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?