cliff so that the public wouldn’t see them. The three skins where used in an exhibit. The park officials eventually admitted that 200 bears had been killed over the past 12 years in Yosemite alone.

This was their awful solution to a bear “problem” that had been created because humans had habituated them to our food. You can see a lot of historical photos of delighted people hand feeding bears out of their car windows, or gathering around the dump sites to watch the bears eating our garbage. Naturally that caused the bears to become a nuisance. The park policy was to try to relocate the bears, but often they’d be back to their original locations before the rangers could even drag the bear trap back to the capture site. So as a last resort, they’d get the cliff treatment.

I looked all over the internet for more information on this story, and I only came up with this article from the New York Times archives. You’d think that there would have been enough shock and outrage to cause a bit more buzz, but it was 1973. People were much more apt to look the other way back then.

There are now policies in place to discourage the feeding of bears, and there are lock boxes at campsites for food and garbage, and the open dumps no longer exist. Even so, I can’t stop thinking about what it must have been like for that man, out in the wilderness, simply wishing to take in some gorgeous views, and instead coming across that grizzly sight. (Pardon the pun.) It must have been horrifying. One can only hope that the park service has evolved since then, even if the bears haven’t.