16 January, 2013

Lions And Tigers And Bears

Who knows what triggers memories. It may have been a word, an image on television, or a elderly neuron exploding like a supernova as it spits out the memory it once held. I don't know.

I know I was sitting on the couch with my younger daughter, and I said, "Did I ever tell you about the time ..." I followed that, of course, with a recollection I hadn't recollected in quite a while.

At the end of my first year teaching, I took off on an extended camping trip with a companion I had known since high school. It started in Luray, Virginia, where my friend's family had a farm. We drove the length of the Blue Ridge Parkway and into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Camping along the way, we were getting quite good at setting up and breaking down.

Exiting westward, we crossed Tennessee and stuck our noses in Kentucky and Illinois briefly. Crossing the Mississippi at Cairo, we stopped and saw my father's mother in southern Missouri. Just north of Little Rock we looked in on some of my mother's cousins. In Texarcana we stopped to see more maternal relatives as we headed for Natchitoches, Louisiana, where my mother's brother (and a namesake of mine) lived. We were headed for New Orleans, and my uncle told us of a few places to visit along the Mississippi River.

After New Orleans, it was off to Atlanta to see old college friends and a Braves game. We returned exhausted to Luray after about two weeks and half dozen campgrounds.

What I told my daughter about was the first night camping on this journey. We had set up in Doughton Park Campground along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. As we checked in, we were warned that bears had been visiting, and we should put all food in the car before sleeping.

Ever mindful that I didn't want to be mauled, I dutifully put everything in the car after dinner. And so to bed. I did hear some noises during the night and heard neighbors talking about the bears. I didn't want to know.

Rising the next morning, I noticed a tin can in which I had left some grease drippings from cooking had been licked clean. This doofus hadn't thought about that, and the bear had come onto my site.

The bear had come into my site! And with nothing but some canvas between him and me. Yikes! I still don't like to think about it. Although I know the park rangers were watching, it's not much comfort.

I think the next time I'm told there are bears around, I'll just keep driving. It was, nevertheless, a great trip.

I'm a lucky man.