"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Litter Notes: The Inevitable Bear Encounter

It was inevitable, I knew, that one day I would encounter a bear in my travels along the Seward Highway in the Chugach National Forest.  Not for nothing do I carry a can of bear spray.
My camera is not set on zoom; it's set on macro.

Yesterday was the day I literally came face to face with Ursus horribilis..  That I'm here to tell this story means all is well with me.  Not so with the bear.

I'd finished my mile of litter cleanup for the day, and decided to visit a couple pullouts farther up the road.  This particular pullout isn't even an official one.  It isn't marked with a blue "P" sign for parking and it isn't paved.  It's just a wide spot in the road at Mile 66 in Turnagain Pass.

The wide spot in the road at Mile 66.

But Alaskans know about it and--I'm sorry to say--if Alaskans know about, there will be lots of beer cans and other litter there.  I walked to the far end of the place and started cleaning.  The embankment here is fairly shallow and I walked down to pick litter out of the brush.

As the sad old lament goes, one beer [beer can, that is] led to another, and soon I was far from the gravel and deep into the thick brush.  Had the willows been leafed out, I never would have seen the blond and cinnamon fur five yards through the brush.  I stopped dead in my tracks and watched for movement.

See my yellow bag just right of center?  That's where I came face to face with the bear.

I knew what that amount of fur covering that large a spot meant.  Was it sleeping?   "They" tell you make lots of noise in bear country so you don't startle a bear.  It'll leave, they tell you, and you might not even know how close it was.  Forget wearing bells, a savvy friend told me.  The bears think the noise is from birds and ignore it.

But, here I was in the willow brush. One leap and it would be upon me.  I wouldn't even have time to duck and cover.  Maybe I should just sneak away, back to the safety of my truck.  But, I didn't dare turn my back on it because it could awaken at any second.

I continued to watch for movement.  Something didn't look right.  I began to think it was a hide and gut pile from a hunter-killed bear.  But the hide is what they're after, I told myself.  No movement.  I crept closer.

It didn't move.  Eventually I was standing just a few feet from it.  It was definitely dead, but still something didn't look right.  Was it lying on a mattress?  What's all this cotton?  And why didn't it stink?

My eyes traveled the length of the hide to the head.  I saw teeth, but no eye socket.

A fake bear?  But this fur was real.  It had hide attached to it.

Oh, for Pete's sakes.  It was a bear hide rug.  A real one.  But how on earth did it get out here and so far from the highway?  I started filling the litter bag.  I had to go back to the truck for more bags.

The fiberglass skull itself filled a bag.  That's when I had this great idea.

Back at the pullout, I tied shut the litter bags for the highway guys to pick up when they return to work after the holiday.   I had one bag of regular litter and three bags of bear litter.  Inside the regular litter bag was the  lid from a large plastic tote.  I tried, but couldn't tie the bag shut, so I put another bag on top of it to keep the wind from sucking the paper litter out.

I believe that you should take your fun where you find it, and here's the fun part.  When the highway guy grabs the top bag to throw it in his truck and exposes the bag below it, this is what he'll see:

Seriously, even with litter one can have fun!  With blog stories, one can have even more fun.

And for the record, this is now officially the weirdest thing I have found while litter picking.

ADDENDUM:  More "bear" stories. 

The day before yesterday I was cleaning litter and had the sudden suspicion a bear was in the area.  I didn't smell anything or hear anything.  Just had a feeling.

I pulled the can of bear spray from my fanny pack and slipped it inside my safety vest for quicker access.  If there had been a bear in the area, I never saw it.

I have another "bear" story from yesterday.  I was almost back at my truck when I noticed a truck turn around and head back towards me.  It stopped where I was parked and a woman jumped out.

Lost tourists," was my thought.  Instead, the woman said, "You're the one who's out here frequently, aren't you?"

I responded that I was and wondered if they'd lost something and hoped I'd watch for it.

She stuck out her hand.  I thought she wanted to shake hands, but in her hand was a twenty dollar bill.

"I just want to thank you," she said.  "So many people really appreciate what you're doing out here."  I declined the $20.

"Please take it.  Buy yourself some new gloves or something."

Then I recalled when I gassed up the truck that morning that this was the fourth tank of gas and all for cleaning up litter.  Twenty-five gallons of gas each time at $4 a gallon, means $100 a tank times four tanks.  Gulp.  Four hundred dollars to clean up litter.

I took the twenty bucks and told her why.

Then she gave me a "bear" hug.

Totally cool.


  1. Love all of your bear stories. I would love to see the look on face of the poor guy picking up that back with the snout sticking out! It seems like a gag that would be on candid camera ;)

  2. Great bear story! Even though I knew you were obviously okay, my palms were getting moist and I couldn't wait to hear how you had escaped the monster.. Very nicely written for effective fear factor. :)

    and so nice that someone had been noticing and appreciating your efforts all this time.

  3. Let's see if Blogger will let me comment now that I'm back at sea level!

    This post has got to go in your "best of" blog reel. I laughed out loud and called Buck over to look. Unfortunately, I showed him the punch line picture first. . .

    How about Gullible's Notes from an Alaskan Volunteer Litter Picker? Could either be a book or a reality tv show!