Monday, December 31, 2012

What I Did On My Thanksgiving Vacation Part 3

This past Thanksgiving I accompanied my parents and sister's family on vacation (for the first time since I was in college) to scenic Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where the seven of us spent five days together in a cabin/house. 

You can read all about Part 1 of the trip here and Part 2 here.

The day before Thanksgiving my sister and parents decided to go shopping at some kind of craft village. My brother-in-law Marcel, nephews Alphonse and Fran├žois and I decided we'd had enough hiking and shopping for one day and stayed home at the cabin/house.

That's Fran├žois and Marcel in the photo above.

It was very quiet in the cabin/house as we all relaxed and just hung out.

Right around 4 pm Marcel looked up from his book, glanced out the window and shouted, "There's a bear in the yard!"

Naturally the rest of us reacted with a hearty and skeptical, "Surrrrrrrre there is." But Marcel was insistent and when we all got up to look out the window, sure enough there really was a bear in our yard! 

I couldn't believe it! An honest-to-goodness bear sitting (I said sitting!) fifty feet from our house.

We opened the sliding glass doors and rushed out onto the elevated deck to get a better look. We made sure to keep the doors open, just in case we needed to get back inside quickly for some reason.

I will admit that I am no bear expert, but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that he (or perhaps she) was a black bear. It was probably between four and five feet long.

That's me doing my best to block out the bear with my giant head.

He was aware of our presence up on the deck and from time to time would turn his head to look at us. He didn't act the least bit concerned about us, and why should he? He's a damn bear!

It was about that time that I started hoping that the deck on which we were all standing was solidly built. It would have been bad if it had collapsed and dumped us below right into the bear's lap.

That's me trying to touch the bear.

I also realized that less than an hour before we spotted the bear, Marcel had been relaxing outside in the hot tub on the deck, and I had been around the corner sitting in the porch swing enjoying the unseasonably warm weather. We probably just missed the bear walk past us both by seconds.

Alphonse is not impressed with the bear.

A couple of days earlier Alphonse had somehow cajoled his parents into buying him a police riot stick, of all things. You know, the ones that look like a billy club but have a handle sticking out the side? At one point while we were all standing on the deck bear watching, I looked down at Alphonse and noticed he was clutching his riot stick in his hand... just in case there was any trouble.

Around that time the bear apparently got tired of sitting in the woods (I said sitting!) and moseyed over to the downhill neighbor's house (in Tennessee you don't have next-door neighbors-- they're either uphill or downhill). He actually climbed onto their porch and started nosing around. Yikes! We didn't think the downhill neighbors were home, but right then the lady who lives there came out onto her (thankfully) upper deck. 

She saw the bear and started clapping at him and yelling "Shoo! Git outta here!" the way you would at a dog.

Amazingly that did the trick and the bear left her porch and lumbered back toward our house.

What a place to live, where the bears wander through your yard like stray dogs!

By now people laboring up the mountain road spotted the bear and stopped their cars to take photos. My sister and parents also came home about this time and they also joined us on the deck for some bear watching.

All this activity and noise was apparently too much for him and he started acting a little more concerned about our presence.

He actually tried to hide behind a tree for a few minutes! That's my dad's shoulder in the bottom photo by the way, showing how close we all were to this freakin' giant wild animal.

By the way, I apologize for the quality of these later photos. Chalk it up to the Bigfoot Rule Of Photography: the more amazing the subject matter, the more likely your photos will come out a blurry mess.

By now our ursine pal had had enough of civilization and started heading back to the wilderness from whence he came (or perhaps the dumpster behind the I-Hop).

He started heading behind our cabin/house. The thing is, the mountain rose directly up behind our cabin/house, at a near 90 degree angle. So by walking behind our house he was now even with our heads.

Everyone else ran back inside the cabin/house. Amazingly my dad and I stood there like idiots taking photos of a bear that was now a scant six feet away from us. It's a horrible photo, but you can kind of see how close he was to my dad there.

These photos came out so badly because it was starting to get dark and for some reason I forgot to turn on the flash on my camera. Now that I think about it, that's a good thing. Sure it ruined my photos, but it probably would have been a bad idea to repeatedly flash a strobe light into a bear's face when he was within mauling distance of me.

He then scampered around the back of the cabin/house, fell down the side of the mountain, and ran behind the natural gas tank.

Then he scampered through the driveway, as I lost my mind and chased after him to get a better shot. I have no idea what I was thinking. I admit this is a really bad photo and it could just as easily be a big dog or a cat in this picture, but trust me, it was a bear.

He then ran across the road to the uphill neighbor's, where he proceeded to jump on top of their garbage can cage (all houses on the mountain keep their garbage cans inside steel cages, to prevent bears such as this one from getting into them). He jumped up and down on the cage in frustration and then ran off into the woods, never to be seen (by us, anyway) again.

That was definitely our excitement for the day, and possibly the trip.

Needless to say after that we no longer cavalierly flung the front door wide open when we went outside. From that point on we cautiously opened the door just a sliver and peeked out until we were certain we wouldn't walk right into a bear's open gullet.

The next day was Thanksgiving, and after stuffing our craws full of stuffing, my parents and I decided to go back to Clingman's Dome. Well, I went back, they'd not yet seen it.

Once again I was fascinated by all the boulders in the woods, something unheard of where I live.

My attempt at taking a panorama shot of the Smoky Mountains. I got lazy and didn't try to color correct the panels.

We didn't climb up to the top of the Dome this time, we just stood at the base of the trail and gawked at the scenery.

That's my dad taking a picture of me taking a picture of him. Just like Inception!

And with that we bade the Smoky Mountains goodbye and came back to plain old flat Indiana.

It wasn't a bad trip and I actually survived living in a cabin/house with six other people. Would I ever go on another vacation with my family? What? I can't hear you. You'll have to speak louder. I can't... no, I cant understand what you're saying. I have to go. Send me a text.

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