Essay: Bears Eat Berries

First posted in September, 2006

Yesterday morning made for quite a fun diversion from my normal routine. I was asked to lead a group of twenty school children (ages 7-12) up the lower section of the Chilkoot Trail. There's fairly heavy bear activity on that stretch of trail right now, so I suppose that's why I was pulled from my regular duties to accompany the group.

I haven't spent time with a group of school kids for awhile, and rarely do I have them for such a relaxed and relatively unstructured activity as a hike. I'd forgotten how... interesting they can be. Topics as we walked ranged from Picasso and Cubism to them asking me what neighbor I would want to have if I lived in Candyland (I tried to confuse them by saying I wanted to live next to the Crème Brûlée Girl, but the girl who asked was pretty smart and had taste and just said, 'Mmmmmm.').

I was thoroughly interrogated, asked about everything from where my parents live to whether or not I have any phobias. At one point they asked if I spoke any other languages, and I told them French and Spanish, to which a girl replied that she also spoke Spanish. So I (evilly) replied, "Ah! Entonces podemos hablar en español." She quickly explained that she'd only been studying it two weeks. (Pwnd.)

At one point, we were walking this stretch of very muddy trail, littered with bear tracks, when we encountered a rather putrid-smelling (even by my standards) salmon head that had been left in the center of the trail. The girl walking right behind me said, "That's so disgusting. Bears shouldn't eat fish."

Unable to stop myself, I replied, "That's what bears do. They have to eat, just like you do."

"They're BEARS. They should eat BERries."

I hid my amusement. "Well, they do eat berries, but they need a balanced diet."

"I have a balanced diet, and I don't eat meat."

"But you still get protein because you have access to lots of different kinds of food."

"The bears should eat tofu." (This was the same child who likes crème brûlée.)

"The bears don't have access to tofu." (I'm still not sure why I kept the conversation going this long.)

"We should feed the bears tofu."

A second child chimed in: "Tofu? That's disgusting."

So I turned to the first girl and said, "What part of the bear safety talk I gave before this hike didn't you understand? We're not feeding the bears anything." I then turned to the other girl, "And you've obviously never had tofu that was prepared properly."

"It was. It was still gross."

At any rate, I dragged the kids about four miles total, at a pretty darn good clip, over rocks and boulders, and through really long stretches of standing water so that everyone was pretty much soaked (we've had over an inch of rain in the past twenty-four hours). I thoroughly annoyed one child who complained about the rain when I told him that I thought the woods were beautiful in any weather. At the end of the hike another little girl approached, looked me up and down, shook her head slowly, and then just sort of glared at me while asking "How are you not soaked and covered in mud?" I just smiled and told her I was in my element.

Despite the rain and the mud and the wet socks and the stinky fish and the hill that none of them seemed to want to go over at the end, they all seemed to have a really great time and one of the kids asked if I would be coming by the school to give any talks. I have to admit I was sort of sad to realize that that's not part of my job anymore, and I told her I wasn't sure.

"Well, you should. Everyone likes you, so you should."

That made me smile.


And that night when I got home? I had tofu and noodles for dinner, and it was great.