Asheville Citizen-Times 12/24/2014 –
My wife likes to garden. We walk a couple miles each morning, and she shares the formal name of every plant or bush we pass on our daily trek.
“Look, there on the left, Pinus strobus.” She points excitedly at a tree.
It looks like an everyday pine to me. Z-z-z-z-z …
“And over here on the right, Hydrangea aborescens. A beautiful and hardy shrub.” She glances back over her shoulder. “Are you looking?”
Whoa. Whoa. Wait a minute. Now, I am looking and not at all pleased with what I see. “B-b-b-b-b-b …” I’m having trouble enunciating.
Thirty or 40 yards away on the left side of the road is a 400-pound black bear. I stop and point at the creature.
My wife halts as her eyes follow the direction of my finger. “Oh him, Ursus Americanus.”
I look wildly around. “We better run-us.”
“He’s no danger. I know that for a fact.”
“Well, that’s good news.” I breathe a sigh of relief. Yet there’s one nagging question in the corner of my mind. When did she become a premier zoologist specializing in wildlife behavior?
“He’ll take off. Bears are jumpy,” my wife adds.
“What if he decides to jump in this direction?”
“He won’t. At least I don’t think he will.”
Wait a second. Just a quick minute here. How did “He’s no danger. I know that for a fact,” change into “At least I don’t think he will,” in just 30 seconds?”
I’m very nervous as I continue to watch Mr. Bear watch me. I’m locked on him with laser-like precision. He’s firing an intense glare back. As I focus on his face, I’m certain I can see what he’s considering. In a thought-bubble over his head, he’s sitting at a kitchen table, one paw holding a knife, the other, a fork, with a bib tucked around his neck. He’s drooling.
And he continues to stare.
“What we have to do,” my wife says quietly, now seemingly in complete control of the situation, “is raise our arms over our heads, make ourselves physically bigger, taller, and yell and whistle while we jump up and down. That’ll scare him away.”
I follow my wife’s lead and yell while I’m jumping up and down and waving my arms. I have a grave fear I’m turning into Richard Simmons.
The bear doesn’t move.
Thirty seconds later, I quit. “If I was him, I’d attack just to shut us up.”
“That’s because you don’t know how bears think.”
“I know how they think when they’re hungry.”
Mr. Bear takes a step toward us.
“Did you see what he just did? Did you see that?” I immediately resume the Richard Simmons’ “Party off the Pounds” workout.
Mr. Bear stops and tilts his head to the side as if he was evaluating us, trying to figure out what bizarre animal planet we’re from.
He takes another step in our direction.
“Are you watching? Did you see that?” I’m now rapidly moon walking backwards. I’m smoking up the road leaving the ghost of Michael Jackson in a cloud of dust.
My wife says, “He’s just stretching.”
“Why is he stretching in our direction? Why can’t he stretch in another direction?”
“Because bears don’t think that way. They just do whatever is instinctive. He can outrun us anyway.” She pauses and offers a ghoulish smile. “But he’ll only want to attack one — either you or me — so whoever can run the fastest, lives.”
The gallows humor is not at all amusing because we both know she was a sprinter in college.
I’m thinking we’re on borrowed time and have got to get away immediately. Suddenly a brilliant idea! I turn to my wife. “You’re a botanist. Can’t you find some roots or leaves somewhere that will anesthetize him?”
She glances in my direction. “Excuse me?”
“You know, when some bears are tagged they’re anesthetized first and become unconscious. Can’t you find some roots and stuff that will knock him out?”
“If I found them, what should I do next, go up and feed him?”
Now that’s an exciting concept. It would give me an amazing opportunity for a clean getaway.
“Of course not. How could you even suggest such a thing?” I frown, one eye on her, one eye remaining on Mr. Still-Staring-at-Me Bear.
And then he was gone. Suddenly for no reason I could see, he ran down a bank and into the trees.
“Ursus Americanus,” my wife says. “No problem.”
“We should run-us out of here-us,” I said, taking off, my head doing a 360-degree Linda Blair “Exorcist” rotation on full alert for the hiding predator.
At home, my wife says, “That was close, but we made it.”
Ted Alexander lives in Asheville. His first novel, “The Fall of Summer,” a 1960s coming-of-age story, is now available at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe and online retailers. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Ted Alexander will be reading and signing his first novel, “The Fall of Summer,” at 3 p.m. Jan. 11 at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, 55 Haywood St., in Asheville. The event is free; books will be for sale. Learn more about the author and the novel online at http://tedmalexander.com/Books.html.