What Are the Chances?
“That seems like a dumb rule,” observed Norm, upon learning that Paul and I had decreed that there be no food in the tents, while camping on Yosemite’s valley floor. “What are the chances that a bear would show up at our campsite, when there are hundreds of other ones to choose from?”
“Slim,” admitted Paul, “and we’d like to keep it that way,” he finished brightly.
“Yeah, OK. Whatever, I guess you’re right,” replied Norm, and he sauntered back in the direction of his tent, which he graciously shared with five middle school boys. It was part of the arrangement, whereby we recruited parents until we attained a five-to-one ratio of responsible adults to students.
In this instance, because Norm was also a little league coach and had his own kid along on the journey, he was assigned a couple of four-star specials, kids who needed an adult in charge, who was capable of providing a strong guiding hand. As a unit, this group would be navigating around the valley floor, out and about in public, and we needed to know that there were not going to be any undue discipline issues.
Norm was more than up for the job.
It was long established practice to take the seventh grade to Yosemite, and we spent the entire school year leading up to May, fund-raising to acquire the necessary loot to foot the bill. Paul stayed up until midnight, at the appointed date in January, when Yosemite started taking reservations for campsites, the following May.
We held after-school meetings, gathered parents and students together, and delegated responsibilities. We established behavioral contracts with students, early in the school year, so as to tie appropriate conduct at school, into that of behaving acceptably while in the public’s view. The logic was that if you could not keep it together at school, why would we allow you to go to Yosemite, and possibly spoil it for everyone?
Paul, with whom I team-taught for ten years, and I formed the groups that would function as teams for the five days we would be there. These teams would compete together, travel around the valley together, under the watchful eye of their adult, and would need to be able to do so without problems.
It was not part of the design, that they should also share the same tent, but there was nothing against it either, so that was the case with Norm's group. They stuck together and seemed to be doing really well, especially when it came to being in good spirits.
We got to mid-week, with everything following its usual chaotic course, but still all systems go. We were fast approaching the ten o’clock lights out point, and I was off to one side of the camp, closing up one of the metal storage units provided for campers, when I heard a ruckus over by where we kept all of the empty ice chests, after the food was properly stored.
The park had rigid rules about all food having to be kept either in vehicles, or in the metal boxes that were set in concrete so that the bears could not access them or drag them away. Since we were in the group camp site, there were no vehicles, so we placed all of our stores in those bear-proof containers.
“Is that you, Paul, making that racket?” I asked as I moseyed in that direction, shining my flashlight at the same time.
Right on cue, the source of the noise rose up in front of me, towering over me for one quite surreal heartbeat, before I realized that I was twenty feet away from a California black bear. Before I could register any feeling other than shock, I heard a frightful din begin, from the center of our campsite.
The metal serving spoons being hammered inside the biggest stock pot we had brought along on the trip, made an 808 drum sound like a pair of bongos. Manhandling these otherwise benign instruments, was Miss Morrison, and she was heading right at that bear, hollering at the top of her most capable PE voice.
I was too stunned to move, so I just watched as the bear thought better of the matter, dropped to all fours, and meandered into the darkness, never to be seen again, by us, anyway.
As the students milled around her afterward, Miss M. deflected praise by saying, “Everyone knows all you have to do is make a bunch of noise, and the bear will do just what he did tonight.”
“Yeah,” I thought to myself, “Just walk right at that bear with a pan and a spoon in your hands, and nothing else. No big deal.” I didn’t believe a word of it. She was a super-heroine without a cape.
Suddenly I was aware of Norm, approaching awkwardly from the direction of his tent, lugging an unfamiliar ice chest. When he plopped it down, he flipped open the lid with a sheepish grin. Inside was a veritable goldmine of junk food.
“I guess I forgot to have you put this in the storage locker. The rule doesn’t seem so dumb now.”