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Al Batt: What to do if you encounter Yogi the bear and his buddies

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


I swam with snapping turtles.

I was only slightly smarter than a bag of hammers (I didn’t know oregano from Oregon) and I wasn’t the best swimmer as a boy, so it was good I didn’t swim with bears.

I grew up with a distorted view of bears. Much of it was cartoonish. The lovable Hamm’s bear charmed TV audiences so much that collectors pursue promotional items bearing his likeness. That beloved bear starred in commercials. He fished, golfed, skied, bowled, camped, performed magic, and played baseball, hockey or the accordion while accompanied by this ditty, “From the land of sky-blue waters, from the land of pines, lofty balsams, comes the beer refreshing — Hamm’s, the beer refreshing. Hamm’s!” I enjoyed seeing the beer bear birling (log-rolling) as he tried to balance on a log cut by a beaver. The commercials were so popular newspapers printed broadcast schedules. I’ve never seen a birling bear anywhere else.

Yogi Bear first appeared on “The Huckleberry Hound Show.” He became more popular than Huckleberry Hound and was given his own show, “The Yogi Bear Show.” Yogi’s cartoons centered on his antics in Jellystone Park. Yogi, accompanied by his little friend Boo-Boo, attempted to steal picnic baskets from campers, much to the displeasure of Ranger Smith. Yogi regularly proclaimed, “I’m smarter than the average bear!” He overestimated his cleverness.

The only real bears I saw were on “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” starring Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler. Marlin was the talker of the two. As Jim wrestled with a mother grizzly with a toothache, Marlin made his move and tried to sell us life insurance by saying, “Just as the mother bear protects her young, you, too, can protect yours with a policy from Mutual of Omaha.”

I led tours for years, but I haven’t done one since way back in early March. That seems long ago. I’ve been lucky to have led groups here and there to see this and that. They included many tours to Denali in Alaska. Denali is a lovely theme park where the only rides are elderly school buses. We stuffed people into buses from which they hoped to see a grizzly bear. Sometimes we did and sometimes we didn’t.

In a part of the world where there are no traffic jams or traffic jellies, I advised those traveling with me to be alert for bears and take extra precautions to avoid an encounter. I told them to wear little bells on their clothes so they’d make noise when walking. The bells allowed bears to hear them coming from a distance and wouldn’t be startled by a person, which might cause a bear to charge. I told them they should carry pepper spray that might irritate a bear’s eyes and nose enough to cause it to run away. I said they ought to keep an eye out for fresh bear scat so they’d know if bears were in the area. They could determine the difference between black bear and grizzly bear scat. Black bear droppings are smaller and often contain berries and vegetation. Grizzly bear droppings tend to contain small bells and smell like pepper. I hoped they laughed at my joke before I stressed that the most important thing they needed to remember to do should we encounter a bear was to form a circle around me.

One year, a Norwegian hiker in Denali got between a sow and her cub. The bear hadn’t left its safety on. You’re supposed to make yourself unpleasant in such circumstances. I think that happens naturally. And play possum. He pretended to be dead and became a piñata. Fortunately, his injuries were minimal. He was criticized by those who criticize everyone and everything for going into a fetal position too soon.

I walked down a trail in Sitka pointing out birds, trees and flowers. Trees and flowers are great. They don’t run, fly or swim away, or growl. I’d just told my charges they could lose recess privileges if they didn’t behave when another walker told me a brown bear had been seen nearby. A Californian in my group expressed concern about being in bruin territory. “Meeting a bear would be a surprise no one expects,” he said both oddly and truthfully. He whistled and sang loudly and off-key in the hopes the bear would cover its ears until we were long gone.

I hadn’t been worried. I knew if one of Yogi’s buddies had tried mauling me, my hiking companions would spring into action like Marlin Perkins and use their cellphones to shoot videos.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday.