In the early summer of 2005, Karen and I, along with some of our kids, stayed a week in a housekeeping unit in Yosemite Valley. We enjoyed the waterfalls, the giant trees, the spectacular scenery. We hiked Vernal Falls along narrow granite ledges, walked the mist trails, and rafted the Merced River. Half Dome and El Capitan loomed above us. Each morning we ate a quick breakfast of pancakes and maple syrup before starting off on our daily excursions. On our return we always stopped at the store and bought needed supplies. That was also the place we found out the latest news and heard the latest warnings. “Do not feed or approach deer or any other animal. Keep all food supplies in the metal bear-proof lockers attached to the housekeeping units. Only start fires in designated areas and in fire pits.” Of course there were stories about animals or fires that seemed designed to back up the rules. We listened but did not take them seriously. However, Rangers occasionally patrolled the area making sure everyone was in compliance.
Life was grand. In the evenings we ate leisurely, enjoying corn chowder and barbequed ribs, and for dessert has smores and other campfire treats. We then headed off to the shower houses, returned clean, played games, sang songs, told stories, and collapsed into our cots, ready to repeat the day’s fun or try new experiences. The first five evenings were routine and sleep was deep and restful.
On our last night in camp events changed drastically. The night was dark as pitch, the tall trees blocking out light from most of the stars. Most nights there were the occasional whoops and hollers as faraway campers played cards or drank with friends. This night was different. Everybody was quiet. There were no arriving cars to break up the silence. By 3:00 a.m. everyone was deep in sleep. Suddenly, there was a loud crash and sharp bangs. Then a soft slurping. In our unit we were all instantly awake. “It’s a bear,” someone whispered. “I think it’s got our syrup.”
“Leave it alone and it’ll go away. It won’t bother us,” I offered, lying on one elbow but reluctant to move.
At that time Karen leaped out of bed. “There’s a bear in our food locker. I want to go see,” she said, and then dashed to the curtain that separated us from the outside world.
“Oh my goodness,” I muttered to myself. I pulled on my clothes and went to keep her out of trouble. By then she was outside watching the bear. It sat there unconcerned, gulping our syrup. I was afraid her curiosity would be too much for the bear so I went to her rescue.
I don’t remember what I thought when I saw this huge bear sitting calmly in the moonlight, the syrup container held between his huge paws. The bear looked around at us and I stepped in front of Karen. I ignored her question. “What are you doing?” she asked peevishly.
In my mind the situation obviously called for action. “God is with me,“ I said and then
I advanced in a rush, flailing my arms and shouting. The bear studied me quietly. I just knew it was sizing me up and asking, “Why’s a puny little human walking towards me and yelling? Doesn’t he know I’m huge and could dispatch him with one tiny flick of my paw? He’s obviously crazy.” The bear looked at me one more time, shrugged, and rose to all fours. By then lights were going on all over camp. People were waving flashlights and coming in our direction. The bear lumbered off, passed through other camps and ambled off into the night. People chattered to each other for awhile and then gradually the uproar returned to silence as they returned to their camps, leaving their lights on for awhile.
As I turned back to our camp an angry Karen demanded, “Why did you scare the bear away? I wanted to get close and see it.” I shrugged and gave no answer. How could I explain that the bear was a threat to her and to everyone else? She obviously didn’t believe it was bravery that made me react.
The following morning as we prepared to leave, I found out I was some sort of celebrity to those around us. “Are you the one who chased the bear out of our camp? Look at the prints. The bear must have been huge.” “Weren’t you scared?” “Thank you for your brave deed.” I only smiled, eager to leave, afraid the rangers would be upset with me for interacting with an animal.
So I left the beautiful valley without fanfare but with wonderful memories.
I did not have a slingshot like David did when he chased a bear away from his flock. I only had the knowledge that God is always with us and will deliver us. I did not smite the bear, or baptize it. I only chased it away. And according to Karen, perhaps even that was unnecessary.
In hindsight I’ve learned that I don’t have to take every obstacle head on. Sometimes I only need to wait and see what will happen. “Be patient,” I tell myself. “I’m sure my wife could have taken care of that bear by herself. She sure scares me.”
By Dan Roberson