Thursday, September 13, 2018

Bear With Me

“I did it!  I actually did it!”  My husband had been sitting quietly tinkering on his iPad just before jumping up and sharing his news that morning about four years ago.  We were sitting in his mom’s cozy kitchen in Northern California.  I was newly pregnant with Annalee, fighting down nausea as I got the kids their breakfasts.

“What’s that, honey?” I asked.

Matt’s eyes shone and his face bore the hugest smile.  “I got us reservations at Curry Village!!  You know the tents in Yosemite?  We’re finally staying there! Tonight!  I got a reservation for two nights!”

“Oh,” I stalled, trying to muster some enthusiasm.  “Wow...  Can you cancel?”

“Why would I want to?  I’ve wanted to stay there since I was a little boy!  Every time we’ve visited California since we moved away, I’ve tried to get reservations but have never been able to!”  

This was true.  Matt had grown up with regular trips to Yosemite but had always stayed in the “housekeeping cabins” which are best described as “spartan.”  Curry Village, row upon row upon row of white “glamping” tents with beds, was the Promised Land he’d never been able to reach.  Yes, he’d tried every summer when we were back in California to stay there.  He’d gloomily report to me that he had once again failed to get reservations, and I’d reply, “Ohhhh, darn.  That’s too bad.”  And that night as I snuggled into my bed — usually at a relative’s home, or a nearby cabin or hotel with the important feature of climate control and attached bathrooms, I’d smile to myself and whisper a prayer of thanks that we weren’t in Curry Village.

Because here’s the thing: camping there had never appealed to me,  I’ve done my fair share of roughing it.  I camp— and yes, to a degree, I enjoy it — but I’ve also stayed in all sorts of accommodations with my parents.  I’ve stayed in places with cockroaches crawling around, rats in the bathroom, bathrooms down the hall, even bathrooms outside (and that adventure almost cost me my life).  But my beef with Curry Village is that it always reminded me of a refugee tent city.  And I’m not saying I’m too good for that, but when they charge $90 a night... Why would I want to pay to spend the night in a canvas “room” where I can hear the neighbors snoring?  No, thank you.

“Well,” I countered, “it’s just that we didn’t really bring any cold weather clothes because I thought  we’d agreed we weren’t going to go into the mountains on this trip.”  We were living in Hawaii at the time.  “And wasn’t there just a Hanta virus outbreak?”

“That was ages ago.  It’s October!  It’s not going to be that cold!  Anyway, no, I can’t cancel.  If we don’t stay there, we forfeit the $90.”  (He knew he could get me by appealing to my bargain-hunting nature.). “You can make it one night at least, and I bet you’ll love it.”

And so it was that we arrived late that afternoon.  Since Curry Village is in Yosemite Valley, the sun had already dipped behind the surrounding mountains, and darkness was coming on quickly.  Matt went to check in, and I noticed there were actual bear traps — the humane, catch-and-release kind — in the parking lot.  I’ve been to Yosemite many, many times, and I had never seen that before.

 Moreover, there were warning signs posted everywhere.  This was at the height of the California drought, and I forget the precise wording but the signs said something like, “Due to extreme drought conditions, bears are starving and may eat children and their pregnant mothers.”  It was like they didn’t want us there.

We tried to find food, and discovered that, as it turned out, this was the first day of “the off season” — meaning all the restaurants were closed.  Ah, now it made a little more sense how Matt had been able to get a reservation on such short notice.  We had PB&J sandwiches with us and supplemented that with carrot sticks, corn chips, bean dip and the queso that comes in a little can, all purchased at the convenience store.  As I was in line to check out, I heard — I’m not kidding — the following conversation.

Woman in front of me:  The bears are completely crazy this year, huh?  (I whisper silent prayer that she’s talking about a sports team.)

Cashier: Yeah, you heard about that attack last week?  (Ugh, not a sports team.) The woman attacked  in her tent? (Stomach drops.)  Do you know why they think it happened?

Woman: No, why?

Cashier: Her mascara. (Woman and I are both so wide-eyed, our mascara-rimmed eyeballs might actually fall out of our heads.) Yup.  They found a tube in her tent, and they think that’s what he was after.  Gotta lock up all your toiletries in the bear boxes.  Everything.  It’s so important. 

I reported the story to Matt.  “What did she have in her mascara?!” he said.  “Peanut butter?!”  

Skyler, who is typically our most intrepid kid, leading us in adventures whenever we start to balk, sounded on the verge of tears as she said, “Maybe we should just go and stay in town.  I saw some hotels with vacancy signs in Mariposa.”

“No!”  Matt was emphatic.  “We’re staying here!  I’ve always wanted to do this.  Can’t you guys just try to enjoy it?”

We wanted to because we love him, but... well, it actually was cold even if it was October.  The temperature plummeted to just above freezing.  I put on every article of clothing I had and still couldn’t fight the chill. There were three full-size beds with sheets and a thin, scratchy blanket.  Fortunately, my sister-in-law, who heard what we were doing, had loaned us three sleeping bags.  As she and Matt loaded them into the trunk that morning, I saw her whisper something to him.

“What?” I’d asked, and they had responded “Nothing!” in such perfect unison that I was very suspicious.  I later found out she’d told him how awful her experience had been staying there. 

If you’re thinking it was a terrible night, you’re only partially right.  It was so bad, I can only think of a few scenarios that would have made it worse, and they mostly involve axe murderers.  

My stomach, already tumultuous from pregnancy hormones, was churning.  I got my dinner down and hoped it would stay there because the bathroom was a good two hundred yards from our tent.  We made one last stop there before we crawled, shivering, into bed.  Matt and Wyatt were in one bed, Lilly and Jayna in another, and me and Skyler in the third.  The sleeping bags must not have been rated to freezing temperatures because the cold seeped in from all sides.  Since  we needed some icing on the cake, one of the neighbors in the next tent passed gas loudly.  “GROSS!” I stage-whispered.  We were paying $90 a night for this?!

I finally drifted into a hypothermic sleep for a few hours but as is known to happen, especially when you’re pregnant, I woke needing to go to the bathroom.  My chivalrous husband agreed to accompany me on the trek, and we slipped out into the darkness.  We were almost there when — would you believe? — right in front of us, was a bear.  My heart and body froze as the bear lumbered toward us, and Matt whispered, “How close should we let it get before we run?”  It looked at me and roared, so I yelled,, “Run! Now!”  I headed for the dumpster and scrambled on top of it, because that’s the obvious best choice when you’re trying to escape a bear.  Climb on top of a veritable feast locked in a metal box.  Slather yourself in honey for good measure.  

The bear was swiping at my legs as I screamed in terror.  And somehow, through it all, I heard my husband’s calm and steady voice.  “Joy.  Hey, Joy.  JOY!  Wake up!!”  

It had just been a dream — terrifyingly realistic enough for me to whisper to Matt in my grogginess, “Thank you.  You just saved my life. A bear was attacking me,”

“That explains it,” he said, and I could hear a hint of laugher in his voice.  The fog of sleep was clearing, and I realized that our gassy neighbors and actually pretty much everyone for probably a mile around was now awake and murmuring about what the heck that noise had been.  And then I remembered that when I “scream” or talk or yell in my sleep, it’s not an actual screams or words.  It’s more like the voice of the undead: “UhhhhuuUuuuUUUUHhhhhhhh!”  Our neighbors were probably trying to convince themselves it wasn’t the start of the zombie apocalypse.  

Matt and I had a huge fit of giggles.  Our kids woke up, and we all really did need the bathroom.  The only thing more terrifying than my dream was having to actually go out there and see everything just as it had been — minus, thankfully, the bear.  

1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  (ESV). Call me crazy, but I think of that night every time I read that verse.  It’s hard to say who bore or endured more hardship — me in my half-frozen, nauseous state, him with his delirious wife.  It’s me going along with his spur-of-the-moment ideas and him taking me to the world’s largest IKEA on a Saturday (yep, he really just did that!).  I guess love is no tally marks, no merit badges, just a dance with many complicated steps of give and take.

We dozed off and on for the next few hours, and at the first light, Matt started packing.  “Come on, guys,” he said, “we’re not doing this again.”  I don’t know if I’ve ever loved him so much.  

When he got in the car after checking out, I asked, “Did we have to pay for the second night?”  Matt shook his head.  “Nope.  She refunded it, no questions asked.”  As we drove out of the parking lot, he added, “It might have had something to do with you being a crazy woman screaming in the middle of the night.”

I laughed. “You’re welcome.”


  1. I too have frozen there. I also knew a woman who was sleeping outside and woke up with a bear licking the makeup off of her face!

    1. 😱😱😱 I’m pretty sure I would have actually died.


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