In our own backyard...Great gifts come in small packagesThere’s one gift I received this holiday season that was as unique as it was unexpected.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
It’s interesting to ponder the many types of gifts that are given at Christmastime. One has only to peruse the advertisements in the newspapers or on television to see the far reaching range of things being touted as “the perfect Christmas gift” this season.
Jewelers would have you believe that if you give the woman in your life a diamond or other precious jewel, you are likely to receive a kiss (and possibly more!) in return.
Toy dealers, on the other hand, hook you in with scenes of small children sitting happily in the living room on Christmas morning, surrounded by stacks of brightly wrapped gifts as they beamingly rip open the latest version of Xbox under the tree.
Car dealers create an idyllic holiday scene with a brand, new luxury car parked out in the driveway wrapped in a giant red bow.
And while all of these gifts are special in their own way, there’s one gift I received this holiday season that was as unique as it was unexpected.
Cloquet friends Glenn and Nancy Krause have a summer cabin in Ely, and they are part of the bear research project that tracks collared bears from season to season. Ken and I have been to visit the Krauses’ cabin a couple of summers to watch the bears come into the yard of their cabin with their cubs to grab a few quick bites of food. We marveled as Nancy switched out the adult bears’ special radio collars, and I’ve snapped many, many photos of the bears as they roamed about their yard and eventually disappeared into the surrounding wilderness.
Last summer, however, we didn’t make it up to Ely and we missed our annual visit to the Krauses’ cabin and the bears. When Glenn called me at the office a few weeks ago to visit, I asked about how all of the bears fared over the summer and if there was anything new in their research project. He updated me on the status of old favorites such as Cookie and Shannon, and we commiserated over the shooting death of the well-known and well-loved cub, Hope, during this fall’s bear hunting season.
After we said goodbye, the phone rang again after a few minutes and it was Glenn calling back to tell me he’d completely forgotten to tell me the most important news of all – that they’d named one of last spring’s new bear cubs after me! He explained that the cub’s mother, Donna, had given birth to triplets this year, and since the researchers try to stick some sort of particular theme when naming sibling cubs, they’d decided to go with names that began with the letter W. They came up with Willow, Wiggens – and Wendy!
I was speechless. First of all, I’ve never had anything named after me, and secondly, you just don’t hear the name Wendy all that often except, of course, in the story of Peter Pan.
The Krauses related that Donna and her cubs disappeared for a heart-wrenching period of time this fall just as hunting season was getting under way, and they could no longer hear her radio blip on their receiver. Several anxious days passed before she was finally located, healthy and happy and with her little family intact. They reported that the cubs were fat and roly-poly as they went into hibernation, adding that they hoped we would be able to come up and see them next spring following hibernation, when the bear family was still intact, so we could “meet” Wendy and her siblings.
As we hung up the phone, I sat there and pondered the startling news that I now had a bear cub as my namesake.
I suppose it is a bit of an ego trip, but I was truly tickled to think of a bear cub with my name roaming the Minnesota north woods with her family, splashing through creeks, playing hide and seek with her brother and sister, scampering up and down the big white pines and occasionally visiting the Krauses’ cabin for a special treat. These bears are wild, and they are left to roam as wild bears, but through patience and caring, they grant their human counterparts just enough trust to collar them so their movements and activities can be tracked and recorded. It’s an amazing gift to both bears and mankind, and the Krauses are proud to be a part of it.
When Glenn and Nancy came to see me during this week’s Pine Journal Christmas open house, they came bearing a photo of the little family of bear cubs. Willow, a petite little female, was in the background, overshadowed by her much bigger, burlier brother, Wiggens, in the foreground. And right between them sat the third little bear, Wendy– not too big, not too small, just right. I felt a flush of pride, because even though I cannot lay claim to this magnificent wild creature in any way, shape or form, just having her bear my name was one of the best gifts of all.