It was 1990 when my husband and I took a leisurely drive for a little adventure, hoping to make it to the California coast but we never did. We both lost our jobs the week prior and decided there may never be another time to do what we wanted, when we wanted, so we took advantage of the time we had together. We emptied our savings account and headed for the open road, hoping it would pick up our spirits.
We began our sightseeing excursion in South Dakota. We saw the Badlands, the Corn Palace, Mt. Rushmore, and Wall Drugs, but the moment that stands out for me was when we went to Bear Country USA, which is a drive-through zoo. I have never been to a drive-through zoo before and was very curious about what it was like, so I talked my husband into going.
When we entered the park, we passed all the usual animals one would expect to see in a zoo like tigers, deer and wolves. Most of the animals were running freely through the park and around vehicles but others were in cages, like the tigers.
It was very hot that day and we had been driving for five hours prior with the air conditioner running. We were in the middle of the black bear exhibit when our car overheated and stalled. Rangers started yelling on their bullhorns to remain in our vehicle and keep the windows rolled up. This just acquired the attention of the bears and each time they used the bullhorn the bears got agitated.
Suddenly, bears were climbing out of trees and crawling from dens to check us out. I noticed one bear in particular, climbing from a tree and I watched his little round butt rock from side to side with each new paw position on the climb down. He came up to the passenger side of the car where I was sitting and began rocking us back and forth. Then he tried to open the window by getting his claws under the rubber to pull it down. The bear was maybe an inch from my face, and at the time and I found him adorable. I thought he looked like a big teddy bear. I even put my nose against the glass to be playful, and he did the same before licking the glass.
A ranger yelled on the bullhorn again and another bear approached, this time on the driver’s side, clawing at the window. My husband had it open a crack to get some air, since the air conditioning was not working, and quickly rolled it up when the bear surprised him. This upset the bear. He began rocking the car, growling at my husband, and slapping the glass but it never broke. Soon another bear approached my window and pushed the bear that was making faces at me out of the way. Then he began hitting my window too, trying to break it.
While all this was going on, my husband was desperately trying to restart the car. At this point, the engine heat was coming through the inside vents making it unbearable, and the windshield solution started to squirt on its own. We must have lost two pounds that day merely from sweating and waiting for the rangers to arrive. They did, five minutes later. They scared away the bears, not with guns or tranquilizers as I expected, but with their voices and jeeps.
Then my husband and one of the rangers popped the hood of our car to discover the source of the problem. They asked me for my cup of ice water, which by now melted, and added it to the radiator and the car started. Then the ranger asked us to follow him. We took the back roads to a gift shop outside of the park, where we purchased water for both us, and the vehicle, while we relaxed and reflected on all that happened. That was the first time I realized I should have been scared and my emotions caught up to me, all at once. I started laughing and crying at the same time for a good five minutes, excited and scared.
Not many people can say they have been nose to nose with a black bear and lived to talk about it, but I can. My husband and I set out to find adventure and excitement, and we did. We never would have if we stayed home and felt sorry for ourselves for losing our jobs.
I learned a valuable lesson on this trip that changed my perspective on life. Don’t worry about things you cannot control and embrace the situation you are in. Now, I live in the moment and leave the rest up to fate. I guess life is what you make it and not what’s handed to you.
(This is a true story, but it is also an essay on reflections from my English 201 class, 2010.)