birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Mama Bear

The rules in the park are pretty clear. And my mom was clearly breaking them. We’d spent a week hiking, learning, being studious sponges of nature. We’d seen the many carved, wooden signs reminding people to stay back 200 yards, to respect the wildlife, or -- in as red-alarm as a brown and yellow sign could be in these peaceful, perfect mountain paths — “Caution: Bear Sighting.” A nerdy teenager, I’d bought every book in the lodge gift shop that covered gruesome stories of good times gone wrong. Naturally. Chapter by chapter, I devoured grisly recounts of grizzly attacks. It imprinted on me with visceral images of how large bear claws could be. And sharp. And wonderfully adept at neatly scalping a human in one swipe.

My mom didn’t read the gory stories. Maybe that was her excuse. But she did stand right next to me when the park rangers sternly advised the pack of us humans, annoying tourists covered in brightly colored rain jackets and neon tennis shoes, to steer clear of any area where a bear had been seen. There were pleas for respect of the wildlife, which most don’t have. Then attempts to scare us humans away, retelling how protective mama bears can be.

You’d think my mama’s instincts would have been to protect her offspring, to turn around as soon as we saw the signs of danger. Nope. We’d gone on a short hike after dinner, right next to lodge, the sun still lighting the paths well after eight o’clock. We’d been told in the daily ranger updates that bears were in the area, but that only seemed more intriguing to most. Now another couple was on the path, approaching us with a brisk skip in their step and widened eyes. In a hushed whisper, the husband said they’d just spotted a mother and two cubs not too far from the trail. As we’d all been instructed, they quietly backtracked and got the hell out of there, now warning us to do the same.

I turned towards the lodge, my heart beating a teeny bit faster, trying to walk as if everything was normal. Listening with the megaphone ears one gets when mega-freaked out, I didn’t hear anything rustling in the woods. Nor did I hear my mom’s boots crunching behind me. Looking over my shoulder, I saw her twenty feet away, jog-walking in the opposite direction. Toward the bears.

“What. Are. You. Doing?” I hissed emphatically. You know, because bears can’t hear you panic-whisper.

“I’m going to see the bears! I didn’t come all the way out here to not see a bear. C’mon!” she said in this sing-song voice.

I can only describe the look on her face as wild, starry-eyed. And stupid. “No! That’s not safe. Come back.”

“Awww, don’t be ridiculous. Were just going to get a little closer. They won’t hurt us,” she cooed, condescendingly.

What in the hell is going on with her? And why am I acting like the parent here, I thought to myself.

“I’m leaving you! This is crazy,” I plead.

Waving me toward her, grinning this goofy smile, Mama said, “C’mon. You are being silly. You might never get this chance again.”

“You might not live through the chance! You’re being the dumb tourist I read about! Let’s go!” I shouted, with no regard for whispers, my feet planted firmly in the ground.

She rolled her eyes — rolled her eyes! — and disappeared around the bend, trees blocking my view. I spun on my heels, rocks crunching under my lug soles, wasting no time hightailing it back to broad daylight and out of the forest. Headlines and front-page captions ran through my imagination as fast as my mind could type them. “School Teacher Dies in Bear Attack at Glacier National Park.” “Mother of Two Died in Glacier Today, Attacked By a Mama Bear with Two Cubs.” And I could also imagine the park staff angry with one more stupid human endangering the life of the animals, someone who thought the rules don’t apply.

Our standoff, or walk-off, didn’t last long. I suppose it didn’t seem as fun by herself on that darkening forest trail, walking alone. It wasn’t common sense that pulled her back, nor the nerdy kid needling her. Probably boredom. Perhaps a schoolteacher, mother of two, just wanted to break the rules.

What's Unfair?

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