Column: The story of Ben, the bear and the big, juicy blueberry

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Ben didn’t have a frequent flyer mile to his name. He worked hard and didn’t get around much. He probably worked too hard, but who is to judge such things?

&uot;It seems like I’ve been nowhere and everyone else has been two wheres,&uot; Ben would often say.

Ben retired after many years of hard work. He did not believe in early retirement, so he was not a young man. Once retired, Ben had time to do some of the travel he had never had time for before. There was a place that Ben had always wanted to go. He had wanted to go there since he was a boy and had spent hours looking at images of the state through a Viewfinder. The thoughts of that old Viewfinder were enough to convince Ben to plan a trip to Alaska. Ben called a travel agent, plans were made and the date was set. Ben hadn’t had any experience packing, so he packed and unpacked and packed again. Ben did this each day for the two weeks prior to his departure. Ben flew in his first airplane as part of his trip. He liked flying okay, but still preferred traveling in his old three-toned pickup.

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Alaska was all that Ben expected it to be. He felt as though he was in God’s backyard. Ben ate halibut, panned for gold and rode on a dogsled. He watched glaciers calve and he marveled at the sight of Mount McKinley. All these things were wonderful, everything that Ben had dreamed of. But what Ben had really been looking forward to was going for a walk in Alaska. There were long days of exhausting work where the thoughts of one day walking alone in Alaska sustained him.

He had been warned about bears. Whenever I have walked with folks in bear territory, I have impressed upon them that the thing they must do if we encounter a bear is to quickly form a circle around me. Ben was told that it would be a good idea to put little bells on his clothing. The idea is that the bells would make just enough noise to keep him from surprising any bears. Ben figured he would be able to tell by the scat which bear was in the area. If it had little bits of fur and berries in it, it would be the droppings of the black bear. If the scat had little bells in it, it would be the work of a grizzly bear.

Ben thought he would climb a tree if he happened across a bear. A helpful Alaskan told Ben that if he climbed a tree, he could tell whether the bear was a grizzly or a black bear. The guy said that if it climbs up the tree and eats you, it’s a black bear, but if it knocks the tree down and then eats you, it’s a grizzly.

Even with all of this advice, Ben went for a walk. He bought himself a walking stick from a gift shop and set out for a hike. He decided against wearing any bells. Ben had walked quite a distance and had begun to feel like a kid again. He felt like he was on top of the world. The walk was invigorating and Ben began to whistle a happy tune. Then it happened. Ben walked around a bend in the trail and came upon the biggest (and only) grizzly bear he had ever seen. Now Ben had been told that you should never run when you encounter a bear. Ben, having never seen a bear before, panicked and took off running as fast as he could.

Ben ran and the bear began loping after him. Now you cannot outrun a bear. The bear knew that Ben could not outrun it, but Ben fooled the bear. Ben ran right off a cliff. Ben discovered his mistake on the way down and grabbed a small spruce tree. Ben hung on for dear life as the bear above roared down at him. Ben thought, &uot;Well, at least things couldn’t possibly get any worse.&uot;

Then things got worse. Two grizzlies, attracted by all of the commotion, growled up at Ben.

It was then that Ben saw it. A blueberry. The biggest blueberry Ben had ever seen in his life. Something made Ben reach out for the berry. He popped it into his mouth and began chewing it. It was good. It was beyond good. It was the best thing that Ben had ever eaten.

We had better enjoy life while we can.

Hartland resident Al Batt writes columns for the Wednesday and Sunday editions of the Tribune.