The Bear Story
When I was ten, I was intensely bored by anything outside of my own head. A nurse friend of mine once told me that this would have been considered an early sign of Asperger’s. But whoever got anywhere listening to nurses?
So, when one day my dad asked me if I wanted to go fishing, I politely declined. Then, he told me we were going fishing.
We were on the Walker river outside of Markleeville, CA. It’s in this narrow canyon. It’s beautiful, stunning scenery on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Something you need to know about mountains is that they demand your attention. It’s not like being in a city or even a town. How many times have you got in your car and arrived at your destination and looked around and realized that you can’t remember how you got there? It’s a normal thing. We all have done that.
You’re not allowed to do that in the mountains.
And, before we continue, you should know that my dad is very good at being outside. He hunts, fishes and camps. He likes it all. I like most of it.
I am just not good at being outside. I love it. But I’m horrible at it. I get distracted by stupid stuff.
For example, we had hiked down to the river from the truck. My dad had an idea. He decided that I should cross the river. That way, we could walk down the river all day long scaring fish to each other.
My idea was to look at the ground and think about how dirt is different in the mountains compared to the dirt in the city.
While I’m thinking about dirt — literally — my dad gets my attention. He says, “Tyler, there’s a bear on the dam ahead.”
I say, “Should I run?”
He goes, “No. Look at it.”
I go, “I think I should run.”
He goes, “Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”
And I just take off! I decide to run and he doesn’t stop me. I could see it in his face. And him not stopping me from running away tells me that I made a good call. I take a mental note.
Do you remember when you realized that your parents didn’t know everything? You know, we now know, as adults, that all adults are just guessing in life.
Do you know what ten year olds don’t know?
So, there I am running. While I’m realizing that my dad doesn’t know everything. While I’m being chased by a bear. While I’m a ten year old who may or may not have Asperger’s.
So this is traumatic for multiple reasons.
I hear rustling in the bushes behind me. I keep running and I turn my head to yell at my dad, who is now running at the same pace as me but on the other side of the river.
I say, “Can I jump in the river?!”
He says, “Do not do that!”
I now question him in my head because, once again, I’m running and he’s running also and he told me not to run.
I say, “I think I’m going to jump.”
He says, “No, don’t jump!”
I hear foot, or paw, stamps behind me. And I say, “I really want to jump!”
He doesn’t say no this time. So, I think, Oh, great, this again. Are you right or not? Who’s in charge right now??!
At this point I know, I’m definitely ending up in the river. Which, you should know, is a rushing mess of completely white, frothy water. It’s spring time. The Sierras get a lot of snow. Spring time is when that snow melts. And this river? It’s where all of the melted snow ends up.
I turn toward the river, because I’ve decided that my dad no longer has a grip on reality. I take a step to jump into the rushing water.
My gear gets caught in the bushes.
I feel breathing on my neck.
Like, for real.
I’m really about to get eaten.
By a real bear.
I don’t know how I did it, but I got out of my gear and I did what I think any ten year old would do. I just let go and fall into the river that will probably kill me. I figure if I can delay death by a few minutes, why not?
Let me tell you something. The most clarified moment you could ever experience comes when you jump into rapids as an alternative to the bear that is immediately behind you.
I was only under water completely for a brief moment. But, in that moment I was not concerned with the bear. I wasn’t worried about drowning. I wasn’t worried about being carried into a pile of wood that would collapse around me and forcibly drown me. I wasn’t even wondering if the bear had followed me into the water. I was completely consumed with my new reality. I saw my entire life; my future and all. The past went by quickly, it was short. I was only 10. There wasn’t a ton to recap. But then, I saw my future wife. I saw my children. I saw them playing in the front lawn with my dog. My dog - I’m going to have a dog!, I thought.
I was looking at my future family and house and dog, and I thought, There’s no way this will ever happen to them. They will never get chased by a bear…
Because fishing is dumb!
I was right! Fishing is dumb! I can now prove it! It’s going off into the mountains, or their other name, “The home of all bears”, to attempt, using a stick, to trick an animal whose name we use to describe unappetizing smells. The whole thing is fishy! And dumb!
I get carried down stream a little bit and I eventually pull myself out of the river. My dad catches up to me. Without talking, I start climbing up the side of this mountain to get to the road. Without a word, I deiced what way we are walking back to the truck. I also decide that we are done fishing for the day. My dad remains completely silent through all of these decisions. They are my first real, adult choices, after all. I’m not asking him.
We get in the car and the first thing my dad says to me is, “Where is your gear?”
“It got caught in some bushes. I left it so that I wouldn’t get eaten by a bear! Did you forget about the bear?! The reason we’re in the truck and not fishing right now??!”
He looks forward, puts the truck in gear and pulls off. All he says, no emotion in his voice, “Okay.”
As we’re driving, I look out the window and see the bear. She’s climbing up this huge tree toward a cub. It was a real moment for me. I was a survivor. I was returned to my past battlefield and I was looking out upon it wiser, older, changed.
I thought to myself:
Oh, look at that. Both bears are on the same side of the river.