I think for most people, the early years of life before they were old enough to start attending school are mostly a blur. Now, at the age of…let’s just say pretty old…I can only actually recall a few brief scenes from those years with any detail at all. On a recent vacation trip to Glacier and Yellowstone national parks in Montana, however, a brief encounter brought back one of those memories from long ago with amazing clarity.
My brother and I were returning to our camp from exploring the “Road to the Sun” and other beautiful sights in Glacier National Park, when we encountered a small black bear sauntering along the park road in front of the cars of other tourists. We pulled over and got a few snapshots through the car windows.
It was thrilling to see this beautiful wild animal up close. Oddly, it also got me thinking about a similar encounter so many years ago. I am amazed at how clearly I can recall those few moments as a terrified little boy. My family, including grandparents, uncle, aunt, and cousins were on a camping trip to Yellowstone. I don’t know the exact year, but I was probably five or six years old. Early on my older brother had trouble pronouncing Norman, so back then I was known as Buddy to all my relatives. I’m not sure I even answered to my real name yet. Today, I don’t remember seeing all the geysers and other amazing sights of the park as a kid, but I definitely remember bears. In those days they were allowed to roam around the park as they pleased among the tourists, who often fed them. This was during the 1950’s. Yeah, I’m old; I think I mentioned that.
On the morning of that one specific day I recall from that trip, my dad and big brother headed across the campground to fill a water jug at the single faucet provided. I decided to tag along, but soon got distracted by something and fell behind. When I looked up and noticed that I couldn’t see them, I also discovered that I was not alone. A black bear was walking straight toward me. To a little kid the animal looked huge, but it was probably about the size of the one in the photo above. I started walking quickly in the direction my dad had gone. To my horror, the fat furry monster turned and walked along beside me. I quickly sped up. So did the bear, matching my pace. Screaming for my dad over and over, I ran as fast as I could. To my right, the bear easily kept up. Looking back on that so clearly remembered scene, I know now that the animal wasn’t exactly chasing me, but running along with me. Then it happened. The bear growled and bumped up against my right side with its shoulder, lightly at first, but then with more force. I remember stumbling and falling—then looking up at the animal’s face right above me. In a panic, I just stood up, totally convinced that I was about to be eaten, or whatever it was that bears did to little boys. The furry creature didn’t attack, but growled in an annoyed sort of way and slowed down as it crossed right in front of me and casually sauntered off to my left. Ahead, I could see my dad and brother coming back toward me. I took off. At some point, I looked back and saw that the bear had made it to his actual destination. The garbage can was partially buried, supposedly to make it bear resistant. The bear was contentedly pawing at the lid. I guess I had simply gotten in its way. I didn’t hang around to see if he managed to open it. In fact, the memory completely stops right there.
I have no other memories from early childhood any more detailed than that one. I can still see that black bear as clearly as these somewhat fuzzy new photos taken behind the safety of the car windows a couple of weeks ago.
Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.