What (Not) to do When You Encounter a Bear
Let me start off by saying that up until my freshman year of college, I didn't even know we had bears in Florida. That sounds really silly when I say it now, but I lived pretty much across the street from the beach my whole life. You just don't hear about bear sightings on the beach side. It wasn't until I went away to college that I ventured farther into Florida. Sure, I had been to places like Orlando, but that was always on the highway where you really don't get to see much as the scenery whizzes by you at 70 mph.
Traveling down quiet roads to lesser known towns, I was with a group of my new college friends when I encountered this sign for the first time.
For those of you who can't decipher my awesome drawing skills, that's a bear warning sign, and it was the first time my beach-going eyes had ever laid eyes on one. My entire world had been shaken and I shared my confusion with everyone else in the car.
The entire car stared at me with an identical look that could best be described as:
I sat there, dumbfounded, as they described the Florida black bear. Here I thought the biggest thing I had look out for on the road was a stray deer, but apparently bears were just as common.
I started to pay attention to the news more and noticed that bears popped up quite often in residential neighborhoods and outside of major shopping centers. Each time I saw a similar story, I would think to myself, "Wow, I bet it's really cool to see a bear up close like that. I want to see one someday too."
Little did I know that a few years later, I would get my wish.
I distinctly remember waking up that morning expecting a boring day. As I stared up at my ceiling, I wished for one of my classes to be cancelled, or maybe a birthday at my job so I could partake in some cake. Just something to make the day less dull.
As I shuffled out of my dorm room, I decided to give my mom a call as I went to grab a drink from the cafeteria. Having just snapped my phone shut, I threw my empty cup away as I made my way down the same path towards the courtyard. It was your everyday, usual morning, until I happened to glance up at a near-by tree.
At first, my brain couldn't even comprehend what was in the tree. It had to go through a whole list of animals that didn't remotely make any sense.
"A really big dog that learned how to climb."
I stared deep into the creature's eyes as my brain finally started to make sense of the situation.
"Oh, it's a bear!"
"Yep, that's a bear."
"That's a bear..."
"THAT'S A MOTHER-LOVIN' BEAR!"
My brain had finally put 2 and 2 together. I had a very dire situation on my hands that had to be rectified immediately...I had to make sure I wasn't going crazy.
I mean, there was a bear very visibly in this tree. It wasn't up really high. It wasn't hiding behind anything. It was just chillin' a couple feet above my head at probably 10:30 in the morning. Absolutely no one had noticed this bear the entire morning?
So, instead of alerting proper authorities (because who does that anymore?), I raced over to the closest person I could find to confirm that my eyes were not playing tricks on me. Sitting not too far away was a girl texting on her phone. I tell her in a frenzy there's a bear just behind us.
She looked up at me and my panicked expression and simply chuckled saying, "No there isn't." as though I, a complete stranger to her, would just run up to her randomly and lie about something like that.
Was that just some practical joke I've never hear of before?
The 'Bear in a Tree' gag?
After insisting that there was, in fact, a bear in the tree, the girl finally got up and took a look for herself. Her expression now matching mine and my sanity no longer questionable, this girl did what any common youth would do.
Use her phone to take some awesome pictures.
Of course, I did not result to such predictable actions...because my phone is 7 years old and does not have the ability to take pictures.
Regardless, there would be more pictures to follow as a boy passing by wondered why two girls were staring up into a tree.
"Whoa! Sweet!" he said after noticing the bear, taking out his cell phone as well.
With three students now standing in the middle of the sidewalk looking up a tree, more began to notice and eventually a small crowd gathered to look at the bear. A public safety officer soon took notice of our group.
The PS officer stared up at the bear for about as long as I originally did. I wonder if he was going through the same thought process. Finally, he turned towards us and told us all that we should probably back up. This was a live bear we were dealing with.
It wasn't too long before the entire school had heard about the bear on campus. If they weren't in class, students were gathered outside the caution tape police officers had just set up. An elite group of officers gathered around the tree as they went over there brilliant plan of action:
Wait for the bear to come down.
I would have waited along with them, but unfortunately, I had to go to class. Our class was only half filled by the time the professor arrived and of course he wondered where the rest of his class was. I told him they were probably looking at the bear in the tree. He chuckled and told me that there wasn't a bear in a tree.
That old 'Bear in a Tree' gag again, I guess. I'm not sure why people kept thinking I was making this story up.
When I insisted there was a bear on campus, he asked me if I was certain it was a real bear. Was I sure it wasn't just a stuffed animal?
Now, I know I briefly considered that the bear was an over-sized dog in my moment of surprise, but really? A stuffed animal? That would make entering my room as a child an interesting experience every time.
Of course the bear was real and of course it eventually came down from its tree. Safely and tranquilizer free, I might add. You'd want to make a run for it too if you had hundreds of college kids gathered around you.
Once the bear ran off campus, that was that apparently. The college was out of harms way and I guess when that's the main source of your town's population and income, the rest of the town doesn't really matter!
I learned a lot about bears that day. Like how everything I did was the absolute wrong thing to do. If you yourself ever encounter a bear, don't be like me. Don't make eye contact, don't make any loud noises, and don't make any sudden movements. Always alert proper authorities before anything else.
Still, I'll always be thankful to that bear. I wished for something exciting to happen that day, and that bear did not disappoint!