Emus, blisters and the myth of bears | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Emus, blisters and the myth of bears

Paul Dunn

Received an e-mail about two weeks ago from my wife, Barbara: She said Aborigines had surrounded her the previous night to observe her curious antics. Seems she’d morphed into an emu and was furiously scratching the ground near a village hut. The Aborigines evidently thought this was cute.


And here I was pounding a keyboard in the TDT newsroom – no emus, no Aborigines … nothing (though a sweet dog with different-colored eyes visited this week. That was fun.)

About four months ago, Barbara’s brother, John – a salesman from Denver – invited Barbara to visit Australia with him. John’s frequent-flyer miles had skyrocketed in the past year, and he’d accumulated enough to get two free, first-class tickets to Sydney.

He invited Barb because … well, he couldn’t think of anyone better.

Barb’s a veteran, knowledgeable traveler. She and I have visited Europe five times, and as a press secretary in the late 1990s she had accompanied two Washington state governors on mission trips to China, Japan and Taiwan.

But she never mentioned emus on those trips. I guess politicians get uptight about unscheduled, impromptu animal performances.

Barbara doesn’t.

She was visiting an Aboriginal cultural center near a town called Alice Springs in the central Australian Outback. The center’s staff had gathered tourists around the night’s campfire recruiting volunteers for a skit about the area’s wildlife and cultural traditions.

As she tells it, Barb jumped up to volunteer before the staffer even finished his sentence.

“I want to, I want to,” she called out.

So, that’s how she became an emu – mask and all.

“It was lots of fun,” she said. …

I’ve learned a few things in my three weeks in South Lake Tahoe …

Bears: Two of my new workmates, Jeff Munson and Jonah Kessel, figured they could pull the wool (fur) over my eyes.

“Yeah,” Munson told me early on, “there are California black bears everywhere around here.”

Kessel augmented the statement last week with this story: “I was driving home after work, passed by the trash Dumpster where we live (He and I live in the same condo complex at the base of Heavenly Mountain Resort) and saw a bear. I stopped the car, rolled down the window, and we looked at each other from about five feet away. The bear just kept eating.”

So now, I run out to investigate every time I hear banging at the trash Dumpster.


I’ve seen no bears anywhere.

Here’s how I think Munson and Kessel’s conversation went the first time they saw me:

“Hey, what do you say we jive the new guy?” Munson offered.

“Yeah, let’s do it,” Kessel replied. “Let’s tell him there are roving packs of grizzly bears prowling up by Heavenly.”

“No. He doesn’t look too bright, but even HE wouldn’t believe grizzly bears are around here,” Munson said. “Let’s stick with the black bears.”


The joke’s on you, boys. Until I see ANY bear, I’m not believing anything more you say. …

Running: I’m used to running at or below sea level (think New Orleans). Since I moved here, I usually run from my home at Heavenly down to the lake and back. That’s a touch more than three miles – at, it feels to me, about the same altitude most space capsules orbit Earth.

So naturally I hallucinate as my oxygen depletes on the return trip up the hill. By the time I’ve staggered into the condo parking lot, I could easily believe I’m Prince Charles, Pee Wee Herman, Joan of Ark, the guy I recently met who changed my car’s oil, or any number of assorted characters.

Maybe even Dorothy:

“Auntie Em, Auntie Em, I’m stuck on this horrible hill, and I can’t get home – and I have blisters on my feet. And I’m surrounded by lions, tigers and … no bears.”

You get the picture. It’s ugly. But I’m slowly acclimating to the altitude: I can now climb my condo stairs without a Sherpa and an oxygen mask. …

Finally: Some readers were kind enough to e-mail, call and visit last week to welcome me to the community. Thank you, everyone. Your well wishes meant a lot to me.

– Paul Dunn is editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune. He can be reached at (530) 542-8047 and pdunn@tahoedailynews.com

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