He had more facial hair than the total amount of face fungus seen on a “Duck Dynasty” episode.
His beard was so thick and unruly, his smile hadn’t been seen since “Joanie Loves Chachi” went off the air. I pulled a vole from his beard.
At least I think it was a vole. He hadn’t shaved for years (perhaps never) and he ate biscuits and gravy most mornings, so it was hard to be certain what I’d extricated from those whiskers.
He wanted to visit Alaska. I’ve led tours to Alaska, so he thought I might prove helpful. He wanted to see bears. Most of us do. Yogi and Disney gave us an urge to put peepers on bruins.
He wondered what kind of bears he might observe in Alaska. There are four species in North America: black bear, brown bear, polar bear and gummy bear. Unless you’re hiking above the Arctic Circle, you’re unlikely to encounter a polar bear. I wonder if a polar bear frets when it discovers its first black hair? Black bears weigh 200 to 500 pounds and can be black, blond, chocolate, cinnamon or white. Some pretend to be vegetarians just like your brother’s new girlfriend does. All grizzlies are brown bears, but not all brown bears are grizzlies. The grizzly, a subspecies of brown bear, is smaller, weighing 200-800 pounds. A brown bear can tip the scales at over 1,000 pounds, with the largest being the Kodiak bear that can stand more than 10 feet tall on its hind legs. Gummy bears come in many colors and weigh a couple of grams each.
I advised he take precautions when hiking, be alert for bears, wear little bells so he wouldn’t startle bears and to carry pepper spray in case he startled one. He should learn to tell the difference between black bear and grizzly bear dung. Black bear dung is smaller and contains berries and squirrel fur. Grizzly bear dung has little bells in it and smells like pepper.
He asked how to tell the difference between a black bear and a grizzly. It’s a black bear if it climbs a tree to get him. It’s a grizzly bear if it knocks the tree over.
I took a seminar on what to do when encountering a bear or a Polar Bear Club with an aggressive capital campaign for the purchase of a lake-sized water heater. I learned I should identify myself by talking calmly so the bear realizes I’m not on its menu. Maybe give it my business card. To stand my ground while slowly waving my arms like a Charlie Brown balloon in a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Most bears are as you were in algebra class. They want to be left alone. Bears may bluff by charging and turning away at the last second. Bears react defensively by growling, salivating, snapping jaws, pinning ears back or yawning. A scream or sudden movement may trigger an attack. Never imitate a bear. They hate being mocked. Hike in groups numbering in the thousands singing your school’s fight song. Make yourself look as large as possible by carrying a refrigerator on your back. Don’t drop your backpack as it could provide protection. If the bear remains stationary, move away slowly and sideways. Don’t run unless you’ve raced on foot in the Kentucky Derby and won. Like dogs, bears chase ﬂeeing animals. If you climb a tree, know that bears climb like a Wichita lineman. Leave bears an escape route. If a grizzly attacks you, drop to the ground in a fetal position and play dead. If it’s a black bear, stand your ground and ﬁght, concentrating your kicks and blows to its face. Employ pepper spray for both species. If a gummy bear charges you, forget the pepper spray and eat your attacker. Never place yourself between a mother and her cub, and never call her a sow no matter what your dictionary says.
Bear attacks are rare. My hometown in southern Minnesota has had one reported bear attack. Sandy Guttormson used her one-eyed Teddy bear to club her little brother Michael into submission.
Never hug a live bear, even if it looks as if it needs one.
Deciding that the best way to handle a bear encounter was to never have one; my bearded buddy is skipping the bears of Alaska and seeing meadow voles in Iowa instead.
If you find yourself in my company in Alaska and we encounter a bear, remember just one thing. Stay between the bear and me.