The other day, I was in the woods. Not woody woods, mind you, but a slightly wooded trail in a small town in Pennsylvania (settled since the mid-nineteenth century). The path I was on is a quiet, nicely shaded lane between a private road and a sort of steep slope leading up to the backyards of a few nice houses. It's the kind of path on which someone like me might take pleasure in a not taxing but not city-ish morning walk. It offered the smell of forest, the illusion of seclusion, the memory of bigger, harder, longer hikes. That particular morning, it also offered a bear. And that's not a typo for deer. That's a B-E-A-R.
There I was, walking along the path, thinking my thoughts and enjoying the quiet, for not a soul was around, and then, coming along the path toward me, was a pretty good sized four-footed creature in a brown coat whom I'd much rather encounter in, say, Blueberries for Sal. Lucky for me, and unlike in Blueberries for Sal, there was no bear cub around. Only the one bear. And me. Here are some of the thoughts that ran through my head as I decided to get off the path and find a place to hide among the skinny, measly, paltry excuses for trees that grew between the backyards and the path:
"A 42-year-old New Yorker, mother of twins, was found in the...."
"I saw Grizzly Man. It's not winter. That bear isn't hungry. Can bears see?"
"I don't want to be a 42-year-old woman from New York, mother of two...."
"It's garbage day. The bear is way more interested in garbage than me....."
As the bear came up to a point relatively parallel to where I was, it stopped and looked over my way. By then I was crouching trying my best to look like a rock or a tree or something, in spite of my blue and white striped waffle-rib top from the Gap. It occurs to me now that I should've stayed calm by humming to myself that song from A Chorus Line -- "Every day, for a week I'd try to be a baseball, be a sports car, ice cream cone...." -- but I didn't. As the bear looked in my direction, waggling its nose in the air for a moment, I, for some reason, stood up and then I stayed very still, and then the bear turned off the path and into the growth on the other side of the path, and then it kept going.
Before I finish this little yarn, I should say that I no longer run for exercise. A little over a year ago I started seeing an applied kinesiologist who pretty well convinced me that if I wanted to keep walking for the rest of my life, running would not help me. But that day, waiting for the bear to put some distance between himself and myself, I thought, "F$%*&! not running," and took off down the path running as fast as I could for as long as I could, this time singing to myself, "He says to me, why don't you run, I see you ain't, got any gun."
Later that day, after hearing that I'd seen a bear on a path quite near the lake where we were at the time (with our children), someone said to me about the bears in the neighborhood, "They're really harmless." And, really, they may be. But they're still bears.