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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bears


Before I get to bears, a couple of updates on life.

When I retired in 2004 from law teaching my OSU replacement was Professor Larry Garvin, a good friend, notable legal scholar and teacher, and fellow Gilbert and Sullivan aficionado. A week and a half ago he slipped on the ice while walking from the law school to the parking lot, and broke his femur up near the hip. It’s a very serious break, and he will be in the rehabilitation hospital until at least the end of the first week of March. The dean called and asked me to step in and take over Larry’s four-day-a-week Contracts class, meeting 11 a.m. until noon, M-Th. I was willing to do this on the clear understanding that I would NOT HAVE TO GRADE ANY EXAMS. The classes have been fun, but it is a lot of work to have to prepare for classes out of a strange casebook when for most of the decades I taught this subject I used my own book.

Today (Tues. Feb 23) is the three month anniversary of my heart transplant. That is an important milestone, particularly since my health is so good. I can now stop wearing a mask in public, which did cause comment. On the day I, a stranger, first walked into Larry's Contracts class wearing the mask, the students (who knew about Larry’s accident) were abuzz. When it was time to begin I looked up at them and said, “I’m wearing a mask because I heard you all have germs.” That caused a laugh, and I explained about the heart transplant, and things went on from there. Now back to the main topic.

I have always been fascinated by bears and I don’t know why. In zoos, for example, I can spend a lot of time just watching them—big bears, small bears, black bears, white ones. I had a period of about a year in law school when I had repetitive bear dreams every few months. In these dreams the bear would always start out friendly, was always wearing a hat, and then turned mean, at which point I climbed something to escape the bear. In one dream, for example, the bear was Smokey wearing his park ranger hat and there was a camera crew filming a public service announcement (“Ditch the butt, Smokey, this is a take”). Then Smokey suddenly became vicious and started attacking people with huge paw swipes, at which point I climbed a tree (which makes no sense since bears can climb trees, but, well, running didn’t seem better). When Smokey came after me I kicked at him, and then woke up. In another it was a children’s birthday party (I was an adult in the dream), and the two pet grizzly bears were wearing party hats. When they turned on the guests, I climbed a china cupboard to escape.

These dreams may have been influenced by a real life encounter with a wild bear. This occurred in the summer of 1960. My father had been transferred from Nashville to Langley Air Force Base in southern Virginia, and I would spend my senior year of high school there (at York High School, a few feet away from the battlefield where Washington beat the British and secured the American nationhood). Dad was already in VA when my mother, sister (Mary Beth), and I set out driving from Nashville to Yorktown VA. On our route we passed from Gatlingburg TN into NC and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We had driven this beautiful highway before, and were always fascinated by the wild bears who could sometimes be seen digging through the tourist trashcans in the mini-rest areas on the side of the road.

I was driving (having gotten my license the fall before), Mom was riding shotgun, and Mary Beth was in the back seat, when I suddenly pulled into one of these little picnic spots because I had spotted a bear (which we had been looking for). He/she was a good sized black bear, and not at all afraid of cars or humans. The bear came up to our car and started sniffing around (and—trust me on this—we knew enough to stay in the car). The bear was near the back tire on the passenger’s side when a station wagon pulled into the area and parked on the gravel a couple of car-lengths in front of us. There was a family in the car, and the man who was driving promptly exited the station wagon, camera in hand, and started walking our way, making calling noises to the bear. When the idiot was about five feet in front of our car, the bear suddenly charged, growling (well, really it sounded more like a howl). The man, dropping the camera, fled, and immediately fell as he slipped on the gravel. The bear, which had appeared pretty lethargic when calm, was a monster in motion, fat bouncing up and down, as it rounded the car and made for him.

I hit the horn as loud as I could, and the bear squealed to a stop. I hit the horn once more, and the bear, being right in front of the car where the horn would be noisiest, looked back at us, half annoyed, half startled, and then, confused when I honked yet again, turned and bounded into the woods.

The shaken man, picked up the camera, and ran back to the station wagon, which pealed out of the parking area, gravel flying in its wake. Almost immediately the bear returned, now calm once more, and came right up our car. It obviously wanted food, which doubtless tourists had given it in the past. The bear reared up on its hind legs, and put its paws against the front passenger-side windows, causing my Mom to make a low keening noise. In those days there were two windows on the front doors of most cars: a big one like there is now and a little triangular one near the front of the car which could be opened separately for ventilation. The bear’s right paw happened to push the little window closed when the bear stood up. Since the bear was heavy and putting its considerable weight on the windows, Mom and Mary Beth began giving quiet little yelps about getting out of there, so I started the car and we gently pulled away. Once we were back on the highway, Mom held her hands out for our inspection to demonstrate how much they were shaking. I have no memory of my reaction at all. Perhaps I was in shock.

That was my last encounter with bears outside of a zoo, and it’s enough for me.
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"Mama, Biopsies, and My iPad," May 19, 2010
"Teaching English to Cats," August 6, 2010
"The Purring Heart," November 23, 2010
"The Dogs In My Life," April 18, 2011
"My Parents and Dummy," May 13, 2011
"Two Cat Stories: Mama and Barney in the Wild," July 9, 2011
"Zoo Stories," August 30, 2011
“Mama Cat Saves My Life,” October 23, 2011
"Stepping on Cats," February 8, 2012
“Snowbirding, My iPhone 5, and the Coming Crazy Cat Trip,” December 5, 2012
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