Ever since I was 5 years old, people have drawn the connection between my name and the fuzzy animal that lives in the woods. Aside from one T-shirt with images of bears wearing crowns, gold chains and grills, I've never much bought into the bear merchandise. It's just a last name.
I came into the office a few weeks ago and had barely sat down when someone called out, "Bear up at Chautauqua!"
Suddenly, all my coworkers began to chant, "Bear! Bear! Bear!" and "You're a bear! You should go look for the bear, Bear!"
"We need the first-bear-of-the-year photo," my editor said. "Why don't you go scout it out?"
"I'll go," I said. It was nice outside, and any excuse to not be inside this nondescript office building is a good excuse.
"Take a selfie with the bear."
"I think that is generally frowned upon, like a good way to get eaten."
"Try not to get eaten by a bear," a second editor said.
"Maybe it's not a bear," I said. "Maybe it's a mountain lion."
"Try not to get eaten by one of those either," he added.
For the middle of a weekday, Chautauqua was packed with hikers and joggers coming up and down the mountain. Some had dogs, and others were in various states of undress. They will likely look like lobsters tomorrow when they realize the extent of their sunburns, I thought.
I saw no bears.
After scanning the horizon and snapping a quick photo of the Flatirons for no particular reason, I walked into the ranger office. I'd never been in there before, and when I set foot inside, a stuffed great horned owl looked back at me. Next to the owl sat a large golden eagle, and on the counter was a small hawk, also dead, inside a glass case.
"Yes sir," said an affable ranger of about 60 standing behind the counter with a friendly smile that only park rangers can muster.
"Hi, I'm John Bear," I began, now acutely aware that I was wearing a shirt with bears on it. "I'm a reporter with the Daily Camera. Did you have a bear up here?"
"Yes, we did, but he took off as soon as he saw us."
"Ah rats. We wanted to get a photo of him, the first bear of the year and all."
"Oh, we've been seeing a lot of bears," he said. "They've been coming down."
"Ah, well, that's cool. We like to get photos of them."
"You'd need a really long lens."
"Oh, we have those."
"It was a really cute bear."
"Yeah, a cute young bear."
"Well, maybe next time."
He nodded and, oddly enough, clenched his fist and extended it over the counter. I reached out and returned the fist bump.
"Have a nice day, man. Thanks for the help."
"No problem, sir."