Smarter Than the Average Bear


Grazing Deer and Half Dome

Grazing Deer and Half Dome

When we were in Yosemite, Anne and I took a class sponsored by the Ansel Adams gallery. Christine, our instructor squired us around for an afternoon, drilling us on photographic technique and positioning us to reproduce some of Ansel Adams iconic photos. As it turns out this was only her day job. At night, she also worked for the Bear Patrol.

While we were traipsing across the valley floor, she once stopped and warned some other staff members with dogs that a mountain lion had been seen just the night before, right outside their fenced-in backyard. Their six-foot high wooden palisade fence would do nothing to deter a lion from snatching their dog, if it was out at night. She told us later about another family’s misfortune. It occurred when their small dog forded a creek ahead of them and then was set upon by coyotes. It was killed right in front of them and it happened before they could react. It was an awful thing to witness and totally ruined their vacation. I was glad that we were sleeping on the second floor of a motel that night.

What did the female deer say when she walked out of the woods? I’ll never do that again for two bucks.

Her most interesting story was about this young female black bear. The bears in Yosemite that have names, all have rather un-prosaic names, like “Orange-15”, which is also the name of their radio collar. If you are a bear in Yosemite, you don’t want a name and you certainly don’t want the radio collar either. A bear gets both, when their behavior raises their profile enough that the Bear Patrol intervenes. Thousands of people visit Yosemite every year and most of these people bring food with them. A small percentage of these visitors are careless enough with their food that a bear can get a hold of it. Jelly sandwiches are much more enticing than nuts and berries you see, ask Yogi. If these human-bear interactions occur often enough then the bear gets radio tagged. If things get totally out of hand then the bear might have to be put down.

On the valley floor all of the trash cans have special bear lids and there are also bear boxes for food storage. The bear patrol also spends most nights tracking habitual offenders and running them off. In the back-country though, hikers are pretty much on their own. They do have one deterrent though, the backpacker’s bear canister. These cylindrically shaped reinforced plastic canisters for storing food in are supposed to be bear proof. They even require one to twist a coin in a slot to open them. That young female black bear that I mentioned before has devised a means to break into them though. On the bluffs of the Snow Creek trail, overlooking Mirror Lake, at the eastern end of the valley, she simply rolls them off the cliff. They fall 300’ and are dashed to pieces on the rocks below. She then climbs back down to collect her booty. This has been going on for at least a couple of years and has resulted in the park service closing that trail. So far, she is the only bear that has demonstrated this technique. The park service is afraid that other bears might learn of it from her.

Snaking the Sewer


The Deadly West African Gaboon Viper

The Deadly West African Gaboon Viper

When we bought our house, having the main sewer line snaked was a regular part of the holiday festivities. Our neighbors all came to expect to see the Roto-Rooter man in our front yard as much as any other holiday tradition, like Christmas lights. Usually this event would occur around Thanksgiving, but sometimes it waited until Christmas. Eventually, I bit the bullet and invested a new main line, which fixed most of my problems, but since there is still about 40’ of the original line left, occasionally, problems do still arise. In fact, just before Thanksgiving of this year another backup occurred. Fortunately, I have a neighbor who is also a plumber and a good one at that. He is also very reasonably priced and that problem was fixed without too much angst.

What are the three rules of plumbing?

  1. Sh!t flows downhill
  2. Payday’s on Friday
  3. Never chew your fingernails

Not too long afterwards, another plumbing related problem developed. The kitchen sink faucet began to drip. At first it was just a slow drip, but over the Thanksgiving weekend it got progressively worse. I dithered whether or not I should call the plumber again, but in the end I decided to do it myself. Years ago I had installed the faucet that was now leaking, but memory of that ordeal gave me pause and I went back-and-forth over my decision. I remember being scrunched down under the sink, with the new faucet leaking worse than the old one had been. Still, I prevailed and over the years I have gotten better at plumbing. I consider myself a decent rough carpenter and I am comfortable doing electrical work, but plumbing has never been my forte.

From the movie, “The Money Pit”:

Water Fielding (Tom Hanks): Do you know how hard it is to find a really good carpenter? Besides, I think he’s got a brother who’s a plumber!
Anna Crowley (Shelley Long): Really? A brother who’s a plumber?
Water: I think so.
Anna: Do you think I should sleep with him?
Water: Maybe just this once.

Years ago, the first time I tried replacing the toilet’s ballcock, I got so frustrated and angry that the swear words flowed faster than the leaking water. Anne took our then small children with her and fled the house. Before leaving though, she suggest that I call our good friend Bob for help, which I did. He brought his calmness and the miracle that is white Teflon plumbers tape. I’ve used it ever since, but it can be a devil to work with. This time I decided to wrap the threads of the new faucet before I installed it. I read the instructions, also a first. Both of these innovations made all the difference, because when I turned the water back on, there were no leaks. I felt rather proud of myself over this and continued to bask in my own self-gratification for the remainder of the week.