Here, Bear, & Everywhere

Irrational(?) Phobia

When we moved to South Dakota three years ago, I was relieved to learn there were no bears in the Black Hills. I have a deep-rooted fear—probably irrational—that I might get eaten by a bear.

The Cascades were black bear country, and I used to go hiking in the wilderness. Alone. While picking huckleberries, which are a favorite food source of Ursus Americanus, so: maybe that fear wasn’t so irrational after all. I would often come across signs of a bear, but fortunately, the only time I ever saw one in the wild, it was roughly a mile away. Even that sent a shiver down my spine.

Luckily I had to really zoom in to capture this guy.

Not helping matters: a 2015 movie called The Revenant. Your basic lighthearted tale of a man who is nearly mauled to death by a bear and then abandoned by his own hunting party. Which I went and saw on opening weekend. I’m pretty sure altar boys who were abused by Catholic priests didn’t flock to see Spotlight, which also came out that year. But I digress.

Anyhoo. I was happy to hear that, while black and grizzly bears historically roamed the Black Hills, they had long since disappeared. The closest bear population today is in the Bighorn Mountains, a comfortable 170 miles away in Wyoming.

So, imagine my surprise when a black bear was spotted near Spearfish in 2019. Weird, but surely a one-off, right? Biologists assured the public that black bear sightings occur once in a while, but—much like the tourists who descend on Mount Rushmore every summer—the bears are only passing through.

Whew.

Then, it happened again last summer. This time near Hermosa. Talk about lightning striking twice, I guess.

Fast-forward to May, 2021. Suddenly, in the span of the last two weeks, there have been four reports of black bears in the area. One in Spearfish, one in Lead, one in Johnson Siding, and—most disturbing of all—one right here in Rapid City. About two miles from home. And while my first inclination was to think nah, that’s impossible, these people are mistaken, must’ve been a stray dog or a really big squirrel, all were caught on camera.

WHAT THE HELL.

South Dakota wildlife officials are saying “this doesn’t necessarily mean we have an established bear population in the Black Hills,” but man, am I hung up on the word necessarily.

It is what it is. I mean, realistically, I should be far more concerned about the many mountain lion sightings we’ve had this year. One in my very neighborhood. Or, hell, the deer that inhabit my backyard. Fodors ranks deer as the animal you should be most afraid of. Followed by bees/hornets/wasps; jellyfish; ticks; and venomous snakes. Bears are #6 on their list. With the exception of jellyfish, all those creatures can be found in South Dakota.

I guess the only solution is to move to Antarctica.

I wonder how dangerous narwhals are. That tusk looks like it could inflict some serious damage…

Corporate Casual

Remember how I mentioned that our offices were opening to the public next week and we were told we’d have to ditch the jeans in favor of more formal attire? I’m a stickler for the rules, so I made a special trip to the mall on my lunch hour today and forked over $118 for three pairs of nice slacks.

Well, Dockers-nice. Not Haggar-nice. But still.

After lunch, we had a virtual all-company Teams meeting, in which the CEO announced a change to CenturyCo policy that had everybody cheering: they’re relaxing the dress code and allowing us to wear jeans every day.

Which, ha-ha, is great, of course. No complaints here, other than the timing. Fortunately, all those new slacks are still bagged up and neatly folded, tags intact, in the back of my car. I’ll just run to Penney’s and swap them out for jeans!

Teacher’s Pet

Speaking of work, I’ve been immersed in a writing workshop called Master the Art of Storytelling. Three days down, two to go. It’s been a pretty interesting class with a diverse mix of participants hailing from all over. Texas, Oregon, Tennessee, even Germany. The topics have focused on using structure, description, and wordplay to craft compelling stories that will grab readers’ attention. My boss thought it might be a good opportunity for me, given that we launched a brand journalism site in January devoted to telling stories about the people, places, and events that make South Dakota unique. I was all in.

Here’s the deal: I’m not the egotistical type. I swear. I think I’m a pretty good writer but not the second coming of [fill-in-the-blank-literary-genius] or anything. Yet, the instructor is so enamored with my work she has heaped praise on me and asked me to share my own writing tips with the class. At first I thought she was just being nice, but her critiques of my classmates’ homework assignments have been anything but gentle. She isn’t afraid to pull punches and point out mistakes while offering constructive criticism. Yet, she used me as a shining example and said in her review of my assignment today, Another great job, Mark! What a great writer you are!

“Well, aren’t you the teacher’s pet?” Tara said.

Haha. There’s a fine line, I’ll admit. But I am not trying to garner favor with a woman in her late 50s who teaches writing courses and lives in Portland, Oregon (relocating to Kansas City this summer).

I don’t need the validation, but I love it. And while my plan had been to blend into the background and not draw attention to myself, she kind of forced my hand…so I ran with it. I’ve been mentoring the hell out of my fellow students, dishing up feedback that will help them improve their own work. I have to admit, it’s a heady feeling. I am an introvert and will never seek the spotlight, but if I’m thrust into it and confident in my abilities (which I am), I’m going to run with it. I say this as humbly as possible, but I can see that I’m miles ahead of everybody else in the group. Why not help them out? All 22 people in the class are writers, and while our skills differ, we all have a love for the written word. I want everybody to excel and am willing to help out in any way I can.

Having said that, I’ll be glad when the class is over. Between the writing workshop this week, the virtual conference that was supposed to be held in partly cloudy Florida last week, vacation the week before, and working through lunches the week before that, I haven’t had a normal work week in a month. Things have been hectic and crazy and rushed, but at the end of the day, I simply remind myself that I’m getting paid to do the work that I love.

And that makes it all good in the ‘hood.



Categories: The Great Outdoors, work

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

17 replies

  1. Maybe the bears followed you from WA. Maybe next time you’ll be teaching the writing class.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yay! Bears! So cool.

    Wow. Teacher’s pet. So uncool. (But such great validation! It’s like a drug!)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If you can’t tell the difference between a bear and a large squirrel? You’ll probably think the narwhal is a unicorn… might as well stay put and buy some honey.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We’ve had bear sightings in our suburb since 2014. Just roaming in people’s backyards. One got into the homeowner’s bee hive (a hobby I don’t understand). Speculation is that they are moving in from PA.

    In the case of your Dockers, sometimes procrastination pays off!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can’t bear to hear humble bragging. Even if I am a grizzl-ied old geezer. 😉

    Actually, well done. This may make the workshop even more valuable. I always found that when I had to teach a class, it forced me to learn the topic even better.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. How embarassing! Bears are wonderful creatures…does it help to know that more than 100 Americans die on the roads daily?

    Liked by 1 person

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