My name is John Bear.
Ever since I was 5-years-old, people have drawn the connection between my name and the fuzzy animal who lives in the woods. My father and brother always bought bear-themed items for the home, and my brother has a Native American-style bear claw tattoo.
Aside from a t-shirt with numerous photos of bears wearing crowns, gold chains and grills, I’ve never much bought into the bear merchandise. It’s just a last name. Sometimes I do get compared to a bear, because I’m moody and I’m not a huge fan of the winter.
It’s spring time in Colorado, so the bears are waking up and coming down into town. I came into the office on Friday and had barely sat down when someone called out “Bear up at Chautauqua!”
Suddenly, all my coworkers began to chant “Bear! Bear! Bear!” And “You’re a bear! You should go look for the bear, Bear!”
“We need the first bear of the year photo,” my editor said. “Why don’t you go scout it out.”
“I’ll go,” I said. It was nice outside, and any excuse to not be inside this nondescript office building is a good excuse.
“Take a selfie with a bear.”
“I think that is generally frowned upon, like a good way to get eaten.”
“Try not to get eaten by a bear,” a second editor said.
“Maybe it’s not a bear,” I said. “Maybe it’s a mountain lion.”
“Try not to get eaten by one of those either,” he added.
I set out in Friday afternoon traffic, never relaxing, and started to yell at my phone when I read an email from a spokeswoman asking me to pay for a ticket to an event.
“Calm down, John,” I told myself. It was too early in an eight hour shift to be so pissed off already. And stop looking at emails while you are driving. That’s an excellent way to end up saying “Your honor, I’d like to apologize to the family of the man I ran over.”
A car had broken down on Baseline, so I pulled around it and yelled “nice job” to no one in particular. About five minutes later, I had navigated the one lane each way road and made it to Chautauqua National Monument. There was even a parking spot for me! My luck was changing.
For the middle of a weekday, the place was packed with hikers and joggers coming up and down the mountain. Some had dogs and others were in various states of undress. As someone who grew up under the blazing New Mexico sun, I’ve always stuck to the rule of staying out it between noon and four pm. People in Colorado, many of whom I suspect are from hazier places, don’t seem to abide by this custom. They will likely look like lobsters tomorrow when they realize the extent of their sun burns, I thought.
I saw plenty of dogs, but no bears.
After scanning the horizon and snapping a quick photo of the Flatirons for no particular reason, I walked into the ranger office. I’d never set foot in there before, and when I stepped inside, a stuffed great horned owl looked back at me. Next to the owl sat a large golden eagle, and on the counter was a small hawk, also dead, inside a glass case.
The ranger was speaking to three women who appeared to be from another country as their English was broken, but I was not sure what country as one woman was obviously Latina and the other two were Asian. They were chatty, and I hoped they wouldn’t take forever.
The ranger, an affable looking fellow of about 60, finally looked my way.
“Yes sir,” he said, a friendly smile that only park rangers can muster.
“Hi, I’m John Bear,” I began, realizing that I was wearing a shirt with bears on it. “I’m a reporter with the Daily Camera. Did you have a bear up here?”
“Yes, we did but he took off as soon as he saw us.”
“Ah rats. We wanted to get a photo of him, the first bear of the year and all.”
“Oh we’ve been seeing a lot of bears,” he said. “They’ve been coming down.”
“Ah, well that’s cool. We like to get photos of them.”
“You’d need a really long lens.”
“Oh, we have those.”
“It was a really cute bear.”
“Yeah, a cute young bear.”
“We maybe next time.”
He nodded, and, oddly enough, clenched his fist and extended it over the counter. I clenched my fist and gave him a pound.
“Have a nice day, man. Thanks for the help.”
“No problem, sir.”
I walked outside and started toward my truck. It was about 75 degrees and lovely outside. The thought of going back to the office made my stomach sink. I meandered over to a tree with a clutch of large rocks scattered beneath and sat down on one of them.
A sudden rush of calmness settled over me. I hadn’t been so relaxed in weeks. Even if it was only a for a few minutes, I decided to stay where I was. I had a pack of notebooks in my back pocket, but I momentarily forgot about them, pulled out my phone and started writing haiku on Twitter.