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Leaving the fishing to the bears

Aug 23, 2012 - By Betty Starks Case

Bearsy Dotes? Who or what is that?

This has been a peculiar year in many ways, so hang with me. With so little rain, and fires burning out of control everywhere, our summer environment reminds me of the 1988 Yellowstone Park fire's effect on our world.

Like then, the sun rises a painful red-orange as it struggles to shine through the smoke-shrouded horizon. Most of the time our view of the awesome Absaroka, Owl Creek and Wind River mountains is blocked by smudge.

Hungry, confused bears emerge from the smoke, coming ever closer to the places humans call home. Casper, Cody, Jackson, Dubois and Lander have all reported sightings of black bears.

Recently, we drove up to Brooks Lake and found campgrounds bursting with excitement. A huge grizzly sow with two cubs had moved into the area, making daily trips around the lake to fish and explore for other types of food.

As of that date, the grizzly and local campers had been living compatibly with proper respect for one another. When she circled their side of the lake, everyone stayed far back from her chosen route and quietly watched, mostly from inside their camping vehicles, not dashing out to take pictures as eager (and sometimes foolish) Yellowstone visitors do.

I named the Brooks Lake grizzly "Bearsy Dotes," the words lifted from a long ago song that many of my readers may not remember -- and a few may. It was a crazy little tune that went, "Mares eat oats and bears eat oats and little lambs eat ivy ... "

The dippy little song became very popular because if you sang it really fast the words ran together and sounded as if you were saying something else.

And that's how Bearsy Dotes got the funny name that may not be understood by anyone but my mate and me!

You can envision a cuddly name for a big grizzly when she's on the far side of Brooks Lake. When we were there the camp host and his wife brought chairs and binoculars so we might safely watch her standing on her hind feet in the water taking wide swipes at passing fish. The cubs tried to mimic their mom, but their attempts looked more like play.

Several people said Bearsy Dotes was as big as a car. They didn't say what make, but even from across the lake we could see she was not one we'd wish to encounter anywhere.

I kept staring at the steep bank in her direction where Ned and I had risen many early mornings of past years, carrying folding chairs, fishing gear and a thermos of coffee, heading down to the lakeside to lay claim to a certain fishing spot where we always caught our limit of trout.

A couple of hours later, we'd enjoy a brunch of blueberry pancakes and fish.

But what in the world would we have done if a big grizzly like Bearsy Dotes with cubs had appeared at the top of the knoll between us and our trailer?

Maybe just dying of fright would have been the easiest end to that story.

And yet -- we'd survived the bear attack on our little 18-foot Dutchmen camper at Falls Campground another time.

Being roused from a deep sleep to the sounds of bumping and banging on the door and windows of a small trailer at about 11 p.m. can be the rudest of awakenings. Especially when you've left your bear spray and ear-splitting hiker's whistle at home, don't carry a gun and didn't get the broken lock on the trailer door repaired before this trip to bear country.

A quick search of our arsenal revealed only a butcher knife and a gas lighter for the cook stove. Because neither of these iffy weapons could be employed without our going outside and facing the bear, we quickly voted against them.

Finally, Ned scared the bear off with a bright camper's lantern flashed in its face when it beat on the kitchen window.

Earlier this year, we decided it may not be wise (or possible) for us to trek down and back up that hill to fish at Brooks Lake. Today it seems one of the wisest decisions we ever made.

So we're leaving the trout to Bearsy Dotes and her babies. She's busy trying to elude fires and smoke and get ready for winter.

And I can make a tasty fish loaf of canned salmon.

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