When I was a child, we often spent time in the Great Smoky Mountains, Cherokee, and Linville Falls. Back in those days, these areas were full of black bears. It was rare to take a trip there and not see some, as opposed to today when it is rare to see them at all.
The Cherokee natives often trapped them and it wasn’t uncommon to see them in cages at gas stations. A full tank would get you admission to see the bear. A very wizened large Native with gnarled hands scarred from years of capturing these bears, once approached me with a pack of cheese crackers and a soda. He told me to hold the cracker in the open palm of my hand and stick it into the cage to feed the bear.
I thought he was crazy. I looked at his mangled hands and imagined my own torn and ravaged. He saw my eyes follow his hands and told me that I shouldn’t worry. He said the bear would always take the food before it would take the hand that offerred it. For some reason I believed him and offered the cracker as directed. It took it gently, but quickly, from my palm. Then he told me to take the soda and hold it up to the bear. Again, I did as he said, and began to pour the sweet drink straight into the mouth of the bear who lapped it up.
Of course, he also cautioned that I should never, ever try this in the wild as it took a lot to fill a bear, and I would likely run out of food before it ran out of hunger. Meaning – I would then be the bear snack.
This is all long in the past. Bears are no longer allowed to be kept in cages as attractions – thankfully. I do not think they are allowed to be taken live either, but there are different laws that pertain to Reservations than for the rest of the country, so I cannot be certain about this.
I do know that the native tribe of Cherokee have found a new draw for visitors and tourists. Casinos and gambling houses line the streets now.
But I learned a considerable amount from this experience. I would never hunt the great black bear. I also am very careful to keep all trash inside until we depart with it – another remembrance of the cubs getting into the trash cans at night around the camping sites – and I keep dog food in plastic containers in the storage room.
They are curious creatures though and sometimes leave their paw prints on the deck or window sills where they pull themselves up to peek inside.
My husband once asked me if I didn’t think a bear rug would look good in our living room. I replied that I thought it would look better still on the bear. And that was that. He hasn’t tried to hunt our bear and I believe that is why they have blessed us with their appearances from time to time.