I Don't Know How To Fix a Flat Tire | On Not Shaming Those You Offer to Help

Cast of Characters

Erin and her daughter, B.

Me and my daughter, C.

“Pete” – the stranded motorist on the road.

Bit part – random PCT through-hiker.

Scene 1: early morning, headed north of Walker, California on highway 395.

“Sorry, buddy. Car is completely full,” I said this out loud in my friend, Erin’s, Toyota, as we zoomed past what looked like a Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) through-hiker trying to hitch a ride north on the 395.

One of our seven year olds piped up from the back seat, “We never pick up people on the side of the road anyway. That’s dangerous.” I can’t remember if it was my daughter or Erin’s daughter who said it, but I responded the same,

“That’s not quite true. I’ve picked up people before.” I glanced over at Erin, who was driving.

She nodded but kept her eyes forward looking ahead to the curvy portion of the roads we were headed into. “Me too. That kind of thing depends on the situation. And right now, we don’t have any car seats anyway to help that guy out.”

“The important thing is, if you can help someone, then do. As long as you can do it reasonably safely.”

In the back of the car, the girls returned to the world and conversation of seven year olds and Erin and I went back to the conversation of two 30-something moms who were driving 2.5 hours north to “the city,” that is Carson City, Nevada, the closest ‘large’ town to where we live. Mammoth Lakes, California doesn’t have stores like Target or Costco. When you want to do shopping at stores like that, especially back-to-school shopping, you head north (or south, if you feel like an even longer drive to Los Angeles or San Diego.)

Brief interlude for bacon:

We stopped for brunch in Gardnerville, Nevada and ate at an all-American diner called Woodette’s.

WOODETTE’S.

The diner was called Woodette’s.

Woodette.

I kind of love it, don’t you? Woodette’s.

Okay. I’ve said Woodette enough now, I think.

Damn, I love the English language.

Scene 2: Target, Carson City, Nevada

Then it was straight to Target. I was determined not to spend over my budget so the day prior my daughters and I had done a clothes inventory and determined how many more of each of the items you see below they needed for the upcoming fall and winter.

That’s right. I’m at least at Mom Nerd Level +15 with this spreadsheet and clipboard. And I gotta tell you, it was pure magic to have done the inventory before setting out and to have the list. My daughter stuck to the list and I’m so doing this again for future shopping trips. My youngest, L, age 4.5, didn’t go with us on this trip, but C and I did the shopping for her easily with the inventory/list combo.

Favorite qualifiers: some, several, and ‘maybe’ :)

Favorite qualifiers: some, several, and ‘maybe’ :)

C and I each got new cups too. Mine says ‘First I drink the coffee, then I do the things.’ And hers reads ‘Chase Dreams, Not Boys.’

“It IS okay to chase boys, C, as long as they want you to, if we’re talking about a literal game of chase. If we are talking figuratively, then sure, you can chase after a boy, but the message here is to pursue your dreams and passions first, instead of only focusing on boys and whether or not they notice you. You do you, C, and any worthy guy will take note.”

: As an aside here, I’m sure there are a few readers tut-tut’ing ‘what if she likes GIRLS, hmmmm?’ Sure thing. If C likes girls (or both), that’s super rad. We talk a lot in our family about loving, dating, and marrying (or NOT marrying, geez) whoever they’d like. I do like to keep a lot about C private, so you’ll just have to trust me on the liking boys things. If she changes her mind later, I’ll be telling her to keep her eyes focused on her goals > girls just as much :

And speaking of dreams, the only thing C wanted for her seventh birthday a few weeks ago was to get her first pedicure. Erin and her daughter, B, were happy to oblige us.

Scene 3: Nail salon in Carson City, Nevada

We went to Get Nailed.

That was the name of the salon.

You can’t make this stuff up. First Woodette’s, then GET NAILED.

C was thrilled with the entire experience. Both B and C were too short to take advantage of the massage chairs until after their toes were painted. As soon as they could, they scooted back and relaxed, enjoying the mechanical kneading while Erin and I got our pedicures as well.

No, those aren’t smart phones, they’re the remotes for the chairs. And even if they were, why you gotta judge? Pedicures are about chilling.

No, those aren’t smart phones, they’re the remotes for the chairs. And even if they were, why you gotta judge? Pedicures are about chilling.

Afterwards we all felt fabulous.

Lastly, we hit up Starbucks and Costco. Are you getting that this was a pretty prototypical mom/daughter shopping/date day? Perfect. Because that’s what I’m driving at. And speaking of driving, at this point it was 5pm and we still had a 2.5. hour drive ahead of us. With a car stuffed to the gills, we headed south.

There is a massive stretch of the 395, about 100 miles, which has no cell service. It starts just north of Topaz Lake in Nevada and continues almost to Mammoth Lakes. Yes, yes, there ARE sections where you can get service, but for most of the area there is simply no service at all. The locals know this and prepare for this. Most city folk are perplexed, or even angry when they discover they can’t use their phones and gps in a portion of California. It’s true. It’s rough being out of the city ;)

Scene 4: The Stranded Motorist

Somewhere along this stretch, deep in a curvy portion of the highway and with the raging Walker River to the left of us, we zipped around a corner and saw a large man standing on the side of the road, next to a silver Mercedes, his hands up, and waving at passing cars. He was stopped in a wide, pull-over area off the road on the north side. Erin drove a little further ahead to the matching pull-over area on the south side.

I asked her, “Do you have cables?”

“Yep.”

“Me too in my car.” She smiled. Great minds think alike, I thought.

“Stay in the car, girls,” she admonished to both C and B and then she hopped out. I scrambled after her, but grabbed my can of bear spray. I exited the passenger side and popped off the safety cap. Then I followed her, keeping the can behind me. The guy was probably 6’2” and a very big dude. If this were a ruse, he was gonna get a face full of capsaicin for trying to fuck with us.

While cars cruised between them, Erin and the man yelled across the highway.

“What’s wrong?” A gust of wind blew her long, blonde hair back away from her face.  I stood two feet behind her, the bear spray ready.

“I have no cell service. I’ve got AAA, but no phone service. Can’t call them,” he responded.

She turned to me, “do you have any service?” I shrugged my shoulders.

“Dude. I have Cricket. I sincerely doubt it.” We both went back to our sides of the car and dug around for our phones. She found hers first and when I got back to them, she was snapping a photo of his AAA card.

“I’ll drop a pin on my phone so I know where you are. Then we’ll drive on and when we get service, we can call AAA for you.” She held her phone up and then realized that without service, she wasn’t able to drop a pin, or at the very least, she wasn’t able to at that moment.

I still had the bear spray behind me because I’m a suspicious person, most especially of men. Still, from what I’d observed of the man, he didn’t seem threatening, rather, he was exasperated. He kept looking at his phone and muttering. I could hear him saying, “No service. Not even a bar. I have AAA...” It was cool outside and approaching 7pm but he had a slight sheen of sweat on his forehead.

“What’s the matter anyway?” I asked. He glanced up at me. “What’s wrong with your car?”

“Oh,” he gestured back at it, annoyed. “It’s got a flat.”

“Just a flat?” Mine and Erin’s voices joined in unison.

“Yeahhh,” he drew that out slowly. “Yeah. A flat. I don’t know how to fix it.”

Again, almost in perfect unison, we sang out, “I can fix it!” The stranger, we’ll call him “Pete,” Pete’s mouth dropped open a little, I couldn’t tell from awe or surprise. I decided on awe, it could have been surprise, but it wouldn’t have been if he had actually known us. We did a U-turn and drove over to his side of the road.

Scene 5: You gotta jack?

“Mom, can I get out of the car and help?” C was chomping at the bit to see what was happening. I thought this would be a good lesson for her, and we were on a section of the side of the road that was at least three car widths wide, so it was reasonably safe.

“As long as you stay behind me, and near the metal fence far away from the highway, over there,” I pointed behind me, “you can see the river.”

Pete had pulled out his spare tire but neither of us saw any tools lying around. I was still suspicious of being near a big dude on the side of the highway where there was no cell service, and with two little girls with us. I probably have trust issues, but I like to call them survival skills. I continued to keep a wide distance from Pete and never let him get behind me. He never tried. I’m just sharing that I’m always wary. My past life experiences have taught me that I have plenty to be wary about.

I stayed behind Erin because she was really taking charge so my role quickly became side kick and body guard.

“You gotta jack?” Erin was peeking inside his trunk. Pete followed her and then handed over what could have been a jack, but it wasn’t one we had seen before. She and I conferred. “Is this missing something? Some part?”

I grabbed it and flipped it over inspecting how it worked. Behind us, C tried to see the tool. Pete offered nothing in the way of info on the way the jack worked. It had a part that stuck out and it struck me that the car might have a spot that it could fit into, like built into the frame. Pete was standing off to the side, muttering at his phone. Erin had gone to get her own jack from her car. I squatted down and sure enough, found a little cap that I popped off from the body of the car. Inside was a hole that part could fit in. Those German engineers think of everything.

Erin came back with her own tools but I showed her how the jack worked and she jumped right in and started jacking the car up.

Pete tried to make small talk; I have to give him credit for even trying. I remembered he asked us where we were from. He mentioned his line of work and how he wished he could live in the Eastern Sierras but his job kept him tied to the city. I kept wondering if he was a little shell shocked, like if perhaps something bad had happened to him recently. You just never know what is happening in people’s lives. Flat tires don’t discriminate. They can happen at the same time as your mother dying, as getting fired, or when you’re late to pick your kid up from school. Who knew what was going on in Pete’s world before the tire blew?

He helped loosen the lug nuts but Erin and I fully screwed them out. He also helped manhandle the blown tire off. We didn’t have the strength for it. The back of the tire was ripped along the seam, about a ¼ of the way around the entire tire.  “You’re lucky you were able to pull over okay; that looks crazy,” I told him. He nodded.

All three of us worked together after that, holding the spare up as a trio. Erin and I snaked our hands down and grabbed the lug nuts from the ground, screwing them in one at a time.

We worked, freshly pedicured and in dresses. I’m happy to report that while both of us got dirty, no pedicures were harmed in the helping of this stranger.

“You should tighten those up,” Erin handed him the tire iron and he followed her advice. I grabbed a baggie of wet wipes from the car and Erin and I cleaned our hands back at her car. We told the girls to get back in their car seats and as Erin stowed her tools, Pete came over,

“Can I have one of those cloths?”

I handed him my last clean one. I’d watched him during the whole ordeal get more and more uncomfortable by how dirty his hands were getting. He kept glancing at them in disgust. I wondered if he was mad that he couldn’t grab his phone, since his dirty hands would then dirty the phone. There was no cell service, but when you’re used to endlessly checking your phone, you probably are conditioned to keep checking it even when it’s pointless. I figured a guy who didn’t like to get dirty would have some napkins or the like in his car, but again, you never know what’s going on with a person. At least I had one more wet wipe to offer him.

“Thanks again.”

“Sure thing, man. Drive carefully.”

We didn’t exchange contact info. Pete needed to drive north and we needed to drive south and everybody was ready to go their own ways.

He waved at us as he pulled onto the highway.

“That.Was.Rad!” I cheered.

From the back the girls both joined in, “We helped him!” Erin was grinning and then said,

“I worked up a sweat and an appetite!”

“Oooh, ooh, let’s go to the Whoa Nellie Deli, I’ve always wanted to eat there.” She agreed.

Woodette’s.  Get Nailed. And the WHOA NELLIE DELI.

Goddess bless Americans and our deep love of cheesy place names.

Scene 6: Whoa Nellie!

The Whoa Nellie Deli is located on the 395 at the junction for the Tioga Pass (the road that takes you into Yosemite National Park) in Lee Vining. It’s up on a hill and commands an incredible view of Mono Lake. It’s nestled at the foot of the mountains that lead you into Yosemite. <--------That’s a whole bunch of words to basically say, the Whoa Nellie Deli is the coolest damn restaurant in a Mobile Mart you have ever visited. It has grassy expanses all around it speckled with picnic tables that were full of people. Kids ran between the tables like it was the 4th of July. Every single person present, except for we four, was dressed in technical gear of some sort: fisherwomen and men, hikers, climbers, backpackers, day trippers….they were all geared up, and gassing up, both figuratively and metaphorically at the deli.

It had been a long-ass day. A good one, but a long one. We ordered some food and two glasses of wine about the size of our heads and sat down at a picnic table that overlooked Mono Lake.

“Cheers,” I held up my glass to Erin’s. “We did it.”

“What did you do?” A woman dressed head to toe in Patagonia clothing asked us. Their table was two feet away and we could easily hear the other table’s conversation, likewise they could hear ours.

I gave them the long version. Truncated it looked like: two moms took two kids 2.5 hours away and shopped all day, and on the return home, helped a man who didn’t know how to fix a flat tire, but we did it, and that felt fucking great.

“And we did it in dresses!” I concluded happily. Their table cheered with us, and then the man sitting opposite the woman in Patagonia clothes, zipped up his Arcteryx jacket and asserted,

“So did you shame the fuck out of him?”

Some of his table laughed at this but the corners of Erin’s and my mouth too, turned down. At that moment, I was so, so glad Erin was my friend.

Erin and her husband moved to Mammoth with their daughter B last summer, about a month before Eric and I moved here with our girls, C and L. We met when B and C became friends and our families survived one of the craziest, snowiest winters in Mammoth’s history as our inaugural winter in the Eastern Sierras. To say we’ve bonded would be an understatement. I told her yesterday that I felt really lucky we met. When you move to a town without knowing anyone, you have to wish and hope you’ll find someone you connect with, and I have with Erin.

We both shook our head at the man in the technical gear. Erin spoke, “no, we didn’t shame him. We just helped him out.” I glanced over at our girls who had finished their food and were doing what all the other kids were doing at the Whoa Nellie Deli, running crazy, leaping off the large rocks that were scattered amongst the tables, and having a generally awesome time.

No, I thought, we didn’t shame him.

The table next to us went back to their food and I mulled over the event with Erin, “when I talk to my girls about this I’m going to make a point of not shaming Pete for the fact that we helped him out.” I gestured toward C and B. “For me, the most important part of helping that guy was that our girls saw me and you do that, we helped him, and we did it dressed in a rather traditionally feminine way and that didn’t hinder us. We knew what to do and we were bad ass.”

Erin nodded, listening. “If I want my girls growing up to break gender stereotypes, I can’t then hold men to similar ones. I mean, isn’t that why that guy next to us wanted us to shame Pete? Because he had been helped by….. : gasp : women? And women in dresses? That’s where the concept of shame is coming from here, that he should be ashamed for needing help from women, or from not knowing how to fix a tire, but some women did. I feel empowered by what we did, but that feeling does not come at Pete's loss. My empowerment should not equal his shame.”

I kept trying to work it out in my head and in conversation. We sipped our wine as we thought about it. Both of us are proponents of self-reliance. Should Pete have known how to fix a tire? Probably. But not simply because he was a man, rather, because sometimes AAA is not readily available. Men and women both should learn how to fix a flat tire. Though both Erin and I are huge fans of being prepared and being independent, sometimes, no matter how prepared you are, you need help. My family learned that first hand on our sailboat, Rebel Heart. And if you know how to help someone, you do. And if you help someone, and then shame them later for the help you offered freely, well that’s just lower than low, don’t you think?

The girls brought us flowers and then took this blurry photo. I hope they had as wonderful a day as we did. And I hope they remember the day we helped Pete. What I really hope sticks out the most is that their mothers were strong, independent, ready to lend a hand, and were also a little bit fearless. Additionally, they also had great nails and looked beautiful in dresses.

Let this post then be a PSA for watching some YouTube videos on how to change a tire and on being prepared for when a flat + no cell service may hit you. And I encourage everyone to help people when you can, challenge gender stereotypes, and do a whole lot less judging and shaming.

~ Fin ~    

It's Gonna Be May ~ 2017

I did more in the month of May than I sometimes do in an entire season.

It's a writing retreat.

I swear.

After an incredible writing retreat in San Miguel de Allende, which you can read about here, I stopped in San Diego for a day before driving home to Mammoth. Sometimes I think about flying down to LA or San Diego, but then I'd miss eight hours of getting to listen to any audiobook I want and I relish the alone time to do just that. I've finished Octavia Butler's Parable of the Talents and Parable of the Sower recently and listened to Amanda Palmer's, The Art of Asking on this most recent trip. I liked her book so much in audio form that I bought the paperback so I could re-read it at my leisure. Highly recommend.

Driving back up with a car full of Ikea, Target, and thrift store finds.

Driving back up with a car full of Ikea, Target, and thrift store finds.

I got home from the Mexico trip on a Thursday evening. Friday was just trying to take a whack at the house and what needed to be put back in order. On Saturday morning Eric had a training with the local Search and Rescue Team and the girls and I went to help my friend, Rosanne, set up her tables for the Mad Hatter's Tea, benefiting the Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre.

After helping Rosanne set up for her event, she helped me set up this quilt. I needed to hang it in advance of that night's gala fundraiser for the local elementary school. She helped me mount the hooks and made sure it hung straight. Thanks, Rosanne!

I rushed home from table setting and quilt hanging but not before buying some groceries for our babysitter who was coming over. She was going to stay the night so that Eric and I could stay at the hotel of the gala we were attending. It was the first night we've had away from our kids in FIVE YEARS. 

The theme of the gala was 'speakeasy,' and while I had fun, I was far more stoked on the thought of not going home to parenting responsibilities but to a hotel room with my husband, alone, for the fist time in FIVE YEARS.

We haven't met a lot of people since moving here, but the people we have befriended are quality. I'm glad I know them. This is me and Rosanne.

Rosanne, me, Tania, and Tania's mom (looking fly, right?!)

So like I was saying, the last time we'd had a night without children was five years ago. I was so excited for the mini break I couldn't stand it. After a little bit of dancing, Eric and I bailed and headed for our room.

This is the proverbial post-coitus photo only instead of a cigarette I ordered french fries from room service instead. So good. All of it. So good. Also, when we did go to sleep, we slept the sleep of the dead.

The next morning we had breakfast and all we could talk about was the kids (classic) and how weird it was that the kids weren't there. Then we relieved our amazing babysitter and Eric started packing the car for a camping trip. He was taking the girls on a 7-10 day overland trip in his Land Cruiser. While they packed, I drank coffee and got dressed up for my next and final event of the weekend.

Not only did I get to help set up for the Mad Hatter Tea, I got to attend too.

How awesome is this fascinator? Found it online from a vintage seller on Etsy.

Rosanne was at the gala the night before. She too pulled a quick change artist and showed up as the Dutchess of her two tables looking amazing. Look at her hat. LOOK AT HER SHOES.

When I got home from the weekend of festivities the house was quiet. Eric and the girls were headed to the Mojave Desert for an adventure and I was looking at about a week of the house to myself. 

A lot of firsts had just happened to me: first official writing retreat, a night alone with my husband for the first time in five years, and then I was about to have an entire week on my own. Is this real life, I wondered.

Indeed it was real life.

I stopped by the grocery store and got a bunch of 'Charlotte food.' Stuff like brie and feta, fresh veggies, pita, hummus, olives, and turkey. I had wine and chocolate so I didn't really need anything else. With my supplies in order, I hunkered down for a week of being an absolute hermit. 

I work from home so after getting my work job hours done, I wrote. I continued the telling of the story of how Eric and I met and how we came to buy a sailboat and raise our family aboard. Interspersed with the writing, I did push ups, and forced myself to leave the house at least once a day. I'm glad I made myself get out because I became deeply immersed in my writing world. In the six days that they were gone I wrote 24,000 words about our story, putting me at a total of 62,000. That's well within striking distance of a memoir. If I had to guess, I'd say I have another 20-30,000 left to write. I'm so close to having a complete first draft that I can taste it.

I loved re-reading my old MySpace journals (I copied them before deleting that account) and looking back at photos that were over 12 years old of me and Eric. In my head I was finally able to connect the dots from the beginning to the 'end' of our story. Of course, we're not over, but I have the telling of Rebel Heart firmly in a timeline in my head. Now I'm just spitting it out as fast as I can before I go back and do the even more laborious work of polishing it to be read by others.

Catalina Island, March 2005

Catalina Island, March 2005

Road trip in Nevada, November 2006

Road trip in Nevada, November 2006

Skydiving, August 2008

Skydiving, August 2008

Diving at the Coronado Islands, June 2011

Diving at the Coronado Islands, June 2011

After being gone for six days, Eric and the girls came home and I had to completely put away my writing. I find it too difficult to try to exist in two worlds at the same time, the world of words and the world of reality. I saved my work, backed it up in the cloud and on hard drive, and turned my attention to the three people I love most. 

A day after returning, Eric was back at another SAR training. The girls I enjoyed a brisk lunch outdoors on our deck. It was a cool 46 degrees Fahrenheit, but that's what they make jackets for, right?

I took these photos on May 13. Yes, all that snow was around on MAY THIRTEENTH.

It snowed for the rest of the weekend after we had our chilly al fresco dining experience. The morning it stopped snowing, I drove home to see bear tracks clearly going up and over the snowbank in front of my house. Mammoth is never boring. I'll give it that.

We spent the rest of May spending as much time as we could as a family and as much time as we could outdoors.

Though snow was still everywhere, plenty of places had melted enough for us to get out and stretch our legs too.

This was the snow berm in front of our house on May 20th. Still high, but warm enough for shorts and a sun shirt!

One weekend we decided to hit some local 4x4 trails behind Shady Rest Park. We eventually got stuck in some muck, but Eric was prepared for that and we were moving about 40 minutes later. He wrote about it here on his blog.

I don't know what it is about watching Eric do manual labor. This would only have been better if he were in a t-shirt or shirtless.

Here he is with an axe. You're welcome.

After getting us unstuck, he then administered first aid to L's little cut. I love a man who can do hard things and soft things.

On Memorial Day weekend we decided to throw caution to the wind and go ahead and plant some seeds. We're pretty dang sure it won't get past freezing anymore. Now we just have rabbits and mule deer to fight off. I keep trying to prep the kids for these plants to not make it...

I kept some succulents inside all winter and now I'm bringing them out during the day on our upstairs deck.

They were hardy enough to survive a Mammoth winter with indirect sunlight in a room that was only heated at night. so hopefully they'll be happy with some summer sunlight and warmth.

Every day gets progressively warmer and we find ourselves sitting, eating, and just being outside as much as possible.

I'm ready for June now and all that a Mammoth summer has to offer. Here's to a fast snow melt, bears staying away, and more time to write.

Bear Attacks Side of House in Mammoth Lakes, California

Scene: a dark, frigid night on the outskirts of Mammoth Lakes, a town in the Eastern Sierra. A young mother, scratch that, a late-30-something mother is home alone with her two daughters while her husband is out of town.

Time: 10:45 at night.

DRAMATIS PERSONAE (Cast of Characters:) one adorable 6 year old girl, we’ll call her ‘C,’ and one darling 4 year old girl, we’ll call her, ‘L,’ are both sound asleep in their bunk beds.

Charlotte, the mother (that's me) – 5’4”, 133lbs. Can do lots of push-ups. Has strong mama-bear instincts.

MISSING:  Eric, the husband, is out of town. Eric is strong and brave and as far as I’m concerned, he is our body guard.

He has muscles too. You can see them here.

They’re peeking out of his sleeves, see?

Muscles. He has them.

What was I talking about? I got distracted. Oh yes, bears. Mammoth. Right. So Eric wasn’t in town. Got it?

Other characters:
 
1.    the 911 operator
2.    the police officer
3.    and the BEAR.

Scene 1: The mother is in her bed about to fall asleep for the evening.

::::::::::::::::::::   A   C   T   I   O   N      ::::::::::::::::::  

I had been sick as a dog for the last five days. I’m talking the kind of sick that nobody likes to talk or read about. Coughing, hacking, sputum, and mounds of tissues were left in my wake. My throat was still raw and my voice was froggy. While I normally describe myself as a strong person, I was physically weak and fatigued. Eric had gone out of town for work so I soldiered on, parenting while sick, which always blows. 

After getting the girls to sleep, then doing the dishes, and preparing for the next day of parenting and life, I had finally gotten into bed. It was the first night in four nights that I thought I could sleep without Nyquil, so I turned out the lights, put on my sleep mask and popped in my ear plugs (I sleep best when I can deaden out my senses.) I was just on the precipice of a delicious slumber when I heard a loud bang. It was muffled through the ear plugs, but it was a sound I couldn’t ignore. If Eric had been home, I would have assumed he was upstairs causing a racket, but alas, I was the only adult in the house, and both of my kids were snoring in their bedroom. It was the kind of sound that one knew immediately they would have to go investigate.

Deep down, I knew it was a bear. I jumped from bed, whipped off my eye mask and tried to think of other rational reasons for the sound. Perhaps it had gotten windy outside and something had been knocked down. A quick glance out my window showed the trees still and un-moving. No wind.

Bam, Bam, Bam. 

Someone or something was banging on the house. A pure surge of adrenaline coursed through my body starting from my stomach and bursting up my spine, past my heart, and into my mouth. I could taste the adrenaline on my tongue and had an immediate urge to vomit. 

It’s a bear. Where are the kids? You know where the kids are. Get the bear spray. Get the phone. Go.

But where the fuck was the bear? It was making a huge racket and I was scared it was upstairs in the house. 

Earlier that day I had picked up the mail and in it, I kid you not, were two cans of bear spray I had ordered for the upstairs and downstairs and two holders for the canisters. Of course, I hadn’t unwrapped the cans. They were both upstairs tightly wrapped in bubble wrap on the kitchen counter. 

Fuck, fuck, fuck. 

I ran upstairs and quickly glanced to the front door and patio door. Nothing open or broken. I poked my head around to see if it had come in the kitchen window, no. Good. I quickly grabbed a pair of scissors and sliced up the bubble wrap and grabbed one of the cans. Then I ran back downstairs and planted myself in the hallway in front of the girls’ bedroom door. I could see the downstairs entrance at the other end of the hallway. 

The banging continued. It sounded like it was trying to get IN to something. I couldn’t pinpoint its exact location but it was loud and forceful and either the dumbest fucking robber in the world, or a bear.

“911, what is your emergency?”

“There’s a bear outside my house. I’m home alone with two small children.” My voice was shaky and gravely from the chest cold.

“A bear? What’s it doing? Just walking around?” She seemed nonchalant.

“NO! It’s banging!”

“Like on the door?” her voice grew more interested, but still not that concerned.

“YES! I mean it’s banging on something. I don’t know what it’s trying to do. I’m home alone!”

“Okay, we’ll send an officer right out.” And then she hung up.

WTF? Aren’t they supposed to stay on the line with you and tell you it will all be okay? OMG, I need comfort here, lady!  My back was wet with a cold sweat.  

I stood shaking at the end of that hallway with the can of bear spray just pointed forward in the general direction of the sound. 

I called Eric. I cannot believe he picked up. He usually goes to bed really early when he is out traveling but he answered and my words spilled out over themselves, “There’s a bear, there’s a bear, I called 911, the police are coming, please stay on the phone with me.”

He immediately began assessing the situation and trying to get me to answer questions. I knew it was his way of getting me to calm down. Are the girls safe? Yes. Are the doors locked? YES (lol). He kept asking questions and then I heard C’s voice, she was crying. 

Unsurprisingly, my panicked phone calls to 911 and then to Eric had woken her up. L, our 4 year old, slept through the ENTIRE event. Kids amaze me. C was scared because I was scared. She had heard the banging too. It stopped while I was on the phone call with Eric but we all waited, expecting for it to start up again. 

“Stay in your bed so I know you and L are in the same room. I’m going to go wait for the police to come, ok?”

I ventured upstairs and scanned all the windows for any movement. From the top stair I could see our driveway and our cars. This reminded me that this wasn’t our first encounter with a bear. No, last November, a black bear got into my Subaru and the door shut behind him. He couldn’t get out and he destroyed the car trying to escape. You can read about that little escapade here. As a quick visual reminder of what a bear can do, here are just a few photos of my now defunct vehicle.

Scene 2: The police officer arrives

I saw his headlights and a very bright spotlight bouncing up the road and felt instant relief. Thank god there was a responsible adult headed my way. What would we do without brave-ass first-responders? Seriously? So thankful for them. I hung up with Eric but did not go out to meet him. Instead I waited until he cased the driveway and I heard him walk up the front steps. What if the bear is on the front porch? But the officer had a gun so I waited for him to knock on the door which told me that at least the front porch was clear.

I can only imagine how I looked when I opened the door. Small, in fuzzy pajamas, hair askew, soaked in sweat, and clutching a can of bear spray, my finger firmly on the nozzle top. I explained what had happened and almost burst into tears from relief at seeing him. 

“Will you check the back porch too?” my voice croaked.

“Take deep breaths. You’re going to be okay.” He was reassuring and in charge of the situation and it was exactly the attitude I needed at that second. “Are there any fire arms in the house?” (Translation, are you going to shoot me while I’m walking around inspecting your house outside?) Smart man.

“No.” I quivered in response. 

“Okay, I’m going to walk around the perimeter and see if it’s gone. I’ll come back to this door and knock again.” 

The level of relief I had now that he was there was palpable. His flashlight was unbelievably bright, so I surveyed the property with him, but from inside the house, moving from window to window and following his light as he flashed it all around outside. He came back and knocked.

“Where does that downstairs door lead to?” 

“To our house!”

“Oh, is it okay if I come in and inspect it?”

All I could think was, are you kidding? Can you come in? How about can you STAY tonight? I will make you cookies and coffee and let you play the PS4 to your heart’s content, just stay here and keep watch while we sleep!!!!

But I didn’t say that. That would have been inappropriate and police officers have to police stuff and protect the rest of the town from these crazy ass bears. 

I just said, ‘yes, of course!’ and showed him downstairs. He opened the door and stepped out onto the porch. In a second I heard him say, ‘ah!’ and then he poked his head around and gestured to me.

“Do you have food stored down there?” We were both outside looking at the side of the house. The bear had ripped off a bunch of wood paneling from the side of the house. It looked like he was trying to get IN to the unfinished crawl space under the house. We had nothing stored under there.  We could also see the bear’s tracks walking away from the house which gave me some measure of relief.

I asked the officer if he would say hello to C and tell her everything was okay and he agreed. We went into her room and at first I thought she had fallen back asleep. 

“C, are you awake?”

She shot up to a seated position, throwing the covers off from over her head. This flashed me back to childhood and times when I had been scared and the only thing I could do was put the blankets over my head too. 

The Sergeant was super kind and he spoke to her in a calm voice talking about his two children. He told her it would be okay and she could go back to sleep and then he and I went upstairs.

His presence had been supremely reassuring but I knew he needed to go and I hated the thought of trying to sleep the rest of the night not knowing if the bear was going to come back and do more Ursid home décor.

“I don’t know your personal views on fire arms, but living in an area like this, you might want to consider getting some guns. I’d suggest a 12 gauge shotgun, nothing less than 12 gauge.” 

I nodded. We weren’t opposed to guns, but it wasn’t something we had yet looked into for the house up here.  “Or consider getting a revolver. This is a semi-automatic,” he motioned to the fire arm on his waist. “But I practice with it all the time. If you needed to grab a gun and you were shaking or upset, you might drop the clip. If you get a revolver, you could just bang, bang, bang, but you’d need to get a big enough one to take down a bear.”

I kept nodding and the adrenaline that that finally started to ease began to ball up again my stomach. 

“If we had been stalled getting here and the bear had broken down the door, you’d need something to stop it. I don’t think that bear spray would do much good. Consider barricading yourself in a room with the girls. Move a bed in front of the door.”

Now he was freaking me out. I mean, these are the kind of scenarios I play out in my head. This is why I had bought the two bear spray canisters to have on the top and bottom levels of the house. Here he was literally playing out my worst fears blow by blow. 

“Okay, thank you officer. I’ll talk to my husband about it.”

“If the bear comes back, just call 911 again and we’ll be back here.”

The rest of the night was hard. C couldn’t get to sleep and I was wired. I called Eric back to let him know it had indeed been a bear and to tell him about the damage to the house. 

“Take a sleeping pill,” he urged. “You need to get some sleep.”

“ARE YOU CRAZY? I HAVE TO PROTECT MY FAMILY.” I felt like I was literally saying what my adrenaline was thinking. “I'll have to sleep with one eye open!”  : cue Metallica :

“The bear isn’t coming back. It’s probably halfway down Old Mammoth road and getting into the dumpsters down there.”

C slept in bed with me but try as I might, I couldn’t sleep. Around 2am I finally decided to take a half dose of Nyquil. I figured it would tranquilize me enough to maybe, possibly, sleep, but I wouldn’t be too groggy if I had to spring up and go into action. I slept fitfully for a few hours, coughing and hacking, and generally bemoaning the entire evening’s events.

Scene 3: In the Light of Day

This morning I woke up and after getting the girls ready for the day and imbibing coffee, I headed out to see the damage.

Dang, bear. Why are you so angry?

This was at least confirmation as to what had sounded like the bear ripping into something. He was. He was ripping into the side of my house!

You can see a couple scratches on the top left of this photo below. That is the door to the crawl space. The bear didn’t seem to know where the actual entrance was. And to think it is just held in place with one loose screw...

I decided to follow his tracks and see where he went after our place.

He headed down the slope and I followed. I made sure to look up into the trees as I walked because black bears can climb trees like they’re freaking super heroes.

: shudder :

I found this tree with all the bark pulled off it, but there were no bear tracks nearby, so perhaps that just happened naturally? It was twinning with the side of my house.

The dude apparently sauntered away to my neighbor’s yard and then circled back to the other side of the street. See his tracks in this photo?

Here, let me zoom in. The tracks are above the yellow line.

The girls and I headed into town and sure enough, Eric was right. The bear had hit the first dumpster we encountered. Trash was everywhere.

I talked to my friend, Rosanne, about what had happened and she suggested I call Steve Searles. Steve is called ‘The Bear Whisperer.’ There’s even a show about him and his work with bears in Mammoth on YouTube.

I left him a voicemail, introduced myself, and asked if he would be willing to come see why he thought the bear was attacking the side of the house and if there was anything we could do to bear-proof our house further. A little while later he called me back. He had laryngitis but he briefly croaked out that I should get some moth balls and place them by where the bear had tried to dig. 

Right. So, mothballs as a rec from the bear expert.

A 12 gauge as a rec from the police officer.

And every study I had ever read said that bear spray was extremely effective as a last ditch deterrent. 

::::::::::::::::::::   CURTAIN      ::::::::::::::::::  

Post script: for as much comedy as I used in this writing, I will tell you that I don’t take any of last night’s events lightly. I was really fucking scared, and sometimes using humor can help you work through fear and get you back to a rational mindset. 

For anyone who is going to say that they wouldn’t be scared being alone, with two small kids, while a bear was doing who knows what to the exterior of their house, I will respond simply with ‘you literally have no idea what you are talking about.’ So zip it.

For anyone who is going to suggest that we ‘just get a dog.’ No. The answer is no. We don’t want a dog. You go get a dog and pet it and give it a treat for me.

For anyone who is going to suggest we don’t get guns, zip it. If we get guns, we’ll do it responsibly.

For anyone who is going to yell at the people telling us not to get guns, zip it. We’re grown ass adults and there’s no need to berate anyone about their choice to not use fire arms.

We are really glad we moved here. I get it that bears come with living in the Sierras.

I still wish they wouldn’t attack my car and my house. 

Me + a can of bear spray didn’t feel like much protection when it came down to it, but them’s the breaks. We’re all safe which is what matters.

 I did go and buy some moth balls. And yes, I know they are dangerous for children, and no, my children don't go by that part of the of the house, and yes, we talked about why they are dangerous, and yes, I know these could hurt little critters. The Bear Whisperer himself suggested this. Sooooooo zip it.

For good measure, I also bought a sturdy dowel and cut it to size to fit in the sliding glass doors of the house. I should have done that sooner, so now that's taken care of too.

Here's hoping my bear stories have come to a forever end.

::::::::::::::::::::  FIN    ::::::::::::::::::  


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