250-Pound Racoon

While I’m off in the wilds of Yosemite hoping a bear doesn’t mistake my Goldfish cracker littered SUV as an all-you-can-eat-buffet, please enjoy this classic Momservations about another bear encounter:

Momservation: Teaching your kids to always tell the truth doesn’t seem like such a good idea when they’re telling the extra-large woman in front of you that she should really start practicing portion control.

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Bear paw - in hindsight, bringing homemade zucchini bread camping not such a good idea

Bear paw – in hindsight, bringing homemade zucchini bread camping not such a good idea

Funny thing happened on the way to a memorable camping trip this summer.

It involved lying, garbage (which heretofore will be known as “bear smorgasbord”), grown adults afraid to unzip a tent, and a bear.

Here’s the story: It was the first night of our annual seven-family camping trip in the El DoradoNational Forest. With kids ranging in age from 4 to 9, we all retired to our respective tents smug in the knowledge that after doing this for numerous years, we had this camping thing DOWN.

Kids went down easy after a day by the lake and a night of s’mores and kern around the fire. Parents enjoyed some adult time with adult beverages before loading the coolers in the car and food in the bear lockers. Flashlights were in place for any midnight nature calls and everyone was snuggled warmly in their sleeping bags prepared for the elements.

At 4:30 in the morning our one major mistake would become alarmingly obvious.


In case you don’t recognize the sound, that would be the sleep jolting racket of a 250 pound black bear 40 feet away from your tent trying to break into the bear locker for your freshly made zucchini bread.

All the tents in our multi-family campsite lit up with fearful whispers. “Bear!” Despite the echoing clanging of the bear’s futile attempts, only one child woke up – my son Logan.

We strained our ears, too frozen in shock to unzip the tent, listening to hear if the bear would give up and move on.Loganrepeatedly whispered with an equal measure of curiosity and nervousness, “Is it a raccoon?”

Not wanting to frighten him nor start our day in the 4 o’clock hour with a petrified nine year-old too afraid of falling back asleep Hubby and I said in unison, “Yeah. It’s a raccoon.”

But we never unzipped the tent to confirm it. We didn’t need to. Because soon there was the unmistakable sound that told us this bear was not moving on. It was clanking glass, crunched soda cans, crinkling wrappers and munched plastic cups. It was a bear smorgasbord. We had forgotten to properly dispose of the garbage.

“Someone left the garbage out!” I hissed stating the obvious.

“I looked for it hanging from the tree, but I didn’t see it.” Hubby said, then realized, “I must not have seen it in the dark because it was a black trash bag.”

A loud whisper came from the tent next door, but no sounds of an unzipping tent. “What should we do?”

“Hit the car alarm?” Hubby guessed.

“No! I don’t want to agitate it!” I said.

“You got your light?” the next-door voice asked. Hubby had brought a 2,000 candle-watt powered flashlight that could probably guide in a small airplane.

“Yeah. Let’s hit it with the lights,” directed Hubby. We all waited for the sound of the first unzipped tent. After a long pause, I dove forward and unzipped the tent ending the game of chicken. Peeking out into the pitch black, all I could make out was a large shadow darker than the night.

“Alright – Go!” someone said. As the lights flooded the campground I expected to see a bear frozen in our headlights. But the lights did the trick. It scared him away before we could get a good glimpse.

Then Hubby said, “Shoot. I gotta go pee.”

“Now?” I asked incredulously. I did too, but I’d pee my sleeping bag before I went out right after a bear sighting.

Hubby loudly whispered to the next tent, “Cover me Bob, I’m going pee!”

After making it safely back in with his flashlight as protection, Hubby and I assured Logan the “raccoon” was gone and to go back to sleep. After the adrenaline rush wore off, we all finally fell back asleep.

Forty-five minutes later we awakened to the rummaging of the diner back at the bear smorgasbord. I nudged Hubby and we both popped up to unzip the tent wanting a glimpse of the bear now that the twilight of morning would illuminate him.

As we did,Logansat up asking, “Is that the raccoon? Is the raccoon back?”

We couldn’t answer him because both of us were frozen in awe tinged with fear that yes, indeed, that was a black bear – as if we expected to see something else.

Silently peeking out from the relative safety of our tent, we watched the bear wander around investigating our campsite only feet from us. “Is it the raccoon?”Loganasked again.

At this point I decided to let him in on the truth of the amazing spectacle, comfortable that with sleep behind us and in the dim light of the approaching morning it wouldn’t be so scary. I waved him over. “C’mereLogan. You gotta see this.”

A third head popped in between Hubby and me as we lay on our stomachs peering out the small opening on the bottom of our tent. Like three little Indians in a teepee we tracked the sound of the visitor in the murky light. The bear was briefly out of sight behind a car, then the bug tent. “Where is it? Where is it?”Loganimpatiently whispered.

Finally, for a moment it reappeared next to our campfire ring before heading back into the creek next to our site from which it came.

With the bear gone I looked over at Logan to gauge his reaction, wondering if I needed to do damage control.

Bear smorgasbord

Bear smorgasbord

Still staring ahead, frozen in amazement of what his eyes had seen, he said very slowly and with the awe of someone flipping through the Guinness Book of World Records, “THAT was a big raccoon.”

After a good laugh I realized it was time to drop the lie and trying to shelter my son’s world. I was sure if I kept the charade up I was doing more damage because the thought of a 250 pound, six foot long raccoon roaming the forest was probably a more frightening scenario than a bear.

Later, after giving the bear some time to move on, we excitedly checked out the bear signs left behind. A big, dusty paw print and the bear locker; chewed and slobberedDixiecups; prints and snot on the hood of a car; and a black trash bag bear smorgasbord spread at the base of a tree.

We promptly switched to white garbage bags.

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