The Catch

    A few days ago my family made our annual trek to Canyon Lake in the Hill Country of South Central Texas. It is a tradition began by my son and his wife and our grandchildren a few years ago when the allure of Schlitterbahn, a water park in New Braunfels, Texas, became too great. Once the joys of paying exorbitant prices to splash in water with thousands of other people under a blazing sun became apparent, it quickly became an annual affair. The fact that there were Canyon Lake, a scenic man-made water paradise nearby with boating, the Guadalupe River with tubing and rafting, and shopping with scads of antique, junk, and outlet stores around added to the charm of the area. Not to mention that nearby was one of the premier barbeque restaurants of Texas, so there was the opportunity to enjoy quisine magnifique, also. In time, they set aside a week of each year to bask in the local culture and in general have a good time relaxing.
     Since our family, thankfully, gets along pretty well, we oldsters were invited to tag along, and for the last three to four years we have done just that, usually not staying the entire week, but getting in three or four days of fun and visitation. Son and family stay in a high-fallutin’ upscale time share condo while we poor senior citizens fend for ourselves, usually locating a nearby motel to be within driving distance of our kids. It’s a nice arrangement and very enjoyable. In the past, we’ve been able to hop into a single vehicle and head for our destination of the day, and we often share breakfasts, lunches, and dinners as the opportunity arises. The normal weekly schedule calls for a couple of days at Schlitterbahn, one day renting a boat on the lake, one day shopping, at least one evening at Salt Lick Barbeque, one day of wandering around the area, and a day or two of…well… nothing. Sometimes you need to rest up from having so much fun. This of course is the schedule for the week, but since Shirley and I don’t spend the full week there, we sort of jump in where ever the schedule is at during the week and tag along. In the vernacular of the contemporary, it’s a very bonding experience for the family…plus it’s just plain fun.
     My only problem is the Schlitterbahn ordeal. It seems that the older I get I am becoming more…..well…anti-social. It’s not that I’m really anti-social; I just don’t care to be around hoards of people. And hoards of humanity are what you get at places like Schlitterbahn. To top it off, at Schlitterbahn, people are not really at their best, appearance-wise…and sometimes behavior-wise. I have gone there a few times with the family, and I used to be concerned about how I looked. It pains me to say this, but I’m getting a little older now (cough) and don’t really have a buffed physique like I would like to have when I stroll around in a swimsuit (with a teeshirt). But after visiting Schlitterbahn a few times, I can walk into the park with my head held high without any concern of some little kid telling his mama, “Hey, Ma! Look at the funny-looking man!” Believe me, it is a fact that no matter how bad you think you look, you will find at least ten people in the park who make you look like a health fitness freak…and they seemingly are proud of how they look!
     So anyway, this essay is not intended to knock Schlitterbahn. I actually sort of enjoyed my visits there. It’s just that my interests tend to drift to the more quiet and restful…like fishing. I am not a lake fisherman, I prefer rivers and streams. More specifically, I prefer fishing in cold, fresh water rivers and streams for rainbow and brown trout. I have caught catfish, walleye, perch, panfish, drum, redfish, snapper, gar, even shark, you name it, and to me they’re all about as exciting as catching a log. I was able to do my share of trout fishing when we lived in Wyoming, but naturally here along the Gulf Coast of Texas, fresh water trout are a little scarce. Amazingly, here in the Houston area the officials are dumping trout in some of the local small lakes during the winter season when the water is cold enough and allowing fishermen to go after them for the two or three weeks that they are available. On the days of the trout planting, the lakes are lined shoulder to shoulder with wannabe fishermen. Snared lines and frayed tempers are the standard for the day. It ain’t really fishing. I have fished for speckled trout in Galveston Bay, and they’re a lot of fun to catch, but a fisherman needs a boat and a certain amount of mobility to track them down.
     Up until now, the closest place I had found to Wyoming fishing was, believe it or not, Branson, Missouri. There, amongst the glitter of gaudy country shows, rests Table Rock Lake, a large man-made lake formed with the building of Table Rock Dam back in the fifties. Being a lake, it doesn’t really interest me, fishing-wise, but below Table Rock Dam, it’s another story. The water that flows from Table Rock Dam comes from the bottom of the lake, probably at a depth of 100-150 feet, and is very cold, in the mid fifty degree range…perfect for rainbow and brown trout. The water stays cold for 10-12 miles downstream before eventually warming up to a non-trout-habitable temperature. There is a trout hatchery at the base of the dam which keeps the river well stocked with trout. The “river” is actually called Lake Taneycomo for the twelve mile stretch below the dam, but it’s really just a nice sized river. Out of Lake Taneycomo I have caught some beautiful trout using the same fishing gear I used in Wyoming.
     Which brings us back to Canyon Lake. Although we had visited Canyon Lake several times in the past, I did not discover until the last day of our visit last year that the situation with the Guadalupe River below the Canyon Lake Dam is quite similar to the Branson, Missouri scenario…big lake, big dam, cold water, and trout. When I discovered last year that the Guadalupe was stocked with trout on a somewhat regular basis, I determined that this year when we visited I would be loaded for bear…er, fish. I had walked down to the water outlet below the dam last year to inspect the river and found a beautiful, cold, clear river that beckoned promisingly to the aspiring fisherman. Surrounded by heavily wooded gentle hills, the picturesque scene beat anything I had observed at Schlitterbahn. So I set my plans afoot for this year. The day that the family set sail for Schlitterbahn, I waved goodby, wished them fun, and grabbed my fishing gear.
     My fly fishing hardware consists of a Shakespeare Silent TruArt Automatic Reel Model FC1836. It is approximately fifty years old. My dad bought two reels for himself and me around 1960. I don’t know what happened to his, but mine has been used extensively, and, other than an occasional cleaning, it has never been serviced or broken. There’s not a piece of plastic on it anywhere…all metal and beautifully crafted. I have used several rods over the years and am now using an Eagle Claw IM7 GrangerFly X6 high module graphite 9’ 0” fly rod. It’s a little long, but I like the flexibility. I use a forward-weighted floating line with a six foot, eight pound test leader. Packing along my muddler minnows, wooly worms, wooly buggers (for the uninitiated, these are types of artificial flies), and even a couple of old Platte River Specials, I parked my car and walked down the 58 steps from the parking area to the water’s edge.
     The sun was high in the sky and the heat of the day was already setting in (I didn’t say I was an EARLY MORNING fisherman.) There was a slight breeze rustling through the trees wherein the scissortails, swallows, and mockingbirds were making themselves known. The water was flowing from my right to left into a deep pool about 20 yards down river. The pool was bordered by shallows on the other side and to the left over which the water rippled and the rocks underneath glistened in the sunlight. Tying on a size 8 silver muddler minnow, I pulled out a few yards of line and began to work the fly around the edges of the pool. After each float of the fly I gently brought the line up and behind me for a couple of turns to dry the fly and then settle the fly back onto the water’s surface, hopefully imitating an insect resting on the water. I repeated this action several times, working up, down, and around the pool, but without much luck. I noticed about 100 yards downriver from me was another fly fisherman plying his trade. Since fishermen are notorious kibitzers and copycats, I watched him out of the corner of my eye to see if he had any secret tricks, but his luck was running the same as mine. I decided to change weapons. I tied on a size 8 gold wooly bugger and laid it out there for my unseen trophy to latch onto. For twenty minutes there was only the sound of the swishing line and the rippling water as I worked the line every way I could think of. A couple of times, as I laid the fly onto the water’s surface, I thought I glimpsed a flash of movement or an abnormal ripple on the nearby water, but there was no corresponding singing of the reel as the line played out. At this time I must confess another of my fishing weaknesses (besides no early mornings) that keeps me from being a great fisherman…I am not a patient fisherman. Let me catch a fish about every hour, and I’ll fish all day. Let me go two hours without a fish, and I’m ready to pack it in. By this time, I was getting close to my cut-off point. I decided to try a size 8 black with red tail wooly worm. Those little dudes are usually pretty successful, and I decided to give it this one last best shot before going home. Flipping the line into a figure eight pattern to avoid an overhanging branch, I laid the wooly worm at the upstream edge of the deep pool and let it meander into the depth.
     I saw the upheaval of water just as my line straightened like an arrow. There was a glimpse of red and gold, and the taunt line began to slice through the water like a knife through butter. I fought to keep the loose line floating at my feet straight as I attempted at the same time to activate the auto return on my reel. Holding the line with my left hand, I strained to maintain a proper tension on the fragile connection between the fish and me. Too little and the trout would spit out the fly like a seed and too much tension could cause the line to snap. Unable to shake the object in his mouth by just violent swimming, the trout broke the surface and began to take wild jumps in the air, all the while shaking its head wildly. I saw then that I had snagged a huge rainbow trout. Probably 5 to 7 pounds, it flashed its array of colors every time it writhed from left to right in an effort to shake the hook. With its mouth opening and closing wildly, it would crash back into the water and race madly for another part of the pool, then shoot straight up vertically to try again to dislodge its captor. Incredibly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the downstream fly fisherman standing motionless as he observed my struggles. Suddenly the rainbow headed straight toward me, thus slackening the line. I worked feverishly to take in the line to maintain tension, and a second later worked just as feverishly to let out line as he made an abrupt U-turn and headed away from me.
     But I began to feel a lessening of the violent resistance. The big trout was beginning to tire. Each pull and each jump was less intense than the previous. After another strong swim away from me and a last cutting of the line through the water, his resistance was minimal, and I was able to carefully and slowly ease him up near my feet. I reached down and gently slipped my fingers into his mouth and gill and lifted him up.
     He was the most beautiful rainbow trout I had ever seen. Massive in size with the trademark rainbow colors down the side. He was called in these parts a “holdover”…one of the fingerlings planted in the river several years earlier which had somehow survived countless fishing days and hungry predators. In the left side of his mouth I saw the remains of a small rusty hook, a souvenir of a past battle. Though tired from the struggle, he gasped for water, and strangely, he appeared to look at me. His eye seem to communicate a resignation that he had lost the conflict against a worthy adversary, and he was ready to meet his fate. There would be no more battles. As I held him in from of me, I saw him for what he was…a survivor in a world of endless struggle, who had given his all and was now resigned to his judgment.
     Using a small pair of needle nose pliers, I gently remove my fly, and then reached to the other side of his mouth and removed the remains of the old hook. Holding my hand under his belly, I eased the big trout back into the water and gave him a few back and forth pushes to get water moving into his gills again. He moved slowly, tiredly, but then he deliberately moved away about ten feet and then circled around back toward me. For an instant he stopped, facing me, as if to say, “Thanks, Friend!” and then, with renewed strength, he turned quickly to the left and disappeared in a stream of bubbles.

I gathered up my gear and walked to my car. I’m not sure if I’ll ever fish again.

Family Reunions

     In the early part of the twentieth century the American family unit was far different from the cozy clan which represented the family in the latter part of the century. Being a primarily rural nation, Americans living on farms looked at children not as financial drains upon the family budget, but rather as additional sources of funding and labor. With this outlook, the family grew in number. My father, born of a farming family in Western Oklahoma, was one of fifteen children, and my mother was one of eight. Although primarily a “city” family, my mother’s family, like many other city-living families, embraced the concept of the child being a contributor to the family welfare. Although surrounded by loving parents and supportive brothers and sisters, a child understood that there were responsibilities to be shouldered and duties to be performed. Every member made a contribution to the overall success and harmony of the family. Perhaps this concept was in keeping with the American philosophy that hard work and initiative always resulted in rewards and benefits. However, it may have been just a matter of survival. The early twentieth century saw the Great Depression wreck havoc on the American economy and create an atmosphere of economic struggle that few people living today can understand. As a result, children were put to work at an early age, either in the home, in the fields, or in a form of employment. Children of the Great Depression Era never forgot the early lessons of childhood. Seeing their parents lose everything due to lost jobs, lost crops, and lost health, these Depression children tended to be very frugal most of their adult lives and carried a distrust of banks and investments, but they also understood the value of hard work. Many felt strong loyalties to their employers as persons who contributed to their financial successes and were loathe to changes jobs, preferring the perceived security of a longtime relationship.The main point of this discussion, however, is that families were BIG. Ten, twelve, fifteen children were not uncommon. Compare this fact to today’s family unit which averages somewhere between four and five and it becomes easy to understand how the social fabric of a nation can be affected by such a dramatic change in its structure. Consider also our future, into which we can project that for the majority of children being born in the coming years, there may not even BE a family unit as we understand it…i.e. married mother and father and siblings. As dramatic as the family changes of the past 75 years have been, the changes in the future may be just as startling.
     This brings us to the discussion of one of the vanishing phenomenons of the large family era…the family reunion. By the very fact of many children existing in a family, it draws the conclusion that upon reaching adulthood, these children would scatter to the four winds in search of their fortunes in life. No matter how close the connections to home, the communications options of the mid-twentieth century were limited to letters and expensive phone calls, and we all know that in the daily grind of life time flies when you’re trying to survive in a competitive world. A case in point: my father’s family by 1960 had long since been spread across the United States. With parents deceased, the surviving children over a period of a few months decided the time was ripe to gather again near their old homeplace in Western Oklahoma for a “family reunion.” The ages of the “children” by the time of the first reunion in 1962 ranged from 42 to near 70 years of age, and needless to say they had produced their share of children and even grandchildren, albeit in smaller quantities than their own parents, Levi and Ida Lillian Downing.
     At the time of the first reunion, I was 19 years old, recently married, and in keeping with my youthful immaturity, unaware of the significance of the family reunion. I went to the family reunion to see old cousins and play games, with only brief greetings to my elder uncles and aunts. The reunion was a grand affair with much reminiscing and domino playing (a major Downing vice in those early years.) It was so successful that another was planned the next year and into the indefinite future. But in the coming years, the inevitable began to happen. During the reunion in 1963, one of the “children,” an elder aunt of mine was stricken. I was the driver as we raced for the nearest hospital ten miles away, but it was too late. Amazingly, the same event occurred the next year with one of my elder uncles. In the fall of 1963, I joined the United States Air Force, and my wife and I lived a nomadic existence in the U.S. and Germany for the next few years. Unable to attend the reunions, we received occasional news of another passing of an uncle or aunt. To be honest, I’m not sure when the last reunion was held, but when the number of original children dwindled to a precious few, even they were too fragile to make the trip to Oklahoma, and the Downing Reunion of the Children of Levi and Ida Lillian Downing ceased. Their offspring, having created families of their own, internalized their interests within their own families, and though keeping in occasional contact with their near and far cousins, each new offspring family developed its own traditions and memories. It is the natural progression of life
     In 2007 I was amazed to hear that there was another Downing reunion gaining traction. One of my dad’s older sisters, Mildred, had married Verlon Phillips when my dad was still a youth. Together they had four children, but shortly after the birth of the last one, Verlon passed away. She remarried to Manuel Pineda, with whom they had eight children…giving Aunt Mildred and Uncle Manny a total of twelve kids. One of Aunt Mildred’s childen, David, was close to me and like the brother I never had but was killed in an industrial accident in 1967. The others, however, have survived and flourished. Apparently about ten years ago the Phillips/Pineda clan, with their ages by then ranging from about 40 to 65 years of age, began having their own family reunion. In a spirit of true graciousness, they eventually decided to call it a Downing reunion and invite anyone from any branch of the Levi/Ida Lillian Downing family tree to visit. Only by accident did I hear that there was a Phillips/Pineda family site on My It was too late into 2007 when I learned all these facts to visit the reunion of that year, and then as luck would have it, 2008 was not a good year for me. I went through open heart surgery and then it was discovered I had leukemia for which I received chemotherapy treatments the last half of the year. In 2009 I was still recovering my strength after being declared cancer free, thankfully, so it was not until this year that things worked out that I could plan to attend. Even then, Shirley could not go with me because she was recovering from knee replacement surgery, so I was on my own. The reunion was held at Tyler State Park, just north of Tyler, Texas. The reunion to be from Friday night till sometime Sunday, so I planned to arrive there around Saturday and stay through whatever festivities occurred Sunday. I left home about and headed up IH45 towards Tyler. Exiting IH45 at Buffalo, I traveled up U.S.79 through Palestine and then highway 155 toward Frankston and Tyler.
     I have come to the conclusion that Houston does not really represent the state of Texas. To live in a major metropolitan area like Houston requires you to give up a certain amount of your personal identity. We homogenize into an anthill of humanity constantly scurrying about in every direction trying to survive and make some sense of life. Getting away from this concentration of activity allows one to see what the real world is like. Personally, I would prefer an area where the local Brookshire Brothers and Ace Hardware are the largest outlets in town. Places where you don’t have Chevrolet dealerships…you have one dealership selling Chevrolets, GMCs, Buicks, Cadillacs, Volkswagens, and Hondas. Places where Fred’s Quick Stop is the main convenience store and Dairy Queen is the place to go on a Saturday night. Places where the internet is only available by dial-up connection. (Okay…now I’ve gone too far, but you get the idea,) When I get to areas like his, I feel a lessening of the tension and I feel like I can put my gun on safety…maybe even take the shell out of the chamber. In places like Houston, you always stay aware of what’s around you.
     After checking into my motel room at the grandiosely named “America’s Best Value Inn,” (Actually, it was a very nice room at a good price.), I headed to Tyler State Park, just a ten minute drive up the road. I discovered a beautiful, forested park with a scenic lake complete with swimming area, lots of camping areas, and a pavilion in Area 10 reserved for the Phillips/Pineda/Downing reunion. The place was already swarming with first, second, and third cousins, many of whom I had never met. Fortunately, sitting outside were a couple of familiar faces (only because I had seen their photos on the MyFamily site), and I was able to begin greeting my cousins from years past…many of whom I not see in nearly 40 years. The next 24 hours was as enjoyable a time as I have had recently. To be able to reestablish contact with my relatives was a privilege, and, in observing the offspring of Verlon and Mildred and Manny and Mildred, I couldn’t help but sense a déjà vu, as if I were reliving those early Downing reunions of the 1960s. Forty years later, the Phillips/Pineda clan is repeating the traditions begun by the Levi/Ida Lillian Downing family. We who were the kids running about while the oldsters talked endlessly about the good old days have morphed into those same oldsters talking about our “old days” while our kids and grandkids go roaring about. It is a microcosm of life, and I’m glad to be a part of it. The Phillips/Pineda clan will have the same experiences in the future as the previous Downings as time begins to take a mortal toll. The lesson to be learned here is that we should value today. We appreciate the past and look forward to the future, but it’s in the present that we live, and we need to live it to the fullest.
     The last remaining child of Levi and Ida Downing, my Uncle Thurl, now 90 years old and frail, was at the reunion and helped create a connection from the present to the past. It seems unbelievable to realize that, of the children of Levi and Ida Lillian Downing, the first child, Lettie, was born on October 8, 1896, and the last, Thurl, was born on September 28, 1919. With Uncle Thurl still living, it means that there has been a child of Levi and Ida Lillian Downing living on this earth for the last 114 years. Truly incredible.
     Beyond renewing contact with the Phillips/Pineda family, it was good to see many of my other Downing cousins from Texas and Oklahoma, also. The years have left their marks on all of us, but we shared many good memories and I am thankful we were able to visit again. To the children and grandchildren (even great-grandchildren) who ran gleefully around the pavilion (just as we oldsters did 40 years ago) while we new oldsters reminisced about the old days, if I could give a word of advice it would be…value and appreciate those who are around you today. There is no promise of tomorrow.

The Bear Facts

     After my parents-in-law moved to Wyoming in 1971, it seemed only fitting and proper that Shirley and I visit them the following summer of 1972. Having never visited the Cowboy State and after listening to the glowing descriptions phoned back to us by my in-laws, we decided to see for ourselves this natural wonderland. Wyoming conjures up images of rugged, hardy pioneers settling the wild, untamed west, and since we couldn’t ride in a covered wagon to the new land, we decided the next best option would be to travel by car and camp along the way, thus going more or less back to the basics which would allow us to really tune in with nature when the opportunity arose.
     I had recently purchased a 1970 Chevrolet Kingswood Estate station wagon, a behemoth of a vehicle powered by a 454 V8 that I learned on the trip would average 10.5 miles per gallon…and that was at a steady cruising speed before we hit the hills. But it laughed at mountains, took the steepest incline without a complaint, and had room for all our camping gear. We bought an 8’x10’ standard tent, bedrolls, lantern, cooking utensils, hatchet, propane stove…you name it. By the time we pulled out of Baytown, we were self sufficient and probably could have lived out of our car for a couple of weeks without ever approaching civilization.
     The first day we drove all the way to Clayton, New Mexico, and our first opportunity to break out all the camping gear was that evening at Clayton Lake State Park (See photo). It wasn’t the most scenic place we would camp on our trip, but being the first night, it was memorable. The second day we traveled into Colorado and turned west toward Durango, where we camped near Silverton just past Molas Pass next to a ski resort that was closed for the summer. When we awoke the next morning there was a trace of snow on our tent and the portable heater we brought felt really good. Packing up, we drove north and then east along Highway 50 out of Montrose, stopping at a scenic camping area along the Arkansas River not far from Canyon City. On our fourth day, we viewed the Royal Gorge Bridge and then headed north into Wyoming to a joyful reunion with the family late that evening in Casper, Wyoming.
     We visited for several days, exploring the surrounding scenic beauty (which will be the subject of a future story,) but eventually we continued our traveling. Being as close as we were to Yellowstone National Park, it seemed only natural that we take in the entire ambiance of Wyoming and tour our nation’s first national park. We traveled west from Casper on Highway 26, and about 285 miles later found ourselves at the South Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Actually we had taken a short detour to Jackson Hole to marvel at this quaint western town and then retraced out steps to the entrance to Yellowstone.
     There’s something exciting about entering Yellowstone; the incredible scenery with snowcapped mountains and the promise of viewing wildlife in their natural habitats, along with the official looking park rangers, all contribute to a feeling that something invigorating is about to happen. As we passed the ranger check station, we paid our park entrance fee and received all the park information, which along with all the obligatory maps and notations of scenic beauty, included a warning about feeding the wildlife. The opportunity to feed animals had not entered our minds, and we didn’t really think about it. There was something in the brochure about keeping your food put away when camping, but we gave it only a passing glance. Our son, Bobby, who was five years old at the time, was all eyes, however, as he scanned the sides of the road for any kind of unusual wild animal.
     The day was quickly slipping away, and upon locating a camp ground just north of the park entrance, we ducked in, found a spot, and set up camp for the night. By this time we were pretty efficient in our camping techniques and within a few minutes the tent was up, cots and bedrolls ready, and supper was being prepared. To be honest, I have forgotten what we had for supper, but our normal evening meal when camping was sandwiches or some kind of soup or chili. As the sun set and darkness fell, the evening became cool as it usually does in the mountains, and we stirred up a lovely campfire and enjoyed cups of coffee. By this time, Bobby was running out of gas and decided he was ready to hit the sack, so he crawled into his bedroll and was soon sound asleep.
     In time the fire began to die out and Shirley and I decided to find our own bedrolls. You have to remember that our tent was 8’ by 10’…with three beds packed inside there was not a lot of space. It was…um…cozy, but comfortable. Shirley, of course, cannot go to sleep without reading books, whereas I go lights out when my head hits the pillow. So the last thing I remembered was Shirley reading by lantern light as I drifted into a lovely sleep. Until I woke up to someone banging me on the shoulder and saying in an excited whisper, “There’s something out there!" With my usual alertness, I rose up and said, “Huh?” and Shirley repeated, “Something’s out by the picnic table!”     "It's probably just a raccoon," I mumbled. At that moment there was a clatter outside the tent.
     "That's an awful big raccoon!" she breathed as I raised up to sneak a look.  The “door” of the tent was drawn shut, but I cracked the fold of the tent just enough to peer out toward the picnic table…and saw it. The bear was black, about ten feet tall with yellow, vicious eyes, three inch claws and fangs hanging out of his drooling mouth. Okay, okay…that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but at first glance, that’s how it appeared. The second thing I saw was our food box and ice chest sitting on the picnic table, and suddenly like a revelation, the warning from the Yellowstone brochure flashed like a large neon sign in my mind. “Make sure all food is placed in a secure area for the night!" In the ensuing few minutes the bear ate every scrap of food we had. The fact that it was wrapped in baggies or whatever made no difference. He used his claws to unzip every bag as cleanly as a teenage boy going through a refrigerator after school. The most amazing thing I saw was when he got to the Tupperware container of cold milk. I am not exaggerating when I say that he put the half gallon container under his…er..arm (front leg?) and used the other paw as a claw to grasp the top and pop it off as smoothly as you ever saw in your life. Then with both hands (paws?) he raised the container to his lips and glub, glub, glub…drank the entire half gallon of milk. When he finished, he set the Tupperware container down, wiped his mouth, and continued to dig in the ice chest. If you don’t believe this story, I still have the Tupperware container with two claw punctures in the lid for your inspection.
     During all this activity, we were sitting in our tent protected by a very thin sheet of canvas and trying to plan an escape. The table, our tent, and our car formed sort of a triangle, and we decided that our best escape would be to make a break for the car while the bear was occupied. At this point, silence was golden, and we were barely breathing. It was also then that I learned I had been too cheap in buying Bobby’s sleeping bag. Our two bags were heavy cloth and well insulated, but Bobby’s was made out of some kind of polyester and vinyl. When we tried to pull him out of his sleeping bag it sounded like we were crushing tin cans. We feared the noise would attract the bear, not to mention that at that same moment we realized there was coffee, sugar, and cream in the tent, and everybody knows that a bear can smell sugar at a distance of about three miles!
     Then I realized…I have my gun! If I have to I’ll….no, that’ll just make him mad. It wasn’t a very big caliber and would just enrage him. I decided to take another look at the bear…and he was gone! Or at least he wasn't at the table. Suddenly there were more shuffling sounds outside and closer to us! I heard in the silence of the tent, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…” and realized that my wife had repented of all her sins and rededicated her life to God four times over, so she was ahead of me since I was only on my third repentance. We continued to sit in panicked silence for what seemed an eternity. Immediately with a loud scraping sound, the tent shuddered and the bear brushed the sidewall of the tent nearest my head. The lantern (long since turned off) rocked from its hanging position, and, I don’t know if we screamed, yelled, or passed out silently, but we froze in horror, expecting the bear to rip open the wall at any moment.
     We sat…and sat…and sat. Afraid to speak or even breathe. Slowly I peeked out the door again and saw no bear. Only darkness and silence. We probably sat as statues for the good part of thirty minutes. And then we heard the crash of a trash can…but it was away from us! Without a word we grabbed Bobby, ripped open the tent door, and ran for the safety of the car, piling in and slamming the doors. Only then did we begin to breathe but still shaking from our frightening experience. I’m not sure if we slept in the car, but we spent the rest of the night there anyway.
     When the morning came, we surveyed the damage, and, other than the fact that we were foodless, we were in good shape. I picked up the now-empty Tupperware container and decided to keep it as a memento of a frightful time. Other campers mentioned that they had heard that there was a bear in camp last night, to which we agreed that, yes indeed there was. We spent the day touring Yellowstone, but we did no more camping. I don’t mind telling you, the thought of a repeat performance of that night did not appeal to any of us. We drove back to Casper to visit with the folks again, and we camped one night in Nebraska on the way home (far from the threat of bears). But since that night to remember, my family has never spent another night in a tent. Shirley made it clear that the only camping she would ever do in the future would be with a solid wall between her and nature. In all the years we lived in Wyoming, we always camped in a trailer or motorhome. One encounter with a bear was enough for us.