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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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.)