Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What, More Bears?

OK, full disclosure:  There is a sense in which it could be said that not everything in the story of my “panda pandemic” happened precisely as I described it; in the sense that maybe I didn’t find a panda chewing on our kitchen’s bamboo floor, and in the sense that maybe our kitchen doesn’t have a bamboo floor.  But I steadfastly stand by my account of our having a kitchen, and the rest of the story happened pretty much just the way I imagined it.  The following bear story however, has some basis in fact.
When we lived in east Tennessee, my brother Doug and his wife Nancy came to visit us. (That we once lived in east Tennessee, that I have a brother, Doug, and that he has a wife, Nancy, could all be independently verified by a reliable source, if you could find one; so far so good.)  When out-of-staters come to the Smokies, locals often take them on the Cades Cove Loop, a long slow drive past the remains of the original homesteads of mountain settlers, situated in the southwestern stretches of the Smoky Mountain National Park.   Before their land was purchased (or confiscated) so we could drive through it and admire it, folks used to farm, worship, get wed and get buried in those parts, often in that order.  (I noticed, walking through their preserved log homes, that those early settlers were also accomplished graffiti artists.) 
One of the attractions of the cove is the wildlife, much of which would be better called tame-life, because they’ve grown accustomed to being photographed by Yankees wearing Red Sox caps. I suppose someone, at some point, may have driven along the loop road without seeing any deer, but that person would have to be legally blind, and shouldn’t be driving. 
From time to time, however, black bears are sighted along the loop, and when it happens, people tend to pull over to watch them.  On this particular day, as I recall, Doug and Nancy were in the front seat and Donna and I were in the back.  Presumably we took Doug’s car because he and Nancy didn’t want to be crammed into the back of whatever miniature car we owned at the time (the youth at our church christened one of my fifty-mpg cars The Speck.  Sometimes they would move it from my parking spot without bothering to start it.  I think I found it once in a church closet).  The cars ahead of us had pulled over, and I knew this probably meant that there was a black bear ahead.  I asked Nancy to hand me her camera, and I hopped out of the car and hurried to the spot where some tourists had gathered in the nearby woods.
Sure enough, there was a pretty good-sized black bear rooting around in the leaves about 30 feet from where the wary tourists stood huddled.  By pretty-good-sized, I mean big enough to eat me over a two-hour period with only a brief pause to screen out that piece of titanium where a lumbar disc used to be.  The problem for me was, I wanted a close up, and the camera I was handed was an inexpensive one with no telephoto lens.   So I left the tourists behind me and I began to creep up for a better shot.  It’s amazing what stupid things guys can do when there’s no wife around to say “Don’t be stupid.”  When I got about 20 feet from the bear, he still seemed oblivious to me.   It was my next step that did it.   He started grunting, which I quickly translated as “You’ve invaded my space; I will maul you now.” 

At that moment, the tourists at a safe distance behind me seemed to me to be very smart, and I am sure I seemed to them, and certainly to the bear, exceedingly un-smart.  I had, shall we say, “chosen poorly.”  But before I could slowly begin to retrace my steps, the bear began to charge me, and not in a cuddly panda sort of way.  Believe it or not, the thought that struck my mind at that moment was: “There’s no way I’m going to outrun this bear, but I can get a great shot of him charging me.”  By this time (and this made an impression on me, so I have a pretty good recollection of the distance) the bear was about five feet away.  I held the camera about waist high and pressed the shutter.  Just as I took the picture, he stopped his charge.  I think now that it was never his intention to bear-handle me.  Charging me was just his way of getting me to back up and give him some space, and needless to say, it worked.  With my adrenaline pumping, and my heart behaving as you might expect, I ran breathless back to the car, blurting out, as I handed the camera back to Nancy, “too… close to bear…charged me…got great shot…”  And then Nancy said the words I’ll never forget, this side of senility,
“Did you remember to take off the lens cap?”  
“Lens cap!  Lens cap!  Why would you hand me a camera with a lens cap on it?”
“You ran out of the car asking for the camera, so I handed it to you!  Why would you try to take a picture with the lens cap on?”
A few moments before, I would have died a contented man, knowing I had just snapped a-last-in-a-lifetime shot of a bear attack, and now I realized two things:  First, my death would have been even more in vain than otherwise (the worst thing would have been to spot the lens cap before closing my eyes for the last time) and second, I had no photograph to verify this story.  This would be particularly useful now that, thanks to the Chinese Embassy’s persistent denials, my veracity regarding all bears has been called into question (see the Panda Pandemic).  Doug and Nancy and my wife can verify their side of this version of the major event of that day, but only the bear and I know what really happened, and so far he’s not talking.  Doug suggested that the bear only intended to charge me for taking his photograph----maybe five bucks a shot----but let Doug write his own stories.
The whole incident reminds me of what the Bible has to say about fools.  “Yes,” you say, “it was foolish of Nancy to give you a camera with a lens cap attached.”  Quite right.  “And it was foolish for that bear to charge someone with your cat-like reflexes, who might have been armed with bear-spray, or a camera.”  I agree.  But another way of looking at it is (and I know this is a stretch) maybe it could be argued that it was not the wisest thing to do to invade the personal space of a bear to whom I had not been formally introduced. 
“Wait, didn’t you already call it stupid?” 
Excuse me; I believe I’m writing the story, so I get to decide what you say.  Let’s try it again.  Maybe it wasn’t the wisest thing to invade the personal space of a bear. 
“Yes,” you say, “the lesson is that even the wisest of men may do foolish things.  Just look at Solomon.”
But King Solomon loved many foreign women…from the nations of whom the Lord had said…“You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods.”  (1 Kings 11:1-2)
Thank you.  That’s a perfect example.  Solomon did something foolish, and the result was,
“…when Solomon was old…his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God…”  (1 Kings 11:4)
The choice of a spouse, or in Solomon’s case, of spice, is such a critical decision for a believer, that the Lord gives us very specific instructions.  Solomon should have found contentment with one wife, and he should have chosen a wife who had the same faith in the true God that Solomon was blessed to have.   This relates to us in this way, Christians are to marry other Christians---not merely those who are willing to worship in Christian churches, or who categorize themselves as Christians rather than Hindu or Moslem, etc., but those who have repented of their sins and trusted in Christ alone as Lord and Savior
“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness?  And what communion has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14)
 “A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 7:39)
As a pastor, I have had occasion to speak to women who knowingly violated this clear word of God, and have suffered the consequences of their foolish disobedience.  
The only restriction the Lord gives to the believing widow is that, if she marries, she is to marry in the Lord.  Of course, she would be wise to choose someone who has more sense than her late husband, who I understand, sacrificed himself for what he thought was a great shot of a charging bear.

1 comment:

  1. No foolish pastors were harmed in the writing of this article.