Sleeping outside in bear country is a bit of a gamble, especially when you sink into a deep sleep on the edge of an outside deck right next to a known bear trail. But gambling is a way of life in Tahoe. So is sleeping, which we like to do the same time bears are awake and running errands in town.
My nephew and his girlfriend from South Shore, and my brother, Dan, crashed on my deck Sunday night after the Mountain of Strings music fest in Squaw Valley. There is nothing so right, so exciting and natural as sleeping outside, especially in bear country. Sleeping inside with the windows open is the next best thing.
Knowing how the facts can scare people, I tried to scare my guests with the fact that bear signs had been dropped on the bear trail the day before, but they do not scare easily. If bears had a major drinking problem they might have slept inside. Encounters with wild humans in the middle of the night sticking their nose in your sleeping bag would be frightening, but a bear? No problem.
But bears don’t need to get drunk to make a major nuisance of themselves, which is also true of some humans. No sense letting either of them control where you choose to sleep.
Normally, bears don’t come into town until late in the summer, or so says the conventional wisdom. I’ve been known to shovel some pretty good stories, but it was not Grasshopper Soup that I shoveled from the bear trail Saturday morning.
Bears can find food without a trip into town, but their behavior is not limited to what we say about them in books. They have a tendency to go wherever they feel like going, whenever they want.
Even the smartest human omnivore can make a mistake when it comes to repelling bears, especially after a night of music and high altitude partying, so we took all the necessary precautions with our food before we hit the sack and hoped for the best.
It’s good to have reliable back up measures in place for that once in a lifetime chance encounter when a bear breaks into your house and suddenly everything is on the line. It happened to me once already but I don’t gamble, even with the best of odds. Without mentioning my specific back-up plan, suffice it to say that where I live there is more of value than all the money in the casinos, but my odds are the same — in favor of the house.
I always wonder how bears eat enough to hibernate all winter when so many of their raids into town aren’t always successful. Hiking out of the high country into town foraging for food along the way and then hiking all the way back up the mountain burns a lot of calories. If all the Dumpsters and trash receptacles are secure, and all you get for your effort is a tiny lick of yogurt from a piece of plastic, your trip into town will have done you more harm than good. If your stomach is growling you might be tempted to inquire more closely into the smell coming from those humans sleeping on the deck.
All is well that ends well. We woke up Monday morning and found ourselves still in this wonderful world, which hadn’t changed one bit. Ideas we seek to eradicate still live on, controversy still rages about everything under the sun, taxes are still getting higher and there are more of them, everything we need is getting more expensive, and the wicked witch of Chechnya still doesn’t care who lives or dies, including her own sons, because God is so great he apparently doesn’t care who is born, and who lives or dies either.
She may be right. With all the anger and hatred, disease, mental and physical birth defects and suffering in the world it could be said that God is the biggest, baddest bear of all, and that he makes Dick Cheney look like a little angel.
Tahoe! We are home.
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.