Storytellers to the Rescue
A year ago, when we, Patti and James, along with our spouses, were in the Grand Teton National Park, we found out that this the only place in all of the National Park system where the “Jr. Ranger Badge” could be earned by ANYONE, not just children. All one need do is prove to a ranger that you can answer the questions and complete the activities found in the Jr. Ranger guide. Well Patti and James immediately got our guide, and began all of the many activities that we needed to do to earn our badge: a scavenger hunt, went to Ranger programs, gathered information, learned about the animals, conversation, and finally were sworn in and received our special Jr. Ranger patch.
The next summer, we were traveling and camping at another favorite National Park, Sequoia, the very first weekend in the spring that a certain campground opened. For the previous six months, the bears had had the whole are to themselves-including a whole new crop of baby bears that had never seen people. The rangers and visitors’ centers were full of warnings and information about the bears. Standing in line to get a campsite, the rangers would come out every twenty minutes talking about how to be around bears. The basics: Do not feed the bears Do not leave your food out, even for a second Store your food (and ANYTHING with an odor: toilet paper, toothpaste, deodorant, suntan lotion-bears don’t know these aren’t to eat!) in the provided bear resistant storage lockers Bears are dangerous and wild. Be careful!
Our group was very experienced and quickly set up a very clean campsite. We understood that bears deserved respect and we knew what to do.
As night fell, and people prepared their evening meals, we suddenly heard a big hullabaloo. Pots banging together, people yelling, car alarms going off. We, like most people, wandered down to the scene of the commotion to find out what was the matter. We found that a group was roasting marshmallows and left a bag out “just for a second” which a mama bear and two cubs thought of as an invitation for a snack. All of the noise chased away the mother, but the babies went straight up a tree. This all took quite some time to sort out before the mama could get the baby bears to safety.
We shook our heads at the silliness of some campers and were walking back to our campsite, when we were stopped by several men who were with a group that we noticed earlier. This was a very large, extended family of obviously neophyte campers- one of the dads, the expert had been camping twice before, no one else had ever been, and no one had camped in Bear County ever! They told us in very nervous, intense voices that their children were terrified of the bears. All the noise and talk of the mama bears and her cubs had the kids so scared that they all locked themselves in a SUV and were crying in fear. They said that their camping trip was growing to be a nightmare. They had no idea what to tell their kids.
Where had these guys been during the repeated lectures about bear safety? Did they not read the bear safety pamphlets handed out with the parking permits? Can’t they read the signs in the bathroom: “Precaución: Habitat del oso. No haga el siguiente... Caution: Bear habitat. Do not do the following…? “They just didn’t pay attention. They had no frame of reference. These guys had never even been in danger of hitting a deer let alone having bears visit their tent in the night.” Help! Could you talk to our children?” James’ wife immediately pointed to us, “These two are storytellers. They’d be glad to talk to your kids.”
A chance to tell stories! Of course we said we’d be glad to talk to the kids, we walked over and were immediately introduced to the children by the father not as storytellers but as park rangers. Rangers!? We gulped, remembered our training in the Grand Tetons. We may not be official Sequoia rangers, but the National Park system had conferred upon us the status of Jr. Ranger and that would have to be good enough. After a brief huddle, we began our PRER: Park Ranger Emergency Response.
One of the kids opened a window and we stared in at a very frighten group of children “Hello kids, is anyone here afraid of bears?” Every hand in the place was immediately raised-they were polite, frightened children. “Yes!” Every kid that is except the probably sixth grade brother who said “I’m not scared!” We wondered, “Then what are you doing locked in the SUV…never mind.” We began our “bears are more frightened of you lecture…” “These are baby bears, they’ve never seen people before. They are scared of you. They’ve lived their whole life without ever seeing people. They’ve wandered around their home the whole time and now people came and put their cars and tents and trailers. They don’t know what to think.”
The kids said that their friend told them that bears like to eat little children. “Oh, bears don’t like to eat children. Bears are like cars in the traffic, they don’t want to hurt you, but you have to be careful or you could get hurt.”
“You have to put away all of your food so they don’t think they are supposed to come over for dinner.”
Someone asked, “Should we take the cheetos out of our tent?” “Yes. (Oh dear, what else do they have locked safely away behind a nylon wall?)”
We said,“During the day us rangers take care of things watching out for bears, but at night it’s the dad’s job. Do you think that dads are afraid of bears? (We thoughts about these guys huddled on the road! The dads seemed pretty scared.) The kids all said, “No, they aren’t scared.”
As Patti was talking about being kind to animals, James was restraining himself from pointing out the fact that every year more people are hurt by deer than bears. You may be more likely to be hurt by a deer than a bear, but somehow didn’t seem helpful to put the fear of Bambi in those poor kids.
They had many more questions we were able to answer: “They really like fruits, nuts and fish the best”, “The mama bear just wants to take care of her kids, just like your mama”, “Yes, your dads will make loud noises to scare the bears away”. Soon the tension level had dropped dramatically. As we were leaving, the children filed out and went over to the campfire where we soon heard singing. The dads checked out if it was really not such a good idea to put some hamburger in the road to get a photo of the bear. “No, not a good plan!”
In the morning, the dads came over and thanked us. They said that the kids and the parents all went to bed and had a good night’s sleep. They said we had saved their camping trip. No bear attacks during the night, and no packing up and going home at the end of the first day.
Another successful job for Jr. Rangers and “Storytellers to the rescue”.