“My bad” doesn’t always do the trick.
I thought about this as I drove away from where I had struck a bear early in the morning on the way to work. Well, the first thing that occurred to me was that I was lucky the truck even drove and apparently had no damage outside of some broken plastic. My truck has four-wheel drive, but not a beefed-up grille guard. It’s one of those down-south trucks with bumpers meant to absorb shock in the inevitable event of a freeway fender bender.
It worked perfectly to protect the truck.
Anyway, as I drove away I knew people would ask if I am OK because they care, but I’m not the victim. Not even close. First, the bear suffered. I thought it was dead until halfway through the call to the Troopers when it slowly rose and attempted to get to the forest.
Second, after I hung up with dispatch, I had to tell a man just before he was about to head to work that there was a severely injured bear in the woods near his house. I saw how nearly immobile the bear was, but he didn’t. All he knew is that his wife is at home and there’s an injured bear in their back yard. Third, I waited until the Fish and Game officer and State Trooper arrived before I left, and as I pointed out the direction in which the bear labored, I realized they now had the task of locating the bear. It wouldn’t be hard, I was willing to bet the bear had succumbed to the injuries before they went up the embankment. But still, they were the ones who had to deal with the situation I had created. I didn’t mean to, of course, but that doesn’t change the fact it was my vehicle and I was the driver.
Later on the drive, as the truck continued to function as well as it functions at its age, I wondered if the two officers and home owner immediately thought I was texting, and that the threat could have been avoided had I obeyed the law. I wasn’t texting and they didn’t ask, but with the texting while driving thing being such a common occurrence, I wondered if when they recalled their day, it started with, “Some jerk, who was probably texting, hit a bear and I had to go find it in the woods.”
It matters because incidents born out of carelessness are different than the unavoidable variety. When you thank people like first responders, technicians or officers of any kind, they often say they’re just doing their job. Which is true. But there is a difference when they are cleaning up a preventable mess as part of their job. You aren’t just putting yourself at risk when you go out somewhere unprepared and act irresponsibly – you make others worry, and put others in danger if they have to come retrieve you. (We see this every summer when people want to go visit “The Bus.”)
I don’t feel guilty for hitting the bear. But I do feel bad and responsible. Sure, it happens, and often times there’s nothing we can do, but it’s not something that’s easy to brush aside. Even though I am a hunter.
Sometimes there aren’t really life lessons, just reminders. Reminders of things like cause, effect, and who else then becomes involved. Life is chaotic enough, there’s no need to tempt it too much.
• Jeff Lund is a writer and teacher based in Ketchikan. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in Outdoors twice a month.