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Laura: It was around 6 p.m. when Sabrina, Barry and I decided to take an evening stroll in the woods near our cabins, where we are staying this week for the Defector work retreat. It was cold and wet. 

Sabrina: The sky was vaguely gray because it had been raining, making everything a little darker and hard to see, which felt appropriate for October but bad for visibility. We thought maybe we could see some cool birds, or maybe a chipmunk.

Barry: We saw deer! I was so excited. I am a city boy. This week was the first time in… years that I was inside a car that wasn’t a taxi.

Laura: Wow. We also saw a perfectly round little red-capped mushroom that looked like something out of a fairytale. I learned later it is called Russula emetica and it WILL give you diarrhea if you eat it, which I did not. 

Sabrina: We also saw a dead tree that had fallen directly into the Y-shaped cleft of another dead tree, and together we mused on how something like this could have happened. Had the tree fallen? Was it placed?

Barry: It was a nice walk! We skipped stones. We crossed a little bridge. We were eager to check out this fire pit that we’re going to be using later in the week. And then Sabrina said, “Is that a bear?”

Sabrina: When I asked that question, I actually already knew the answer, which was that it was a bear. The bear was a black bear, and it was large, and it was standing squarely in the middle of the path we were following to the fire pit. But I asked the question because it felt like a gentle, non-alarmist way of delivering the news that we were about to encounter a bear.

Barry: Thank you for non-alarming me, gently. Also for your bear-identification skills. This is what we hired you for.

Laura: Yeah, I did not actually feel alarmed? Though when it picked up its head and clearly saw us, my heart started beating a little faster. It was like 30 yards away. 

Maitreyi: Maybe because I didn’t have Sabrina’s gentle news delivery, I felt alarmed. Around the same time as you all—I remember checking the time the sun would set at my cabin and figuring that I had a good half-hour or so to explore the nature trails and orient myself—I encountered bears, plural. 

Barry: Yeah, let’s bring Maitreyi into this. My immediate instinct was to grab a big stick. Laura’s and Sabrina’s immediate instinct was to photograph the bear then go into Slack to inform everyone that there was a bear. That’s how we learned that Maitreyi had seen one (actually several), on her own, minutes before. Later on, comparing our sightings and a trail map, we figured out it was almost certainly the same one, approached from opposite sides of the trail.

Laura: I have to say it was not immediate. We had decided the best course of action was to back away slowly and once we were out of bear range, I put the news in Slack. 

Sabrina: Before we started backing away, when we were all holding eye contact with the bear, I have to say it was thrilling. It felt like the four of us, Barry, Laura, Me, and the Bear, were the only things alive in the world. But then I realized I have none of the knowledge about what to do when encountering a bear. The bear appeared to be foraging, perhaps for insects or berries, because black bears are omnivores.

Maitreyi: I’d never seen a bear in the wild before. I know very little about bears—only a few types: black, grizzly, panda, polar. It definitely was a black bear. Some of my outdoorsy friends have told me about bear encounters while camping and what they had to do. I couldn’t remember whether the best course of action is to stand perfectly still or to make a lot of noise.

Barry: I remember us having a conversation about what we were supposed to do. “Are we supposed to look big and yell? That’s what we’re supposed to do, right?” We didn’t do that but mostly stood still for a while, seeing what the bear would do, and when it showed no signs of moving we backed away while maintaining eye contact.

Laura: I’ve been watching a lot of Alone so I kept thinking, “Oh my god, this is like Alone.” 

Sabrina: I did not want to get into a situation where we would have to yell at the bear, even though it may have been the safest thing to do, because it felt very rude for us to intrude upon the bear’s neighborhood and then start screaming at them while they were merely on a walk, like us.

Laura: The fact that the bear looked at us and then went back to doing its thing, while we stood there observing it and talking about how cool it was, felt like a gift. It was just standing there! It was so big! Bear was ready for hibernation. 

Barry: We later learned from Maitreyi that there was a very good reason the bear wasn’t moving.

Maitreyi: The first thing I saw was a mess of fur arranged around a tree and maybe three feet off the ground. On the ground, right next to the fur babies, was a larger bear. I turned around immediately, figuring neither of us wanted anything to do with the other. 

Barry: I don’t know how to put this into words that don’t make me sound simple, but I’m still struck by how much the bear looked like a bear. The thing from the internet! Right there! So fat and furry and large.

Maitreyi: Yeah, it was a no-doubter. 100 percent bear. 

Sabrina: Because my brain is rotted by bits, a thought that kept going through my head while watching the bear was that Beary sounded like Barry and maybe there was a joke there.

Laura: Beary! I was also struck by how it shuffled. Immense body on huge paws, ambling along, sniffing the ground.

Barry: Question, and answer honestly: Were you scared? I would say no, but I would say it in that iffy, drawn-out, half-questioning way that makes it clear that you shouldn’t entirely believe me. “Nooooo…” I was definitely going through scenarios in my head about having to fight it with my bear stick.

Sabrina: I was scared. In the ride over to the retreat, someone in our car had been joking about how if all of us at the retreat died our designated survivors would be Bert and Ray, and then we mused on some spooky ways we could all die, so I would say I had woodsy death on the mind.

Laura: I wouldn’t say I was scared in the moment but as we were walking back to the cabins, I was jumpy and kept looking over my shoulder. The adrenaline kick was a little delayed? Thanks, body. 

Maitreyi: I think I was more uneasy than scared. Looking back, I regret my Abe Simpson–esque wheelaround and wish I had watched the bears for a moment or two longer. 

Laura: Imagine if we had been attacked by a bear on our company retreat lmao 

Barry: Yeah. “Lmao.”

Sabrina: We would posthumously go mega-vi.

Barry: A very special Bear Friday.

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