Say what you will about Adirondack bears, but they have their dignity. They may trash your camp, scare the city folk and steal your salmon sandwich, but at least they don’t hide out in the bowels, so to speak, of ADK privies, lying in wait for the next passing derriere to present itself for a quick snack.
At least not that we know of. At least not yet. Let’s hope bears can’t read.
An extremely disturbing story was reported by the Associated Press in late February about an Alaskan woman visiting an outhouse and — well, best let her tell it: “I got out there and sat down on the toilet and immediately something bit my butt right as I sat down. I jumped up and I screamed when it happened.”
No kidding. And if you’re the bear, you’re lucky that’s all she did.
The young woman was wounded, but not badly, and her brother Erik assumed it was a squirrel or a mink that had done the damage. So he shined his headlamp down the pit and — well, long story short, for the second time that morning someone ran screaming from the outhouse.
Both sister and brother said it was a miracle her injuries weren’t more severe. That should be obvious. The bear was at the bottom of an outhouse, so he couldn’t have been in a very good mood to begin with. I know I wouldn’t have been. Then someone comes along and moons him, and you have to figure that’s the last straw.
So why wasn’t it worse? If you recall James and the Giant Peach, the sharks had the same problem trying to take a bite out of a round fruit. And anyone who bobbed for apples as a kid (if you’re under 50, don’t ask) knows what this bear was going through.
Speaking of children’s books, this story has potential. Instead of The Lady or the Tiger you could have The Outhouse or the Bear. All it would take is a two-seater, a sadistic king, a bear and a heartbroken princess. You wonder why Frank Stockton didn’t think of that one.
Here in the Adirondacks, the last thing we need is people getting the idea that outhouses are dangerous. Already, the DEC feels the need to post signs on popular trails begging hikers not to scatter “human waste” around the trail in ways normally associated with chimpanzees.
To me, these signs are almost worse than the unsavory behavior they are designed to prevent. If you’re looking to sallie forth into the pristine wilderness, the last thing you want to see is a Lutheresque treatise on sewage nailed to a hemlock. Frankly, if you have to tell people to get a respectable distance off the trail before dropping their pants, the battle has already been lost.
And if word starts spreading that there may be a bear in the privy, sanitation problems in the ADK will just get that much worse. Let’s face it, outhouses aren’t Tavern on the Green to begin with. If you shine a light down into the pit, the only thing worse than seeing a bear is not seeing a bear, if you know what I’m saying.
We don’t know why the bear was in the outhouse to begin with, especially when any self-respecting bear should have been hibernating. A biologist for the Alaskan fish and game department speculated it was hungry, and told the New York Post, “As far as getting swatted on the butt when you’re sitting down in winter, she could be the only person on Earth that this has ever happened to, for all I know.” Oh sure. Sounds like the bears have gotten to him, too—that’s just what they want you to think.
Of course, to people from further south, a bear would only be about the fifth worst thing that might come after you, after snakes, alligators, tarantulas and Matt Gaetz. A bear? Meh. There’s spray for that.
I’ve actually seen more bears in populated areas than in the wilderness by a score of 3-2. The two bears I saw on the trail ran away from me like a deer, or any other wild animal would. There wasn’t any question of me having to make noise or “get big,” one look and they were gone, like maybe they expected me to ask them to join a Zoom meeting.
The only other even semi-bear-related experience I have comes from the days back in the newsroom, where every April 1 the new guy would return from lunch to find a phone number with the message on his desk to “Call Mr. Bear.”
Which they would always do, failing to process until it was too late that the number we left was for the National Zoo. And naturally the rest of us practically spit our tonsils out trying to keep a straight face as we listened to them brightly ask, “May I speak to Mr. Bear?
Newsrooms used to be fun places. Today? — the best you can say is that a newsroom still beats an outhouse.