USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘bears’
Folk speech
Proverbs

Proverb for How to Approach Different Kinds of Bears

[The subject is MSt. Her words are bolded, mine are not.]

MSt: If it’s black, attack; if it’s brown, lie down; if it’s white, good night.

ME: Could you explain that for me?

MSt: Alright, so when you’re, like, in the backcountry, you see a bear, there’s different, like, responses that you should have depending on the type of bear, so if it’s black, attack; brown, lie down; uh, white, good night. So black bears are easily scared… One time I, like, there was a black bear- a black bear kind of came into my campsite and was like, rustling around, scaring everybody, but we were just, like, real loud that night, and we all sang into the campfire, and like, we scared it away.

ME: So black means you attack.

MSt: Black means you attack. ‘Cause they’re scared of humans. So they mostly just don’t want the trouble. Like, any bear’s gonna get between you and their cub, but pretty much, like, black bears don’t want the fight. They just wanna, like, live their own life. Which, retweet.

Brown bears: brown, lie down. So brown bears, grizzlies, will attack you, but only if, like, you’re interesting to them. So just, like, lay down, try to make yourself small, like, be very clear that you’re not gonna try to attack them, ‘cause they will fight you and they will win. Play dead, because you will most likely die if you see a grizzly bear, but there’s a chance you won’t if you just, like, play dead.
And then white is good night, because, like, if you see a polar bear you’re fucked.

Context: MSt is one of my suitemates, and a sophomore student in college. She was born in Germany and moved to Michigan when she was five years old, where she grew up and lived until coming to USC. German was her first language, and though she still understands it she has forgotten how to speak fluently and now considers English her primary language. She has always been interested in hiking, camping, and spending time outdoors. In the middle of a conversation about our favorite deadly animals, I mentioned polar bears and she recited the proverb above, which I then asked her to explain. She told me that she had heard it from a teacher on a high school camping trip after they saw a brown bear pawing at one of the tents and scared it off by blowing whistles and loudly singing songs.

Thoughts: The reason MSt saying this stuck out to me in the middle of our conversation was that growing up, I always knew that there were different ways you were supposed to react depending on the type of bear you ran into, but I had no way of remembering what there were. This was the first time I had heard something like “leaves of three, let it be” (a proverb about avoiding poison ivy) that applied to bears, and it feels like something I should have learned growing up. I can see it being spread very easily from person to person because in addition to being short, catchy, and easy to remember, it is actually helpful to know if you’re in a situation where you might encounter a bear, and besides that, the last third of it is funny. It makes sense as a proverb that an authority/mentor figure would tell a student (which is how MSt first heard it), but also as something kids could say to one another for fun in a relevant conversation (which is how I first heard it).

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative
Protection

Bears and Menstruation

My mother grew up in rural California. She spent a lot of her time outside and hiking. When she was a Girl Scout, she heard that when you are on your period you should avoid going in the great outdoors.

JE:”I always heard growing up that it wasn’t safe to hike or go camping while you were on your period. Apparently bears and other predatory animals can smell it and are more likely to attack. When I was growing up, two women were killed by a bear and the rumor was that it was because one (or both) of the women were menstruating.”

Me: Who told you this?

JE: My Girl Scout Leader was the most distinct person I can remember. There were some men at my church who wouldn’t let their daughters (my friends) because they thought that women should not hike, camp or even venture into the back county during their periods because it will attract predators who will come and eat them. This cautionary advice goes for women around the world. ”

Analysis: I researched the validity of this superstition, and it holds little scientific evidence. The superstition has a strong hold on people because it’s a pretty visceral- blood, gruesome attacks, young girls, etc. To me, however, it seems like a fear of bears morphed into an unfounded belief. At one point, this was perhaps a good way to keep young girls from exerting themselves in the woods when their families believed women should be at home. The stereotype only reinforces the idea that women are not as suited to survival in the wilderness as men.

For the Yellowstone Bearman’s advice on this folk belief, see:

http://www.yellowstone-bearman.com/menstruation_data.html

Folk speech
Proverbs

“Don’t Jump the Gun” in Norwegian

“Okay, so it’s this thing, and it’s literally translated, ‘Don’t sell the bear’s pelt.’ Is that what it is? Pelt is fur? Yeah, ‘Don’t sell the bear’s pelt before it’s shot.’ It literally means, like, don’t celebrate until it’s happened. Don’t, don’t, don’t jump the gun. But in Norwegian we say that about hunting and bears. *laughs*  So yeah, it literally, but yeah that’s one term.”

 

The source talked about this proverb with particular passion because he really likes it. He says he tries to live by this proverb so that he doesn’t get too far ahead of himself. The source is a filmmaker, so he has a lot of grand ideas, and he says that if he sells the bear’s pelt before it’s shot, there’s a chance it’ll bite him in the butt later because he may not always be able to come through with his projects. He says it’s better to celebrate step-by-step than assuming you’re going to be successful the entire way.

I very much like this proverb as well, particularly because we don’t have one like this in the US. Or at least, I’ve never heard one quite like it. I know I’ve heard the sentiment before from my parents, but I think the phrasing is pretty unique. The message is also great. What does it say about Norwegians? Perhaps that once, their egos were large, so they have to weigh down their pride using proverbs like this.

This proverbs speaks to patience and wisdom. Also, the fact that it phrases in terms of bears is interesting. It makes it even more uniquely Norwegian. You wouldn’t get this proverb in, say Cuba for example or Peru even. Because those countries don’t have bears. For Norway, though, bear hunting is huge. They need the pelts for making clothing and blankets to protect from the cold, which gets awful in Norway for half of the year.

Legends

Gerald McCraney

Gerald McCraney

Informant: Well, there is Gerald McCraney. That’s a true story, that’s pretty good.

Gerald McCraney. He was a boy scout from the 1990s. Gerald McCraney, boy scout from Barton Flats. You know at camp we have a lot of problem with bears. We’ve had them for 25 years, coming to camp, and scaring us. We were always told by the Forest Department to tell our kids how to prepare themselves for bears and what to do when you come across a bear.

Well, Gerald McCraney was getting himself ready, as the boy scouts do, for a trip up to Sangrigonia, the tallest mountain in Southern California. Well, Gerald McCraney didn’t listen to his scout leader and went ahead and shoved three candy bars, in the bottom of his bed roll, where nobody could see them. It wasn’t a good idea because at night time, at midnight, just about midnight, there was some snarling, “snuff, snuff, snuff” around the tents. A couple of coughs, “cough, cough, cough”. And they heard some bears walking around. They were in their tents and this one bear, early, early in the morning decided, “Hey! I want that good smell, and I want it in my stomach!”. So he decided to unzip the tent, with a claw of course. And he pulled Gerald McCraney out of his sleeping bag. He didn’t really mean to harm him, but he did grab him by the face and pulled him out. And then he proceeded to get the candy bars, which he loves, they were very good.

Well everybody woke up, scared the bear away and Gerald McCraney was laying there with blood all over his face, all the way down to his guts. They rushed the fire department up there, and the forestry department, and rushed him down to Redlands and  . . .  he was fine. . . after they put 52 stitches in his face.

His dad picked him up and he said, “Dad, I want to go back to camp. I love it so much”. And Dad said, “are you sure? Have you talked to your mother?”. And he did, and he lived to tell us all his story.

It’s a true story, it was all over the papers. We tell that story to our kids, every year, to remind them how true those stories can be and to remind them how safe we need to be with our candy and food and such at camp. It was a very true story that I will never forget

Interviewer’s notes:

Once again, we must take the informant’s position as an active barer and as Camp Nature Director into account when evaluating this story. Though this story is highly plausible, certain elements suggest that it has been altered to achieve a desired effect. There is the implication that one should respect nature evidenced by the consequences incurred on Gerald McCraney. This would be something a Nature Director should be very interested in emphasizing. If anything, this tale, taken in context, evidences how motivation of the storyteller can contribute to multiplicity and variation in folklore.

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