At the fire, we looked up and stared a bear in the eyes.

“Thirteen bears.”

That’s how many the ranger said were frequenting the area where we camped in Glacier National Park.

“Mostly moms with cubs. So far, not aggressive. But, comfortable, which isn’t good.”

Those last words were from the park ranger I affectionately call Janice – because I don’t remember her real name.

So, we did everything by the book. Food stuffs, including our camp stove, went in the bear box. No scraps behind, not even bacon grease or food scraps on the fire. Nobody wants to wake up to a hungry bear tearing a hole in the canvas or you.

Still, the kids wanted to see a bear.

A couple of days into our stay at Glacier, the closest they came was a fresh, steaming turd. They must’ve stared at that turd for ten minutes.

“Looks moist,” said Addie.

“Dare me to touch it?” said Libbie.

“Lick it for ten?” I interrupted from behind them.

I think back to a childhood camping trip at a KOA in the Smokies. We were tent camping when I was 8. We came out the next morning to find two sets of muddy tracks up and over the car. It was 30 years ago, and I still remember the ghost bears.

I hope funny moments like these come back to memory when they’re grown with kids of their own. I hope they remember the bear turd. I certainly know they’ll remember what followed.

On the third day in Glacier, we sat around the fire near dusk. Suddenly, Emmie went silent and her eyes became saucers as she pointed behind me and slowly backed away. We turned to see not one, not two, but three bears wandering into camp.

The momma bear seemed as startled as we were. After all, this campground wasn’t nearly as busy as the ones further down the mountain.

Following the instructions we had received from Janice when we arrived, we clapped loudly and said, “Hey Bear.” I felt like I was in an episode of Mountain Men.

The bears backed away. The two smaller ones were frightened and climbed a nearby tree. The mother wandered a few feet away and continued to forage nearby. It took 10 minutes for them to adjust course and wander through the campground, then up and over the ridge. Aside from being initially startled by our voices, the mom didn’t seem particularly worried about us.

Just as we were about to resettle at the fire, Emmie said, “Um, guys, there’s another one.”

The fourth bear was a straggler, clearly smaller than the others. He reminded us of our youngest child Libbie. He sniffed around like a dog, found the scent of his family, and plodded on his way.

As exciting as the bear encounter was, the real fun was in watching the other campers react — particularly, the tent campers. Several campers were unfortunate enough to exit the bathroom as the bears began their way through the heart of the campground. The first couple saw the bears and hid around the corner of the brick building, watching them as they went. Then, there was a lady who was intently preening following a shower. She looked up, saw the bear, said a few colorful words, and made a mad dash to her tent. She popped in and zipped it as the bears wandered a few feet from her.

Moments later, she unzipped the opening, peeked out, and began to emerge. Then, she saw the straggling cub. She uttered a few more choice words and quickly rezipped the tent. It was a while before she came out again.

I suspect we will always remember our stay in Glacier National Park.

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