The Bear That Blackmailed People

Here’s a little piece, based on a true story, about safe travel practices when visiting wild places this season.

MaryAnne looked up from her book, her brown eyes watching her parents in the front seat of the car.  This vacation had not been as much fun as previous ones.  Maybe she was getting too old to go places with her parents and little brother.

At the thought of Jeremy, she slanted her eyes toward him.  Maybe a tiny pinch would make him mad enough to look alive. But she knew her mother would be furious with her . . . and one of the promises she’d made to herself before the trip started was that she would behave “more grownup” to please her mother.

But it certainly was hard work, being grownup.  She narrowed her eyes at Jeremy again.  No.  She’d better read.  The book was about a girl her age who seemed to be having some of the same problems . . . primarily with a small brother.

Maybe it would have been better to have been an only child.  MaryAnne looked out at Canada’s Fraser River as it wound beside the twisty and turning road up the Fraser Canyon.  No, she usually was happy with her family just as it is.  Even if her parents had quarreled a little about which way to take into Jasper.

“George, the view is better going south, so we should go through Prince George and make a circle back through Golden and Kamloops.”

MaryAnne’s dad had sighed. “Elaine, the Rockies are wonderful from either way, but I can tell you intend to be stubborn about this . . . so the northern entrance it will be.”

Sometimes MaryAnne felt sorry for her dad, especially when her mother was stubborn.  Sometimes she wondered if that was where she got her own stubborn ways.  Not that she was as stubborn as her mother, of course.  MaryAnne smiled and turned again to read her book

After getting gas for the car in Jasper and looking at the tall totem pole in the railway station, MaryAnne was ready to watch the unfolding of some of the highest and prettiest mountains in the world.  Making the trip more exciting, each mountain visible from the road was identified by name on an arrow that pointed toward the mountain.

She bounced on the seat.  Now if Jeremy kept quiet, her day would be perfect.  She just loved mountains . . . and trees . . . and white-green tumbling water.  And all three of those things were guaranteed here.  Now if the bear and deer and falcons would cooperate and show up, too.  Sheer heaven!

Then MaryAnne’s dad stopped the car so her mother could look at the wildflowers growing by the roadside.  Other people were already crouched there, looking at the orange, yellow, red, purple, and white flowers, taking pictures with cameras that gasped with each shot.  Her mother got back into the car, her face flushed with pleasure.  MaryAnne bounced again.  This was a super wonderful day!

Then she made the mistake of looking at Jeremy.  Earlier he’d patiently pulled the stuffing out of his teddy bear, his boyish look marred by a careful frown.  MaryAnne thought about telling her mother, but then she pressed her lips together.  She’d already tattled once today, and she’d better not push her luck.

Her mother kept saying two wrongs didn’t make a right, although MaryAnne wasn’t quite certain what that meant.

She swung her legs, looking critically at her toes in her sandals, wiggling them to gaze with pleasure at the pink color on her toenails.  Her mother said eleven was too young to wear fingernail polish; she had relented to let her wear it on her toes.

But when she looked up, she saw her mother’s face wasn’t so happy.  Worried, she turned to see what was wrong.

IT was a small black bear with brown patches all over his fur.  He was almost leaning in the window next to her dad, looking suddenly much larger than he had before.  MaryAnne knew from reading all the signs in the park that one shouldn’t feed the animals, especially the bear.  She opened her mouth to warn her father, when her mother spoke.

“George, let’s get away.  Roll that window up.”

“I can’t.  His hand . . . uh . . . paw . . . is in it.  Maybe if I start the car.”

He ground the starter, and the engine roared from the excess gas in the engine.  MaryAnne, now watching the bear with a frightened gaze, saw the bear back up, looking surprised.

Good.  He was going to leave. But he didn’t.  Instead he moved to the side of the car and began to rock it.  The bear seemed bigger than ever, but to rock a medium-sized car—it almost made MaryAnne carsick.  Would he tip the car over?

Then the bear stopped and looked at them again, almost as though he was waiting for them to do something.

“George, look at the bear’s eyes.  It’s like he’s thinking.”  MaryAnne’s mother whispered.

“Well, I don’t like what he’s thinking, Mama.” MaryAnne felt like crying.  What was going to happen to them?

“You always wonder about what your dog thinks.”  MaryAnne could tell her mother was upset when she talked about silly things.  Maybe she was afraid, too.

“George, what are you doing?” MaryAnne knew her mother was nervous when her voice sounded so sharp. “Roll that window up again.”

Her dad shook his head.  “Maybe I’ll throw a sandwich far away from the car and he’ll run to get it.  Then we can get away.  I wish I knew where a forest ranger was.  And now there seems to be no one else around.  We need to solve this ourselves.”

“Don’t open the window wider. Please.”  Jeremy’s voice was just a whisper.

The bear shook its head and began to rock the car again.  Then he stopped, waiting and looking at them.

MaryAnne felt a pudgy little hand squeeze its way into her hand.  She looked down. Jeremy made a funny sound.  She glared at him, then noticed that his chubby face was flushed, and that his eyes were full of round, fat tears.  He was pressing his mouth together . . . maybe to keep his lips from quivering.

She had a funny feeling in her chest.  She surprised herself by squeezing his hand back, carefully because he was lots smaller than she was.

Her mother giggled.  “George, I think that bear is blackmailing us.  He must try this with other people driving through here.”  She reached into the cooler and took out a squashed tuna fish sandwich.  “Here, you’re too close to him. I’ll throw it out my window . . . and you be ready to drive away—fast!”

MaryAnne was afraid this plan wouldn’t work, but her mother didn’t seem worried.  She hoped her mother was right.  And it felt good to have Jeremy’s hand in hers, so she gave him a smile.  He looked a bit surprised, but she felt his hand relax.  Now she felt even better.  Maybe Jeremy wasn’t so bad, after all.  For a little brother, that is.

Her mother rolled down the window—and tossed the sandwich back behind the car, but the bear saw it. Or smelled the tuna. Instantly, he stretched up his back legs, then broke into a loping run toward the back of the car.  MaryAnne’s dad pressed on the gas pedal, and the car shot forward down the highway.

Jeremy and MaryAnne knelt on the back seat to watch the bear, now finished with the sandwich.  Then they looked at each other, amazed.  It seemed as though the bear was waving “thanks” to them.  Now they knew he had been blackmailing them!

Jeremy began to chatter to their mother and dad, both of them were also talking at the same time.  The only person who wasn’t talking was MaryAnne.

She was busy trying to figure out why Jeremy didn’t bother her anymore.  At least not right now.  And, in a funny way, she understood what her mother meant by two wrongs not making a right. And, it still was fun—even if being blackmailed—to travel with her folks. She reached over to give Jeremy a little, tiny pinch.

End note: If you keep bear spray in the car when visiting wild places, you can keep your sandwich and help prevent this behavior in wildlife!  :-)

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Why I Write

What makes a person want to write?  That takes time, inspiration, research…..and “seat of the pants” work.  I have now completed six novels, the Briana Fraser series, and thought I’d share some of the “inspiration” part with you—in case you might want to write or wondered why I did.

My writing partner, Sharon Owen, writing as Sharon St. George, has penned a series, published by Camel Press, in part featuring Northern California medical facilities, eastern cities, and travel to the Azores, in search of the truth about an injured young man, then for a lost girl, and into a string of dangerous accidents, including a mysterious death. The titles so far: Due for Discard, Checked Out, Breach of Ethics, and Spine Damage.  She was careful to have characters with particular skills, employment abilities and difficulties, plus challenging relationships with each other, including a romance, making her novels realistic. I liked what she’d done with her website; I asked if I could “imitate” her site. She agreed.

As a voracious reader of mysteries, especially those placed in dangerous locales, I have written a series about an Ashland, Oregon bookstore employee and Shakespeare Festival volunteer, who reluctantly signs on to assist the U.S. government with “problems” in foreign nations. (The titles so far: “Argentine Assignment”, “Belize Barter”, “China Caper”, “Peru Paradox”, with “Mexican Marimbas” and “Russian Ruse” following in short order.)

My main “hero” characters aren’t saints, nor geniuses, but they love their country and take dangerous risks to complete “assignments” given to them by their government to help make a difference for that country. Even my anti-heroes, except in the Mexican novel, aren’t intrinsically evil, but they won’t win any cheers; maybe a bit of sad recognition or understanding.

Important to me was to develop novels that portrayed at least my vision of, respect for, and appreciation of the people of the countries in which I placed the action, including the problems the people of those countries face—poverty, power, anti-law attitudes, pride—even the religious goals of a group of nuns in Peru! Other action includes a bull fight, a contest that perhaps portrays human struggles to succeed in a dangerous world! (And I have spent considerable time in these countries.)

Other struggles are faced by the human characters in the novels, all presented in the culture, climate, church affiliations, courage, and conviction of the characters as they fight to fulfill their assignments.  Ashland gets a big “plug” because of my love of the town and for Shakespeare. And for the deer who each spring make national news as they flood into the small town (and in my yard when I lived there!) by the hundreds.

My hope is that readers will enjoy and appreciate some of the “atmosphere” of the countries mentioned earlier, as much as I did in reliving the days, weeks, even months I’ve spent in those wonderful places. But it’s always nice to come home!





The Cassiar Highway

Anyone planning, or even thinking about taking, a drive into western Canada must—absolutely must—include the Cassiar Highway.  It’s a beautiful drive, south or north.  Maybe it has some funny little bridges, but it is absolutely worth it!  The drive, that is.  A minor tip: remember that the roads in northwest Canada are often used as small airplane landing strips.

A “bridge” that may have been replaced by now, is one which is just some flattened logs strung over the water.  Keep your tires on the logs!

If you have animals—dogs, for example—bring flea and bug spray. My Doxie was so covered with gray flying insects, I didn’t even recognize him.  Those bugs delight in irritating pets.

But the real delight is in seeing the mountains in this area.  They are heart-stoppingly lovely.  British Columbia parks are also a welcoming sight for a tired driver.  Clean, reasonably priced, and well-run—they are safe and comfortable.

Another bit of advice: be sure to take some off-road trips in Canada, where one finds tiny villages that are fighting off the idea of “modernizing.” It’s always fun and interesting to get a “look-back” at earlier days in this still semi-frontier area.  One can find all the modern and posh things in British Columbia’s major cities.  It’s the “outback” that makes for such a fun trip, especially for children.

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(A reminder: China Caper, the third in the Briana Fraser series can be purchased at Barnes and Noble.  If you’ve missed the first two novels, Argentine Assignment and Belize Barter, they, too, can be ordered from Barnes and Noble. The novels are getting good reviews, so I’m comfortable in reminding you about them.  Peru Paradox comes out soon.  Watch for it!  And yes, I’ve traveled, sometimes more than once, in these countries, so there’s a realistic description of the places and the people.)

More Than Just a Tip

There’s someone I want you to meet.  She’d been a long-term waitress or ten-year employee at IHOP restaurants. I first met her when writing my first published book, Argentine Assignment, and I used to spend three to four hours a day in a booth in a California IHOP.

Because I’m a natural snoop—or educator, take your pick—I found out she had a family, and a job, and was going to school to get her degree.  Of course, that fell right into my “butt-in-ski” personality. For a couple of years, I received almost daily reports on her progress in all those areas.  And how I admired her determination to get her college degree—and was pleased at all the future doors it would open for her.

For a variety of reasons, I began coming in earlier (or later) than her IHOP shift, but this day, after a drought of two years, she was my waitress again.  And did I ever take advantage of that, figuring she might have given up some of her plans.  But, no!  She now is registered at SOU in Ashland, Oregon, plowing ahead to reach her educational dreams.

I was so delighted that I let the eggs and potatoes grow cold while we talked.

So, there’s a story behind every face one sees.  We all need to dig a little, inspire some, and encourage all those we meet.  It’ll feel great!  It almost scares me—the influence one has on others—good or bad, or even indifferent.  I almost didn’t stop for lunch that day. My residence community meals are already paid for, so I’d be paying twice if I ate at IHOP. For some reason, and it suddenly was apparent why, I stopped for lunch at the same restaurant.

Do people like her cross your path? Do you ask questions of your food servers or others employed elsewhere?  Do we encourage people enough to reach for their dreams?  Ships do pass in the night—and may we all see them in time to get aboard!  And since we only pass this way once, we need to grab every encouraging opportunity we can.

So my food got cold—so what!

A Border Crossing into Mexico

On a year’s sabbatical from teaching, I planned to drive my VW bus, loaded for a six-month stay, into Mexico, where I’d attend a nearby university in a small town south of Mexico City, a short drive away.  I was renting a room with cooking appliances, so piled pots/pans/ and dishes/towels/etc. into the van along with our suitcases of clothes.  When one is taking two children and self for a six-month stay somewhere, “must have” items begin to pile up. That van was jammed to the gills. I was well-prepared for the border stop, had my Sanborn’s travel book to help us drive south safely, and had made money arrangements.  What could go wrong?

Things seemed normal, until a tall, well-medaled officer puffed his way up to the car.  I was standing outside it by now, somewhat concerned about the delay.  He demanded that I completely empty the car so the boxes and bins I had could be inspected.  I wanted to cry.  I had so much junk piled into that car, it would take an act of Congress to get it all back inside. I looked at Mr. Mighty.  I sighed.  Then I began what I’d often used before when in Mexico.  In broken Spanish, I started a string of sentences:  “I am a teacher.  I am going to go to college in your wonderful country. Mexico is beautiful, your people are so friendly, and so welcoming. The land is so lovely, I’m going to show my children, my young children, around your country.”  This went on and on; he just watched me stammer over the language divide.

A new officer came, obviously wondering why the hold-up of traffic.  I began my litany of praise for Mexico again, thanking a literary heavenly being for making some words very similar in English and Spanish. Within seconds, the new officer turned to the first one and read him some sort of riot act, apologized voluminously to me, and apologized a third or fourth time and waved me on. With a big smile on my face, I didn’t look at my sons but just drove south. Mexico, here I come!

for Chloe's post

Traveling Celebrations

When I decided to take three grandsons to Canada via the great car ferries that ply the coast from Washington State to Alaska, I realized that one grandson would have a birthday while we were on the ship.  I’m not very brave, but decided to “give something a try.”  So, I bought (and brought) a box of cake mix, a dozen eggs, and some icing packets.  And candles. And paper products for a birthday.  I didn’t mention it to the birthday boy; I did contact the cook, who thought it “great fun” that I was doing this, and agreed he’d be delighted to bake the cake.

Cruise Ship

Alaskan cruise ship

So, without mentioning birthdays at all, we gathered for lunch in the dining area.  I kept looking for the cook…and he appeared, with birthday music playing, with a big grin on his face as he carried the cake, candles flickering, into the room, announcing who the honored guest was. I’m not certain how my Zach really felt, but he had a big grin on his face, too.  People clapped, of course, and after Zach was served, the cook—in full birthday attitude—gave everyone in the room a slice of cake. (I certainly suspected that he’d added considerably to the box cake fixings I’d brought aboard.)

The reason I mention this is because if you or someone in your group will be celebrating a birthday away from home, give the cook a try.  Oh, you may run into a Grinch cook, but I didn’t. I hope you won’t.  And the birthday boy got to visit the captain’s position…may be harder to arrange that these difficult days….but it worked for Zach. (He’s now in law school, so he survived!)  Besides birthdays, there may be other special times for you and/or your group…just ask.  It never hurts.

Don’t Try to Be Funny at the Border

It’s never smart to try to “be funny” while dealing with border patrol personnel when coming back into our country.  I’d picked up two visiting grandsons, added one local grandson, and we ‘d taken a great trip on one of the car ferry boats from Bellingham (I think it was) to Fairbanks, Alaska.  The trip had gone well.  When we landed again in Bellingham, we were so close to the Canadian border, that I wanted to drive into Canada to show them the beautiful border structures. So, we zipped into Canada; now we were in line to enter the U.S. The border agent peered into the car, spotting the boys.

“Are these your children? Where did you get them?” What an odd question, I thought, so the inner-clown within me stirred awake.  “I just found them back a ways on the road, and am giving them a lift.”  I grinned up at the man who was glowering at me. Instead of joining in on my obvious joke, he leaned forward.  “Lady, when you are through trying to be funny, you can hand over their identification, then you may proceed.”

I heard snickers from the seat behind me, did as he said, took back the identification, and drove on south.  So, my advice to everyone, under any circumstances….don’t try to be funny!