Bearing My Soul

May 3, 2023

As a child, I never owned a teddy bear. Instead, I had a stuffed skunk named (surprise!) Stinky. Stinky figured prominently in my imaginative play, the most unusual scenario being his wedding to Barbie (I guess Ken wasn’t wild enough for her). Later, I enjoyed reading the adventures of cuddly Winnie the Pooh—but even then, I knew that was not how a REAL bear rolled. I was terrified of encountering the Genuine Article, even when the bars of a zoo cage were between us.

I was reminded of my fear two weeks ago in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Apparently, there are two black bears per square mile in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so odds of an encounter are fairly good. One early morning during our family reunion, I took a long walk with my sister-in-law Ruth (forgetting the perils of an outdoor stroll for the moment). As we traipsed along, it dawned on me that there were no other people around, and that we might be considered a decent munchie.  

Thankfully, though, we were not attacked by a bruin like the one from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, who mauled and ate Antigonus, inspiring the most famous Shakespearean stage direction: ‘Exit, pursued by a bear." (Fun tidbit: we don't know if Shakespeare used an actual bear from the London bear-pits, or an actor wearing a bear costume.)

Later that evening, word got out that a black bear had just been spotted rummaging in the dumpster out near the condo parking lot. Even if Our Lord and Savior was awaiting us over by our car, you could not have persuaded me to venture forth again.

While I'm making a later-in-life effort to appreciate the wonders of nature, I’m majoring in the small, stingless and toothless variety of critter. Vacations at the shore are my speed (I figure sharks do not usually beach themselves and wriggle up to my safely-distanced sand chair). The worst wildlife I have to deal with are very occasional swarms of green-head flies; at the first sign of them I always decide I’ve had enough sun for the day, and pack up my beach bag.

To give bears credit, however—they don’t try to fool you. Even the young cubs look pretty menacing, and the moms and dads are the stuff of nightmares. I’m glad they are easily identifiable as musts-to-avoid, the way I appreciate burglars, who helpfully wear those black eye masks and striped shirts, and carry those burlap loot bags (they do, right? I get my info from cartoons).

I recently read that the original Germanic word for the hellish beasts was “arkto.” Out of superstition, the euphemism “bear” was used instead (saying the animal’s true name might cause it to appear), and the new moniker caught on. I’m wondering if the reverse might now be true, since saying “bear” doesn’t seem to deter them a bit anymore.

If I ever do another mountain trek, don’t try to chat with me. I’ll be busy shouting “Arkto!”


    I am an author (of five books, numerous plays, poetry and freelance articles,) a retired director (of Spiritual Formation at a Lutheran church,) and a producer (of five kids).

    I write about my hectic, funny, perfectly imperfect life.

    Please visit my website: or email me at



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