Bob Sweigert
Special to the Sun

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September 18, 2012
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Grasshopper Soup: Separating fact from garbage

TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Someone, or something, probably a bear, keeps raiding the bear proof garbage containers around Fanny Bridge. The trash ends up all over the sidewalk. Sometimes the trash can gets pulled from its sleeve and ends up on its side next to the scattered garbage.

A few weeks ago the bear proof lid was open, in the upright position. The locks were intact. Upon close examination, if a bear had opened it, at least one bear knows how to operate the bear proof latch, or, at least, one bear got very lucky.

The facts were all there, but proved nothing, not even that the lid had been partly open all night, allowing a bear to break in without having to figure out how to work the latch.

Since the containers are bear proof, one could logically conclude that a desperate, hungry, transient street person made the mess. After all, everything is the humans’ fault, right? The assumption has always been that “bear proof” means only homo sapiens are smart enough to open them. Then why are so many humans unable to open it?

What we know about bear behavior, human behavior and the Fanny Bridge Trash Caper, suggests that our assumptions about bear proof containers may be incorrect.

My investigation of the scene, as complete and objective as it was, resulted in speculation only, meaning there is no point in rushing to judgment or blame. Without first hand knowledge, and complete honesty, it’s hard to say for sure who was responsible.

There was only one possible conclusion for me: I wasn’t there so I don’t know.

I am not an expert investigator of garbage can break-ins. I don’t have a certificate. I am not officially registered with the Hey-What-Happened-Here Agency. I am not formally authorized to troubleshoot broken things, or to perform the naturally inquisitive functions of the human mind, or to solve problems of a simple, technical nature, but, in spite of the lack of evidence, and the absence of official credentials, it is safe to say that, most likely, a bear committed the Fanny Bridge Caper. But no one witnessed what happened.

Please, don’t accuse me of mammal prejudice. No fair playing the bear card. There is nothing a reasonable person can do against such a cheating hand except laugh.

The most important fact in the Fanny Bridge Caper, and other bear incidents, is the fact that nobody knows who did it. Still, people who saw nothing are quick to blame.

It is indisputable. Humans have shared the same territory with wild animals since the dawn of man. The “bears-were-here-first” slogan is romantic fiction, completely unscientific and has no bearing on the issue. It is a myth. Humans did not originate in cities and then move to the wilderness. Quite the opposite. Cities are a relatively new form of human habitat. Even today, millions of people live in the wild, and have frequent, almost daily, contact with all kinds of dangerous, wild animals. The Tahoe Basin is no exception.

I have never been inside a bear’s mind. And, although I grew up in the sixties, when the human mind went places it had never been before, I am reasonably certain no other human being has been inside the mind of a bear. But, as long as humans and wild animals share the same territory, they will, at times, cause injury and death to one another. The intelligence, and ignorance, of man and beast will always be in conflict with one another. That is a fact of life, as permanent as the birds and the bees.

As the more advanced species, humans have conceived of a principle called innocent until proven guilty. And, as the more advanced species, we value all life, and recognize that we belong wherever we are just as much as any other creature.

The beauty and serenity of nature hides its brutality. Violence and death are as much a part of nature as awe-inspiring landscapes and wild animals cuddling and playing together.

Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, former college instructor and ski instructor. He has a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Gonzaga University. He has lived at Lake Tahoe for 30 years.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Sep 18, 2012 11:39AM Published Sep 18, 2012 11:38AM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.