Maybe it’s just a possum. You will say this in the dark, when the stars have been blotted out and you can’t see far enough to know where your sleeping bag ends and the great unknown beyond your tent begins. It is a prayer wrapped in a whisper, a childlike hope that what you don’t know can’t eat you. But that tingle in your spine, evolution’s genetic heirloom, disagrees. When you strip away wit, ambition, boredom, hatred of injustice and a love of baseball, you’re simply two hundred pounds of meat. In bear country.
Welcome to the food chain.
Before you receive a back country pass at Yellowstone National Park you must watch a video on bear safety. The video’s sole purpose is to convince you bears are not like Yogi. It suggests you clap every so often to make your presence known – pity the fool who surprises a bear. You watch dispassionately until the moment they show you a grizzly, and then you’re frozen in your seat. In abject terror, you’ll take a map from the ranger and ask about bear activity in the area. He’ll laugh and say none has been reported, but how quaint of you to ask.
As you hike in – alone because tourists at Yellowstone don’t leave their cars – you’ll clap before entering stands of trees. That evening, having not seen a single bear, you will confidently make a fire, cook dinner, sip whiskey and bask in the sublime realization that you are miles from anyone. Eventually it’ll be time for bed. Though you went before, you’ll have to pee again. And somewhere in the darkness a creature sniffs your tent.
So you tell yourself it’s just a possum. Until morning. When you get up, step out and find your camp dotted with bear tracks. Only then will you admit it wasn’t a possum. That you are alone. In bear country. Just another part of the food chain.
A horrifying realization. But exhilarating. Viva Yogi.