Of Bears and Trees

Brown bear, or grizzly

One of the large debates animating animal lovers in the 70’s was what to do about the bears in both Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks.  I believe that in both places there were brown bears (more commonly known as “grizzlies,”) which grew to rather prodigious size and were generally hungry, as well as black bears, which were friendlier.  If you followed the newspapers at all in those days, each summer there was at least one story emanating from Yellowstone about a camper or campers who had been mauled or killed by a bear while snoozing overnight in a sleeping bag somewhere outside of a camping area or just running into one unexpectedly.  Park administration had placed signs all over warning campers of the bears and of the dangers of feeding them from cars or even keeping food in tents.  Besides the signs, there were also bear-proof garbage cans which you were asked to use so as to make certain that the bears wouldn’t ingest plastic garbage.  While this was probably very good for the bears, it left them very hungry, except for the mooching black bears along the motorway who continued to convince many tourists to feed them.

Black bear, not a teddy bear

In Yosemite, the approach to bears was different.  Yosemite only had to deal with one type of bear, the black bear, basically the same bear that occasionally shows up in the backyards of suburban New Jersey and New York.  The bear-proof garbage cans of Yellowstone were not used, and therefore the bears helped themselves to whatever they could find in them, and this is turn led to less hungry and much friendlier bears, but the plastic they were ingesting couldn’t be good for them.  One day, while in Yosemite, Josh came running into our tent yelling something or other about a bear.  Indeed, when I took a look out, there was a large, brown bear, ambling through the campsite.  I immediately grabbed my recommended bear fighting equipment—a skillet and a large spoon—and began banging the one on the other for all I was worth, as other campers did the same.  The bear decided he didn’t like the racket, and slowly lumbered out of the camp.  Interestingly enough, I don’t recall any newspaper stories about bears killing anyone in Yosemite.

There were also sugar pine trees, in Yosemite.  These were beautiful, perfect, tall conifers, not nearly as tall as sequoias, but tall nevertheless, which produced, giant pinecones, much larger than those of the sequoias, which tourist were forbidden, under penalty of ome major fine, to pick up from the ground to take home.  The temptation was just too strong however, and Linda and I did pick up some of the forbidden fruit, about six or seven or them, while on our way to Glacier Point, one of the places from which to obtain a magnificent, panoramic view of Yosemite National Park, with its peaks, its forests, its flowering meadows, and its cascading waterfalls.  Unfortunately, while we were admiring the scenery, our car battery died.  Somehow, I don’t remember how (there were no cell phones in those days) I managed to contact a park ranger, who came to the rescue and gave us a boost and got our car started.  Linda and I were both grateful.  We were also somewhat worried because getting caught boosting pinecones in the Park was rather expensive.  To our relief, Smokey never noticed the giant contraband pinecones hiding under our car, and they made handsome decorations in our house for years after.

Glacier Point View


About AlexLevy

Dr. Alex Levy is a retired English teacher who survived World War II and the "Final Solution" by hiding in a Catholic orphanage for girls in Belgium for several years.
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2 Responses to Of Bears and Trees

  1. Jessie says:

    Alex, I had a similar experience to your pine cone story. When I was 8 (1959) I took a cross country trip by car (no air conditioning) with my mom and her brother Sammy. When we got to the Petrified Forest, there were all these admonitions about not taking any of the petrified wood. However, the temptation to take a piece or two of these millions of years old wood was too great for me. I also remember being scared that my pilfering would be discovered by a Park Ranger. I don’t know where they are now, but I do remember treasuring them for years to come.

  2. Alex says:

    Did Petrified Forest also, Jessie; was tempted, and this time did resist the temptation. However, bought a piece of petrified wood (one in which could be imagined the shape of an eagle). I still have it, and sometimes wonder how someone managed to sell me this piece of rock.
    To experience this guilty feeling again, go to Sea Wall, on Mount Desert Island in Maine. There are so many round stones there that want desperately to be picked up, but of course you mustn’t!

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