The Grizzly Mentor

By Pat McDonald

I am meeting with an early career teacher who is weathered and athletic looking—an avid sportsman living on game meat and adrenaline. He told me he would meet with me, but had already planned to go fishing, so I asked if I could come along. "Sure," he said. "We'll walk out. It's only about a mile to my good fishing hole". "Arctic char," he said. "For class tomorrow," he added.

The day was beautiful, sun shining down and the ground spread out like a carpet of green with berries for texture. The seemingly level ground was deceptive. The arctic tundra was covered with hillocks and trenches of mud and the rutted 4 wheeler trail was a quagmire. We picked our way along, the dog trotting ahead and doubling back to catch up. We chatted it up, discussing possible field trips, me being flexible and living with ambiguity. Developing a relationship was important to mentoring, I'd been told.

grizzly bear picture 2

We reached the crest of the moraine, the creek rippling along in both directions about 100 yards away. Then it moved. The enormous grizzly bear stood up on his hind legs and looked right at me. He seemed to be saying to me, "Can you really count this as a mentoring experience?"

To my credit, I didn't wet my pants. I just calmly remarked, "There's an enormous grizzly right by your fishing hole," or something else that neither of us can remember now. The sportsman pulled out his pistol and waved it crazily in the air, alternating "Holy s---" with "Zatu, come back!" to the dog. The dog, although he'd seemed smart up until now ran directly at the bear, stopping short about 20 feet away. There was a lot of grasping of the head and sweaty palms, and that was just me. The sportsman was even more excited.

The bear, at last, dropped onto all fours and ambled across the creek and over the ridge. The spell had been broken.

After the sportsman had a quick smoke on the ridge and some rapid pacing and nervous glancing, he indicated that his interest in fishing had waned. Sportsmen, just like teachers and mentors, sometimes need to modify their plans in order to survive.

On the long trek back, surveillance was excellent. I'm sure someone will need a hot pad on the neck from the efforts of 360 degree swivel!