Bear Witness

Henry Loe

© Copyright 2023 by Henry Loe

Image by keaton from Pixabay
Image by keaton from Pixabay

My wife, Shayla, and I sat quietly on the porch as we admired the blue tinted mountain range that encircled Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. We were both exhausted from the non-stop activity during my family’s annual reunion and spent the last two days boating, swimming, and taking an all day trip to Dollywood. We needed a break to decompress alone and the rest of the family seemed to feel the same since they all split off to take some time for themselves before we took family photos. Some napped, the kids swam, and others wanted to keep the party going and start a pickleball tournament on the asphalt parking lot by the pool.

As I sat entranced by the beautiful scene, I heard Shayla say, “You wanna take a walk?”

I looked over at her and nodded my head.

Yeah let’s go,” I said as I got to my feet.

We didn’t know any walking trails in the area but had seen a possible entrance to one earlier that day beyond the pool and the pickleball court. As we walked by the pickleball court, we watched as family members lunged for balls and talked strategy.

As we approached the dark opening in the tree line, we could tell that the area was mostly untouched and began to think that this wasn’t the “walking trail” we had hoped it would be. However, as we entered the forest, we were surprised to see a gravel path perfect for walking. Despite the seemingly safe trail, we got a strong feeling that we shouldn’t be there. It was as if we were walking into someone else’s home. We ignored the feeling and continued walking. As we made our way down the rocky path, we started to calm down—but this moment of peace didn’t last long. Suddenly, Shayla and I looked up simultaneously to see a 600 pound Black Bear sitting in a bush 10 yards off to our right. The bear perked its head up and stared directly at us without making a move. All the hairs on my body stood up instantly as a shot of adrenaline coursed through my veins. My heart felt like it was going to jump right out of my chest. I had never come this close to an animal—or a beast, rather—that could end my life without much effort. The initial shock of the moment caused us to do what you should never do when you encounter a wild animal, like a black bear—turn your back on them. But, given the situation, our first thought was to hightail it out of there and survival tips went out the window. So, both of us turned around quickly without saying a word to each other and walked back to the pickle ball courts. As we made our way back up the path, I glanced back several times to make sure the bear wasn’t following us. Once we made it out of the woods and back to the pickleball courts, we both breathed a sigh of relief. We subtly approached my cousins’ husbands, Mark and Matt, who were waiting to play the next game.

Shayla and I looked at them with wide eyes and said, “There’s a bear back in the woods. A big one.”

They looked back at us with much excitement. Pickleball could wait.

No way, seriously?” Mark said.

Yeah, come on. We’ll show you.”

We all slowly approached the dark entrance to the woods and made our way down to where the bear was. Sure enough, it was still there, minding its own business. Maybe we should’ve done the same, but we were already there so we thought we’d at least take in the moment. Mark went ahead of everyone, dangerously approaching the wild animal. Matt remained cautious and hung back at a safe distance, which was a wise move. Shayla and I stood somewhere in between them at a distance we were most comfortable with. At this point, the bear seemed annoyed by our presence. I mean, we’d feel the same if the bear came into our house. Mark was enthralled by the experience and reached for his phone in his right pocket.

I gotta get a picture of this,” Mark said.

By this point, Matt had seen enough and probably felt that we should all just leave the bear alone. I looked back and he had already started making his way back to the pickle ball court.

As Mark pulled out his phone and put the bear in focus, the beast lunged forward with its right paw, striking a tree in front of it. The force of the blow shook the canopy that stood nearly twenty feet above. We were all three immediately hit with another shot of adrenaline. Panic stricken, Mark fumbled his phone as he put it back into his pocket and ran out of the woods. I checked behind me constantly as we exited the forest to see if the bear was following us. Luckily, it wasn’t.

When we all went back to the house, Mark bursted through the front door saying, “I survived a bear attack!”

All my relatives were lounging in the living room waiting to take the big family picture. They all gave Mark a puzzled look.

You what?” Someone from the crowd said.

There was a bear down in the woods by the pickleball court. I tried to take a picture and it swiped its paw at me. Look, this is the only picture I got ‘cause we were running.”

Mark showed everyone the picture on his phone. It was a blurry shot of the ground.

After the commotion died down, everyone shuffled out of the house into the front yard for photos. Mark and I were the tallest, so naturally we were forced to stand in the back.

Before the photo was taken Mark leaned next to me and said, “I’ll tell you what… I’m not scared of anything. But that scared me.”

And I believed him.

Henry Loe is a full time copywriter for a marketing agency in Columbus, Ohio. His employer specializes in legal marketing for lawyers. In his free time, Henry enjoys writing fictional short stories

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