Outta Leftfield Column


Published: Wednesday, August 29, 2007

By: Mike Morsch

 My boss recently sent me a picture from her latest vacation that shows her footprint next to the footprint of a big bear. And it reminded me that when I schedule a vacation, I try to go where the bears are not, so that chance of me becoming a bear appetizer is kept to a bare minimum.

Grizzly pawprint and Betsy footprint

Apparently not so with the Big Cheesette. She and her family recently vacationed in Alaska – which despite what football fans in Chicago think – is where the bears live. I can barely comprehend the attraction.

And not surprisingly, the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Park Service has a brochure called “Bear Safety in Alaska’s National Parklands” that it gives to visitors.

On first glance, it seems to me that the National Park Service probably ought to put out a brochure titled, “If You Go Someplace Else on Vacation, You Will Not Become a Scooby Snack for a Big Old Alaskan Bear.”

I suppose that would be counterproductive to the state Department of Tourism, whose job it is to convince us that cavorting with bears is as attractive as a day on a Caribbean beach with half-nekked island girls serving me drinks with little umbrellas in them, otherwise known as the bare necessities of life.

But the park service brochure correctly points out that should one encounter a bear along the way, one should not run. While this is correct and sound advice, it doesn’t seem to me to be a natural human reaction and I personally would be hard-pressed to stand my ground if confronted by a bear. For example:

– If I see an ax murderer coming at me, I run.

– If I see a charging elephant coming at me, I run. (And I likely have even bigger problems if elephants are running loose in Montgomery County.)

– If I see an out-of-control tractor-trailer coming at me, I run.

– If I see a divorce attorney coming at me, I run. (Of course, in this instance, I have to write checks while I am running.)

If I am in Alaska and see a bear coming at me, I have to believe that my first instinct is going to be to run, unless of course the bear is offering me a drink with a little umbrella in it.

Quite the opposite is apparently the correct strategy. Among the options suggested by The National Park Service when confronting a bear, along with my editorial comments, are:

(1) Make sure the bear is aware of your presence. Talk calmly to the bear and stand your ground. (Talk calmly to the bear? “Hey, how about this weather we’re having, huh pal?” Besides, standing my ground in this instance would mean that I would be standing on soggy ground due to the puddle that I have just made.)

(2) If a bear charges you, stand your ground and remain assertive. Make yourself look big. Now is the time to use bear pepper spray if you have it. (There is something called bear pepper spray? And how does one “look big” while one is a quivering mass of hysteria standing in a puddle?)

(3) If it is a brown bear, play dead. Lie face down with your hands clasped behind your neck and legs spread apart so the bear can’t turn you over. (No need to play dead. I will have already died from the massive coronary at this point.)

(4) If the attack is prolonged and the brown bear begins to feed on you, fight back vigorously. The encounter has now likely changed from a defensive one to a predatory one. (If the bear begins to feed on me? Oh for crying out loud, I’m going to hang around long enough for that to happen?)

(5) If it’s a black bear, never play dead. (So now I need to be able to distinguish between a brown bear and a black bear while screaming at the top of my lungs, looking big and standing in a puddle?)

One final bit of advice from the National Park Service is that when one encounters a bear in Alaska, one should change course and increase the distance between yourself and the bear.

And really, isn’t that all you need to know about the bears in Alaska, that you should increase the distance between them and you? A Caribbean vacation certainly accomplishes that objective quite nicely, thank you very much.

A lifetime without a vacation to Alaska? Guess I’ll just have to grin and bear it.


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