Smoky Mountain Campground, a Poetryaction

Poetry Friday logo by Linda Mitchell

Happy Poetry Friday! (Wondering what Poetry Friday is? Click here.) Thank you for all the Oskar’s Voyage love last week <3 Carol, it was so lovely to see you in the gallery of the Zoom that illustrator Kayla Harren and I did on Monday. Thank you!

I’ve been sick with the crud this week. Ugh. Nothing horrible. Just a sniffly, snotty, exhausted mess. You know the way that goes, right? But I did manage to write a poetryaction. I read a beautiful picture book by Deborah Underwood (I love her books) called Walter Had a Best Friend. It’s a tender story about the drifting apart of two friends and the grief that comes with that. Near the end, Walter decides to go on a hike by himself, and something wonderful happens.

That got me thinking about hikes where amazing things happen, and one memory came instantly to mind. It was on a family backpacking trip. My parents loved hiking, and many family trips involved hiking the Appalachian Trail. We’d hike about 10 miles per day and then pitch our tent at night, usually in a state or national park. I think we were in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park when we saw the parade of bears. It happened every night, people said. Everyone would start cooking or grilling dinner, and that would draw the bears out of the woods. It was summer, hot as heck, and we were hanging out around the tent (I was probably reading!). A ripple spread through camp. The bears. The bears. Everyone scurried to cover their food and get out of the way. Down the main dirt road running through the large campground (the biggest we ever stayed at on any our trips) came a slow parade of strolling bears. There were 6–7 of them, and at least one mama bear with two big cubs. We all backed away, giving them their distance. But we couldn’t take our eyes off them. So much fur, muscle, and claw, just 15 feet away. It was amazing. At some point, the bears started tipping over people’s little grills and grabbing the meat off them. It was incredible to watch, and we followed along, a respectful distance behind. And one family had a big cooking tent set up, with screen walls. One of the bears simply slashed through it, like a person flicking away a spiderweb. They grabbed all the food and continued on. Nobody was hurt, but there was certainly a commotion. And then the bears ambled back into the woods, their shopping trip over. It was an odd combo of civilization and wildness. They only came through because of everyone cooking, so it wasn’t as glimpsing one in the wild, which we also did occasionally. But it was the only time I got to see several up close. Walking along casually but also purposefully. They weren’t interested in us, the campers. Just in the goodies. Anyway, that was one of the coolest events ever of our family hiking trips (although, yes, I realize it’s not great to habituate bears to associate people with food).

So I wrote this first draft of a poetryaction. (You can see all my poetryactions here.) It definitely needs more work. But I loved sitting with the memory for a bit.


And for lots of wonderful poetry, don’t miss the Poetry Friday Roundup with poetry sister Tanita!


19 Responses

  1. I’ve started having my students write a poetry action about a book they are reading. Your camping bear story was great. I’ve only seen a bear once in the wild in Glacier National Park.

  2. Sorry for the feeling bad, Laura, but I sure love your memory of that incredible scene, bears “slick with bacon grease”. There are so many warnings here about food and bears that I am amazed they simply took the food and ambled on. Your poem captured it, bears parading — ha! I have so many memories of hiking with family and students, one fun one with a moose that kept us very still for about 15 minutes! I hope you get well quickly!

  3. Laura, your post was mesmerizing. I loved reading the whole backstory about your encounter with bears. Then your poem was the sweet icing on the cake, especially those last few lines–to the bears, just an everyday dinner and then what it seemed like to a young girl. People will have fun with this one. I hope you are all healed up of your “exhausted mess” very soon.

  4. Hope you’re feeling better soon, Laura. I loved hearing the story about the bears. “snouts thick with bacon grease” is a great line. Sorry I didn’t make it to your launch event. Something came up that took me away from home. Wishing you much success with Oskar.

  5. What a memory! I especially enjoyed the list in the last stanza of the poem… “a wildness” is a fabulous phrase.

  6. What a story! I once saw two cubs in a tree as we rode through Shenandoah National Park, but no Mother visible. It is exciting to see a bear but I’d be more than excited, terrified to see them on the march. 🙂

  7. YIIIIKES.That would have been quite a day!! But, how cool! And I love the observational tone of the poem of the end. “For them, dinner. For us… -” all of these things, which walk the reader back from the moment of chaos, fear, wonder, to the distancing effect of going home, leaving the woods, and the passing years. That would be such a fun one to discuss with a group of kids, and get them to start processing their own thoughts on incidents that stick out to them now, and how they may envision them in years to come.

  8. It is a gift to see wild animals — and how raw and undistracted they are when food is involved! A great Smoky Mtn memory! Looking forward to reading OSKAR’S VOYAGE!

  9. I have to laugh about the bears parading every night. They must hope that the humans never learn. I like how the bears melt back into the woods, goal slickly accomplished. Hope you’re feeling better soon!

  10. “snouts slick with bacon grease” — such an amazing visual (and I can smell it). 🙂 We saw a few bears when we were hiking in Shenandoah National Park. We also saw a mama bear and her cub crossing over the road on that same trip. They are so HUGE!

  11. Laura, I’m sorry you’re not feeling well, and I hope you get better soon. Wow, what an amazing parade of bears story and poem! Your opening lines in your poem “Hickory smoke and meat smells/called the bears from the woods” hooked me. It’s clever and a great effect how use the word “called.” I think that’s an example of juxtaposition. And the K sound in called is the third K sound.

    I adore “They paraded through camp…” In this stanza, I clearly see and hear your images. In the next stanza I like how you used the word “melted” and “their snouts slick with bacon grease” is my other favorite line. I love how you personalize the last stanza and your use of contrasts that flow down the poem into an amazing memory. Thank you for sharing your memory, your poem, and your inspiration. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Gail! I love hearing your insights into the poetic techniques that create an effect that resonates with you <3

      1. You’re welcome. When I was fifteen my friend and me rode in a four-seat airplane with her neighbor to a garbage dump to see black bears. They were way down in the garbage, but I could see how long their claws were! That’s a vivid memory plus, it was cool to have my first ride in an airplane in such a small plane. I told my father about our adventure, and he said, you can’t tell your mother. I said, of course not. All the times I have walked and hiked in woods and mountains I’ve never seen a bear.

        1. Oooh, tiny airplanes terrify me. Hahaha on not telling your mom. When my husband and younger daughter (the daredevil one) would go on extreme rides at the theme park, they wouldn’t tell me til after–thank goodness. Roller coasters–sure. Things where they fling you out into space on bungees–nope!

  12. Your memory was built with “bear hands”, Laura! Wow. I always love your poetryactions! 🙂

  13. I love the contrast between the bears’ nonchalance and the reaction of the humans. What a sight that must have been!
    I’m sorry you’ve been sick and I hope you’re feeling much better very soon!

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