“I can’t stay in the place. This tent is just made of cloth & does not even have door. I can’t bear this cold in this snow”. This was the first words my wife uttered on seeing the Housekeeping Camp at Yosemite Valley in California. Born & brought up in Mumbai, the only cold she is experiences are the medical ones. Even through 3 layers of winter clothing the cold was chilling the bones.
The last 3 hours had been an adventure in itself. With snow falling all around us, very low visibility, driving around without the help of GPS in pitch dark the Yosemite valley on curvy, slippery road, fearing that we may get lost was an adventure in itself. The dim-lights of the Camp ground gave me the joy which Archimedes felt when he ran around shouting “Eureka”. Had the seatbelts not restrained me I could have tried something similar.
But the accommodation created a flutter. At 12:00 Midnight there was no other option. All the 8 of us, including me, myself, my brother, sister in law, mother, my 6 year old daughter & my brothers two sons 4 yr & 2 yrs respectively, tried to ready ourselves for the a good nights sleep after a grueling drive of over 12 hours that day. Least was I to know that the adventure had just begun.
A black iron box, the size of car trunk, outside the tent puzzled me. Before I could unravel the mystery, I came across a note stuck on a pole, which instructed that wild bears visit the camp in search of food at night & thus all the food has to stored & locked in the iron box. Not to keep any eatable inside the tent as the bear may try to get at it. The bears are known to break car windows to get to food inside.
Me & my brother quickly emptied the car & put all the food items into the iron box. We also removed the ice box from the car & left it open as per the instructions. While I was doing this the only thing that crossed my mind was what if a bear decided to pay us a visit while we were doing this transfer. The instructions did say that bears are very intelligent & have a strong ability to smell even small quantities of food at long distance & also that they have padded feet so you cannot hear them coming towards you. Every shadow seemed like a bear. We decided to keep two bottles of milk inside the tent for the kids as they may need in night.
Before going to bed we decided to go to the common toilet available nearby, a distance of only 100 feet, but the pitch dark did seem to make it a mile. When we came back, my wife saw an animal moving near our tent. But others chided her that it is the mind playing tricks.
The others went into the tent but I noticed that something had changed. The open icebox that we had left outside seemed to have gone for a walk. It was 5-6 feet away & when I went to check it I could see muddy paw-marks on the box. We had been visited by somebody. My wife indeed was not wrong. I did share the news with my brother not wanting to alarm everybody.
Soon every body was asleep. The cold was forgotten, but my eyes remained glued to the door. Expecting the bear to peek thru it anytime. I am usually a very sound sleeper. In fact I can fall asleep anywhere, all my teachers & friends can voucher for it. In fact, sleeping while standing in a local train is also something which I can do easily. But the bear who had not stolen any food yet had stolen my sleep. Every minute turned into an hour & the hours stretched to eternity. I am an agnostic, but still tried to summon the Gods to stand guard at the door. At least they could do this much & prove to me that they existed.
When Sherpa Tenzing scaled the Everest, he must have been extremely exhausted but very happy. I too was in a similar state at the first crack of dawn without a wink of sleep the whole night. My mom is an early riser & seeing me awake she assumed I too just got up. She asked me if I could accompany her while she went to the toilet. I peeked out first like a trained commando to check if the ground is clear. When we were returning from the toilet, we had company. A bear was sitting in front of the entrance to our tent looking at the iron box. The rest of the people in the camp were still to wake up.
The instructions had also mentioned that if you sight a bear make lot of noise & the bear will run away. I was in a quandary. Mustering all the courage that I could collect I shouted loudly. The bear just casually turned around had a long look at me. His demeanor suggested that he was saying, ” If think you can scare me with that, you must me nuts. I had heard that humans have better intelligence”. He kept sitting for the next 2 minutes, just looking around, completely ignoring me. I was not even a concern in his scheme of things, which certainly did hurt my ego as the protector of my family. But probably he too understood that chivalry is better part of valour & sauntered away. When we reached the tent the kids had got up. It was probably their noise which made it move.
Every body was excited to know that we saw the bear. Even the people in the next tent joined us to hear about what had happened. Yosemite is indeed a beautiful place & we thoroughly enjoyed the waterfalls, the snow & the mountains.
Later during the day we learnt that the bears are afraid of humans & rarely attack them. No deaths have happened at the camp due to bears. But the bears are extremely smart & powerful & thus easily manage to get food which is left unattended & can vandalize to do so. Only if I had known all this few hours before, I would not have missed out on my sleep. But would it have been worth it.
- Yosemite National Park: 120 Years of Preservation (Picture Essay of the Day) (britannica.com)