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Goin’ On a Bear Hunt !

“We’re goin’ on a bear hunt!

We’re gonna catch a big one!

I’m not afraid! Are you?”

Excerpted from a book by the same title by authors Helen Oxenbury and Michael Rosen.

Fear is a funny thing. We think — and we are — so brave about so many things. Dreadful things happen to us. We lose a loved one — and we are brave and move on. “We do as we must,” as my beloved Auntie (and one of my best friends) Doris Morris used to say. We “suck it up,” as my sons say to me now. We cope.

Case in point is my niece-in-law, Joanne. This lady is one of the nicest people on the planet. She was the bravest mother ever when her young son was very ill with cancer; she literally held the family together, even though she was petrified herself. She “sucked it up.” She moved on.

Well, Joanne and the rest of the Krieger-Capuana-Grande clan all gathered last Memorial Day weekend for a trip to upstate New York. We stayed at a beautiful resort at the base of Hunter Mountain — out in the wilderness (especially if you are from Staten Island or Brooklyn). Darling Spouse, who had often camped in the area in his younger years, was eager to show the gang his “healing place” — Hunter Falls. The falls are by far one of the most breathtaking natural cascades of water I have ever seen. Although well painted and photographed, its location is not well known — and even harder to reach — even for those who know the way. Well, we forged our way to that breathtaking spot, which was quiet in the mid-morning sunlight, occupied only by an older gentleman who reminded me of the captain from Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea.”

Fast forward to the following morning.

Darling Spouse and I had spent the early morning puttering around, enjoying the area. Finally, we headed inside to see what the others were up to. Darling Spouse’s sister, Sheila, opened the door for us, and with a small smile pointed toward the window.

Joanne stood there, fixated. “What wrong, honey?” I asked, running over to her, Darling Spouse close on my heels. I put my hands on her shoulders, and she turned around, the fear in her eyes evident, and her face as white as a sheet.

“Bear,” she managed to mutter. “With two cubs. Right over there.” She pointed with a shaky arm to a trail that ran beneath the window. “In broad daylight. I thought that man at the falls was kidding.”

“It’s OK, Joanne,” Darling Spouse said comfortingly. “They’re all around here; they won’t bother you. Really.”

“What about the kids?”

“They’ll be just fine,” Darling Spouse’s voice took on a note of cheerful confidence. “Don’t you worry; the bears around here are mostly vegetarians, remember, and the kids just need to say away from the cubs.” Darling Spouse put his arm around her, and Joanne’s color slowly came back.

“I’m just bummed I didn’t see ‘em,” he added. “That would have been so cool!” Darling Spouse sounded like one of the kids now, and I had to smile. I was disappointed, too. Back in Pepperell, I had seen one of our resident bear’s — whom I’ve named “Jesse” — cubs, but I’ve never actually seen Jesse herself. She loves No. 2 Son, though, and will watch him jump on our trampoline. I have always had an odd feeling of comfort about that. I intuitively feel that she is taking care of him, and I am grateful. She never touches my bird feeders, either. Just leaves me a footprint or two to let me know she’s eaten the seeds the birds have scattered below the feeders.

When we returned home to Pepperell, Darling Spouse and I both noticed that the area under our deck had been disturbed. A couple of telltale footprints confirmed that Jesse and most likely her cubs had all spent the night safely under cover. I was truly touched by this occurrence. Darling Spouse, however, was well a bit unnerved.

“A bear spent the night under our deck!” he kept saying, incredulously. “What if we’d been home? What if she attacked the kids?” Darling Spouse was clearly distraught at the thought.

“You need to call animal control,” Darling Spouse announced now. “Promise me you will?”

“Why?” I asked, genuinely puzzled. “This sort of thing happens all the time.” Was this, I thought to myself, the same man who just days ago had reassured Joanne that she had nothing to worry about?

As if reading my thoughts, Darling Spouse had a ready comeback. “This is different!” he declared firmly. “This is our home we’re talking about.”

I could only stare at him. “I’m not hearing this,” I thought. “Must be dreaming.”

It got worse.

“What if the bear dragged No. 2 Son away? Into the woods? He’s still slight enough that she could do that “

“Oh, for pity’s sake!” I snapped, annoyed. “What’s with you?” Whirling around to face him, I looked into Darling Spouse’s eyes — and staring back at me was that little boy from Brooklyn who barely knew a chicken from a turkey. My heart melted, and I put my hand on his arm. “You want me to call animal control then?” I asked soothingly.

“Please. I gotta leave for work now or I’ll be late.”

“You go ahead then,” I urged, giving him a reassuring hug.

“Call me when you get ahold of animal control!” Darling Spouse called back over his shoulder as he hopped into his car, his relief evident.

“Will do!” I replied, wondering how I was going to explain this one. I obediently found the phone book, and looked up animal control, but without success. “Oy!” I thought. “I guess I’ll have to bother our local police; this oughta be interesting.” With a deep sigh I picked up the phone and dialed the business number of our local police. Not wanting to take up the officer’s time, I quickly explained what had happened.

“Ma’am, they lived here first,” The officer told me gently.

“Oh, I know. You see, I’m in a bit of a pickle; my husband’s from Brooklyn and I promised “ The officer choked back a chuckle. “You see my problem?”

“Absolutely,” came the professional reply. “Just keep your bird feeders in, and I expect she won’t bother you again.”

“I will do that,” I promised, trying to remain serious without much success. “Thank you so much for your help and advice!” I hung up the phone with a chuckle and immediately called Darling Spouse.

“Well? What did animal control say?” Darling Spouse demanded. And before I could reply: “What are they going to do? They must have a plan; when will they be there? Should I come home? Should we have the kids “

“Couldn’t reach animal control “ I managed to wedge my reply into his continuing barrage of words, and I had to put my hand over the receiver to muffle my laugh. “But ummm the local police said the bear lived here first.”

“Well, of course, but “ Suddenly, Darling Spouse realized what he was doing and saying. The Brooklyn boy abruptly disappeared. Darling Spouse himself was back. “I mean that “ The poor guy couldn’t find words.

“It’s OK, Lovey, really,” I reassured him gently. I don’t believe in kicking a man while he’s down. Not in my nature.

“You’re going to write about this, aren’t you?” he demanded now.

“Oh, you bet! This one is much too good to pass up. A real classic.”

“I suppose “ I could hear the resigned sigh in Darling Spouse’s voice. “But you always make me the bad guy in your columns!”

“Not the bad guy! You’re the straight man!” I replied truthfully. “And a really good one at that! What else can I do?”

There was a long pause at the other end of the phone.

“You don’t have to answer that,” I managed to sputter, no longer able to hold my laughter back.

“Yeah, right!”

“I love you, too, dear!” I chirped between chuckles. “Just remember that!”

Jenn is a freelance writer and journalist, and a realtor at ERA Squanicook Associates in Townsend. Her first book: “What? No Spaghetti and Meatballs!?!” is available at stores and online. She and her family live in Pepperell. Jenn can be reached at jennkrieger978@charter.net. Copyright 2006.

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