Baboon Redux – The Bear That Ate Jerry

Header image:  Selsdon Wood Nature Reserve, CR0 (Philip Talmage) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Today’s post by Steve Grooms was first published in 2010.

In early June of 1967, I took a Boundary Waters canoe trip with my roommate, Bill, and his California friend, Jerry Voorhees. Bill was a tall, arrogant fellow who enjoyed barking out commands to Jerry and me. Although I was twenty-five at the time, Bill called me “Steevie,” because he knew it annoyed me. It amused Bill to order Jerry and me about like the drill sergeants he’d suffered under in Army Basic Training.

Jerry is harder to sketch. A plump fellow with thick glasses, Jerry was no athlete and less of an outdoorsman. He was on the canoe trip because Bill ordered him to be. Jerry was a sweet, accommodating soul who lacked self-esteem. Bill didn’t help Jerry’s composure with all the abuse he heaped on Jerry, calling him “fat” a dozen times an hour and mocking Jerry’s stammer. Jerry’s father had been a liberal New Deal congressman in California who became famous because he was the first politician to have his career trashed by mudslinging lies from young Richard Nixon.

The trip was more fun than it might have been. I caught a trophy northern pike whose memory still thrills me. We were out in the bush for six days. When we got back to Grand Marais, we were stunned to read that the Israelis and Arabs had conducted a whole war in our absence, the “Six Days War.”

Other than that, the most memorable moment was provided by the bear.

We slept three across in our little tent. Jerry, as the omega trip member, was stuck between Bill and me. Our heads were at the back of the tent, our feet by the door. It was rather tight in there.

We had gone to bed one night after dinner. It was fairly late, late enough that the loons had finally gone silent. Spring peepers trilled from every puddle in the woods. Jerry snored softly. Bill tossed in his sleeping bag.

I had almost fallen asleep when I heard the bear. Something was shuffling around our campsite, something with heavy feet. We had not been careful enough to run our food packs up into the trees, which should have concerned me. Stupidly, I wasn’t afraid.

Instead of being scared, I was enjoying the moment because I knew Bill heard the bear. Bill’s breathing changed, becoming fast and ragged. I had been with Bill in a violent storm once, and I knew how terrified he could be when he felt himself threatened. I grinned into my pillow, picturing Bill on the far side of the tent, his face a mask of terror. Jerry snored on.

“Jerry! There’s a bear!” hissed Bill.

“Snaaaaark,” said Jerry.

“Jerry, dammit! There’s a BEAR!”

“Snoooooooooooop!” said Jerry.

I pressed my fist into my mouth to keep from laughing out loud.

That’s when Bill snapped. In total panic, he grabbed Jerry with his left hand, clamping down on Jerry’s right thigh like the Jaws of Death.

Jerry, dammit, THERE’S A BEAR!”

“I KNOW! I KNOW!” screamed Jerry, now very awake. “And he’s GOT ME BY THE LEG!”

That’s when we broke into laughter. The three of us hooted and whooped until our pillows were soggy with tears and our tummies ached. Whatever the creature in our camp had been, it obviously fled in panic when we began roaring with laughter.

Jerry later explained that he was awakened by the vice-like grip of Bill’s hand on his leg. “I thought he was going to eat me right up,” said Jerry, “starting with the sweetest meat.”

What terrifying moment are you able to laugh about now?

47 thoughts on “Baboon Redux – The Bear That Ate Jerry”

  1. Oh, I love this story – that’s got me laughing all over again, Steve.

    Most of my terrifying moments have been when I had to confront or stand up to some person – a dreaded situation. I’m afraid they aren’t funny to think back on even now. Will try to remember something and get back here later…


  2. Bear stories are always fun. I wasn’t really terrified, but “concerned” — hiking in the back country of Yellowstone Park after a snow, I noticed relatively fresh bear prints on the trail, claw marks on a tree. I asked my friend, a park ranger, if they were bear tracks. He said, “I hoped you wouldn’t notice.” It was a summer that at least two people had been killed by a Grizzly.

    But truly terrified? That would be the first time I had to give a talk in a senior high speech class. The teacher remarked afterwards, “I’ve never seen anyone so scared. You were visibly shaking.”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Truly terrifying was getting on a plane in Guangzhou, China with a 6-month old baby. Up until that point I had others in my group and the Chinese adoption agency as back-up. Looking back, I can’t have been that terrified – later that same day I got in a taxi cab with her and went to the other side of Hong Kong to shop in the Stanley Market. But I do remember thinking “what if I screw this up?” (parenthood, not shopping)

    Liked by 6 people

  4. Husband and I were camping in the Canadian Shield around Kenora once when I woke up and heard snuffling and rummaging around the tent. I was so scared that I found myself frozen. I couldn’t talk or move. The snuffler went away eventually.

    One of my dad’s cousins lived up by Baudette, MN and was out in the woods with a chain saw and found himself between a mother bear and her cub and was attacked by the mother bear and he had to kill her with the chain saw. That was horrible and sad and terrifying.


        1. Too bad that the Rat Portage name is gone. It gives me this visual image of rats carrying their little canoes down a trail to the next lake…

          Liked by 8 people

  5. Good morning. I can’t think of any terrifying moment that I laugh about. I can think of a few times when I narrowly escape from bad situations. The first ones I can remember are cases where I came close to wreaking a car. Once I fell asleep and woke up traveling at a fairly high speed out in a field after going off a curve in a road. Fortunately I was able to steer the car back onto the road without damaging myself or the car. Also, I can remember several scary incidents where I lost control on ice covered roads. There might be something about those bad situations that I could look on as humorous. Mostly I am grateful that I survived those terrifying moments without suffering any harm.


  6. I will not repeat the story of the bear in Sandy’s and my house, which was not terrifying, She did not know it was there. We laugh about htis now but it was not terrifying.
    More terrifying was the bear that tired to break into house, my mother and the only ones home, the summer after I graduated from H. S. It was a bad summer for bear food. I was standing in the kitchen my mother beside me with the 30-30 pointed at a bear trying to break a kitchen window. I was not afraid he would do us any harm, more afraid of having to kill him. Finally our shouting drove him off. Two other nights I sat watching bears in our yard trying to decide how to get food. I was never afraid being in the woods, such as getting the cows, because even as hungry as they were, they just were not going to attack me unless I had food. This is still not funny.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Bear stories are often scary at the time but funny in retrospect. That is true of the bears that raided our cabin on the night we celebrated my 50th birthday. When people tell funny bear stories, they often neglect to mention how the incident ultimately worked out for the bears. Bears that raid cabins usually are killed by wildlife agents. That’s not a laughing matter. I’ve posted before about the four bears that trashed our cabin (a different bunch of bears from the birthday party crashers). The mama bear that led her three cubs into my cabin was trapped and shot.


    1. True confession, during that part of the ’92 election when Ross Perot was gainimg some traction, I was living in Buffalo, NY. I timed myself to see long it took me to get from my apartment to the Rainbow Bridge to Canada.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Trying to think of something. We did have something abscond with the rest of a bag of marshmellows that were in a paperbag when camping on the Island, but that wasn’t really terrifying. We found the empty bag maybe 30 feet away the next morning and figured somewhere there was probably a regretful racoon.

    I tend more towards getting through the bad situation and doing what I have to and then wondering afterward why I was not just immobilized with fear.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. There was a story recently about a guy near Fergus Falls up in a tree blind for deer bow season when he noticed a black bear climbing up the ladder to join him in the blind. I thought of Bart.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Great story, Steve. But did you really have pillows on a trip in the bwca? I always just used wadded-up clothing for a “pillow” because who would want to cram a pillow into a duluth pack? Just curious.

    This is a very hard question! I am coming up empty on this one. I was nervous about meeting the Baboons in person after months of conversing with them on the blog. But terrified? No. And my nervousness was totally wasted. The first time I met a lot of the baboons was at PJ’s for a yard and garden work day. I remember that it was a beautiful day for working outside and the food was fantastic. It was the Most Fun I’d Had in a Long Time. Nothing to Be Nervous About there.

    Loud, sudden noises terrify me. More than once when I’ve been walking down the sidewalk, a car driving up behind me on the street suddenly blasts its horn. I bet any onlookers find it quite amusing to see me jump a couple feet in the air from terror, and then pretend that I’m not scared and keep walking.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great story, Steve.

    My terrifying moment didn’t involve a wild animal. My moment of sheer panic involved a VW bug at 2 AM on a Sunday morning. I think I have written about it before.

    Wasband and I were on our way from Cheyenne to Carbondale in a uHaul truck pulling our VW bug behind. We were nearing our destination, and being poor as church mice and under the mistaken belief that we didn’t need to leave any gas in the tank of the rented truck, we were running low on gas. On a winding, steep uphill sloping road we ran out of gas just as we were across from a “scenic overlook.” I tried to pull the truck across the road to the overlook, but didn’t make it. We were stuck, blocking the entire width of the road.

    Soon cars were lined up in both directions as far as we could see, but no one got out of their car to offer help. Wasband got the brilliant idea that he’d unhitch the VW (which had gas in the tank) from the uHaul, so that we could at least clear one lane so that the cars could pass. I was supposed to stand behind the VW and prevent it from rolling downhill!!!
    Not until he actually unhitched it did it occur to either one of us that I wasn’t strong enough to hold it. Only when the driver of the car idling directly behind me realized that the VW was going to crash into his car, (and in the process crush my legs, which was probably of less concern) did he get out of his car to help prevent the crash. I recall the moment of sheer terror as I realized my lower legs would be crushed between the bumpers of two cars.

    Looking back on that incident, I still can’t laugh about it, but I’m sure glad to have dodged that bullet.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Good that you finally got help. A guy I worked for had a similar accident. (He was a “pro fisherman” and I was his ghost writer.) He was towing a little Jeep up a steep mountain hill. The Jeep broke free and went sailing backwards down the mountain. Unpiloted rolling cars are surely scarier than loose bears.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. I will be ABD for this in order to protect the guilty. In my younger days I was known to ‘purloin’ things on occasion. It wasn’t anything of high value – it was just lumber or pipe and once a couple pieces of scaffolding.
    One time, a partner and I had had just picked up the scaffolding and were headed to the truck when we noticed a local security officer walking our way. We set the scaffolding down, looked at the sky and talked about stars and constellations until the coast was clear again. To this day we don’t know why we got away with that. It seems to us it was pretty clear what we were doing. Maybe that officer was ‘off duty’ and headed home? Maybe he just didn’t care? or it wasn’t worth the paperwork??
    None the less, when we discuss that we get the giggles.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. In a similar vein to Steve’s blog, here’s a true story from when I was living in Cheyenne.

    Wasband was a medic in the air force, and he and I often babysat for the various doctors in his unit. One such couple, Charlie, a tall, lanky Texan, was a mild mannered psychiatrist, and his wife, a stay-at-home mom, asked us to take care of their brood while they went camping in the Rockies.

    One night while sleeping in their tent the wife awoke to some loud rustling near their tent. She poked her husband and whispered “Charlie I think there’s a bear outside.” Charlie, half asleep, responded “What do you want me to do about it?” She asked “Do you have a knife?” Now wide awake, Charlie responded “Are you nuts? I’m not going to fight a bear with a knife.” That’s when she burst out laughing as she tried to convey that what she had in mind was for him to cut a slit in the back of tent so they could escape. Their sputtering inside the tent apparently was enough to chase away whatever critter was outside, and they lived to tell the story.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. I once watched a small, sail-boat type boat carrying my son, age 9, and two other children capsize in the man-made lake near our town. They were piloted by one of my collegues, a former Navy man. They were on the other side of the lake from us, and we mothers had to drive all around the lake to get to the nearest shore to where they went in. It was terrifying not knowing what we would find when we arrived. ALl were safe, thank goodness.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Talk about a terrifying experience: I just visited our bank over changes caused when a big bank bought out the regional bank that bought out our local bank.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sorry, Clyde. Reminds me of a time I had some dealing with the bank. As I went to leave, not happy about the transaction, the banker thanked me for doing business with them. I wasn’t in a good mood, so I said, “I didn’t choose you. Your bank ate the bank that ate the bank I did choose.”

      Liked by 5 people

      1. I went in to deal with a change which was a nasty thing they left us to deal with. Three people, up to branch manager, told us that we did not have to co it by saying, ” I understand that ________” or “We have been told that_____________.” I said their answers had no confidence in them. To which the manager said, “I understand that__________.” So I said I guess I will do it anyway, to which he said, “We have been told that _______”

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Too long to explain. Only point is that I needed definitive answers about my accounts and they would not stop hedging their bets on the answers.

          Liked by 2 people

  15. These bear stories are making me miss Bart – I can almost hear how he would reply!

    I can remember when my best friend and I were driving her mom’s car from Marshalltown to their Clear Lake cabin, probably during our senior year. Just tooling along listening to the Beach Boys or something, and suddenly the car in front of us was at a DEAD STOP. She slammed on the breaks and the car skidded 3/4 of the way around before coming to a stop. LUCKILY there was no oncoming traffic to smash into us. I don’t remember if there was wet pavement or what, but I’ll never forget that “stomach jumping into the throat” feeling.


  16. Evening.
    I’m managing to read this every day… just not taking time to respond much.
    Coming into Tech Week and struggling to find my drink of choice.
    (1st World Problem: Code Red Mt Dew is only in 20 oz bottles now rather than 24 oz. ((Yeah, like I needed another 4 oz of caffeine.)) But 20 oz just isn’t quite enough to drink.
    So I’m trying A&W creme soda. Good, but still only 20 oz. Trying Grape Faygo from the gas station. 24 oz, but not Code Red. Sigh. Throwing me off my groove, man.)

    It’s good to scare yourself a little bit every day, right? Long as you can laugh about it later. Isn’t that what she said??

    I’m 18 and driving too fast on our gravel driveway and making the car slid around the corners. And there was the large wood fence post right in the middle of the windshield–
    — and the car straightened out and I zipped on down the road. Whew.

    Our driveway is very long; 3/4 of a mile downhill to the farm with the last couple corners overlooking the barns as the road clings to the top edge of a pretty good drop-off. Scares a lot of people. But I always figured there’s enough trees to stop you; you won’t zip off the road and over the cliff and end up stuck in the barn roof like some movie.
    Unless it’s an icy winter night.
    Kelly’s car had slid off the road further up. She walked home and We headed out with the tractor to rescue her, car but I couldn’t make that last corner. (No chains on the tractor). Tried a few times trying to get off onto the grass or gravel of the shoulders. Soon I had managed to slide sideways and am now backing closer and closer to the trees. And the drop off.
    I assured her, we’d be OK. Because first there was the barb wire fence. Course that didn’t hold us as I continued trying to maneuver the tractor on the icy uphill corner; snapped wires and broke off a steel fence post.
    And then it was smacking the mirror into one of those aforementioned trees. Snapped the mirror off. Kelly made a little shrieking noise at that. Now I’m mad.
    But determined to carry on, damn it!
    Then the tractor got some traction and spun to the left — and there went the door glass with a pretty good ‘POP’ sound and all the tinkling of broken glass. Kelly was sitting next to me on that same side. I think we both made a little shrieking noise at that point. OK, now I’ve managed to get through the trees and closer to the ‘cliff’… as it were… And that’s when we decided to call it a night.
    Worry about it the next day.

    As bad as our driveway is our neighbors have a worse one I think.
    Not as long and a BEAUTIFUL drive in the spring, summer and fall.
    But they have this long steep hill that curves up and out. Trees on both sides, drop-offs on both sides of part of it.
    I just don’t go down there if there’s snow.
    But they were on vacation and we were watching the house one winter. We had gotten several inches of snow so I made a path with the tractor and snow blower. Course going down their hill was no problem. (My snow blower is on the back of the tractor and I blow while backing up.)
    But now as I’m backing back up the hill I get off to one side a little too much. I’m closer to the edge than I want to be. I stop. I tell myself ‘Don’t do anything stupid here.’ I put my seat belt on. The heck with ‘blowing snow’, let’s just get out of this situation. I am able to move ahead and get back in the middle of the road and down to level ground again. And then I just back up the already cleared path back to civilization. Whew. Everytime I think of that I have to take a deep breath.

    Thanks for all the stories this week. Glad to re-read them.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Ah– it’s a theater rule: all containers must have caps. No cans allowed. (Too much electronic equipment. ALL drinks must be 3 feet from
        Sound or light board.)
        Plus I’m Clumsy.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’ve thought about that. Wondered if I’d keep it clean… wondered how much I’d spill trying to pour. Wonder about the sanity of drinking 2 CANS of pop. Haha–


  17. One time my cousin and I decided to swim out beyond the sand bar. Unfortunately for my cousin, the pattern of the sea grass looked like a shark swimming towards her so I climbed up her back so she`s get eaten first. Although I still get a kick out of that story she`s still mad about being sacrificed.

    Liked by 1 person

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