During the winter of ‘93 or ‘94--the year isn’t as important as the event-
-perhaps a dozen people lived on the farm. Some lived in our large community house located near the road; other stayed in spartan old cabins on the sprawling forty acre community farm. It was a cold, dark January night. Many of the farm’s inhabitants sat huddled around the wood-burning stove in the drafty community house. Matteo, the land owner, sat closest to the stove, eating rice and yogurt from a wok, engaged in idle chit chat with his friend Baxter over the day’s events, while listening to an old radio that sat on a nearby shelf. The antenna of the radio had been snapped off, and a mangled coat hanger now provided reception.
The radio was tuned to National Public Radio, the reception fading in
and out as the wind howled outside. Garrison Keiler’s “A Prairie Home Companion” was interrupted with an emergency message. A series of highpitched warning tones proceeded the announcement. All eyes in the kitchen suddenly lay fixed on the radio, waiting. Was it a nuclear missile strike? Had the president plunged us into another war? The community waited in anxious anticipation.
A bear was on the lose, came the announcement in grave tones. Al-
though black bears are indigenous to the Adirondacks, this was no ordinary black bear, said the voice on the radio. An eighteen hundred pound Kodiac bear had mauled its trainers at a travelling circus that had been performing a few scant miles from the community farm. The bear, the annoucment said, had wounded its trainers and escaped in the direction of Fish House Road. The community farm was located on Fish House Road, a sprawling six mile stretch of paved ground that connected the nearest highway to the Great Sacandaga Lake. Local residents were advised to monitor the radio for updates on the situation.
Pamela, a woman in her forties at the time, was generally upset about
some thing or the other. She was one of those people who was upset before she arrived at the farm, and was even more upset during her stay at the farm, but refused to leave. On that evening, though, she had reason to be upset: she feared for her life. The mere thought of being mauled to death by a bear gripped her like a sudden cramp. Her fears escalated when, a few minutes later, the announcer again interrupted the local radio broadcast with an update on the escaped bear. Local authorities had been unable to contain or capture the bear; confirmed sightings had placed the bear on Fish House road, where it was spotted moving north toward the lake in
the general direction of the farm. Nearby residents were urged to remain indoors, and report any suspicious bear activities to local authorities.
“What are we going to do?” Pamela shrieked. Daniel Weinstein, a Jew who fancied Pamela, urged her to remain calm,
for the crisis was not yet critical. There was no reason to believe that the escaped bear would ever reach the farm. Suggestions were tossed around. Some suggested placing barricades at all doors and windows. Others suggested shutting off the lights and radio. Although a general sense of panic had struck the kitchen on that fateful night, a few people continued to listen to the broadcast with measured calm. The reports continued to trickle in: a sheriff ’s deputy, the report said, had been mortally wounded when he confronted the bear along Fish House road. The voice on the radio then stated that the sheriff ’s department sought both state and federal assistance. A capture or kill order was issued on the bear.
Local residents were again advised to remain indoors for their own
safety. They were urged to not take matters into their own hands. This bear said the voice on the radio, quoting an urgent bulletin issued by the sheriff ’s department, was a potential killer on the lose. All residents were at risk. Safety, at this time, could not be guaranteed. The bear had already wounded and maimed three people. Bear sightings multiplied exponentially. According to the radio, the bear was seen at the south end of Fish House Road, then the north. It was hard to disseminate which reports might be accurate from random false reports being phoned in from panic stricken residents who heard a rumbling in their trash cans and mistook a raccoon or a skunk for an eighteen hundred pound Kodiac bear.
One thing was certain. There was a clear and present danger to the
residents of Fish House Road, including those at the farm. An hour had passed since the bear was first spotted on Fish House Road, and in that time the bear could have easily travelled the three and half miles to the Farm. A confirmed report placed the bear less than a mile from the community farm, where everyone, waiting with baited breath, still sat in the kitchen and listened to the broadcast. Then came an announcement that shocked even those who had remained calm through the escalating crisis. A representative for the state police had an urgent and dire suggestion:
“ t this point we encourage residents of Fish House road to leave pets and livestock outdoors in an attempt to appease the bear. May he be merciful.”
Charles was a tall, thin, hippy of about twenty-three years old who lived
at the farm. On hearing the announcement, he suddenly expressed concern for the safety of his two outdoor cats. He dashed out the door into the darkness. He hoped to rescue his cats before locking himself in his cabin for the duration of the crisis.
“Someone should go check on him,” someone suggested. Eight pair of eyes looked at each other for answers. One by one, the remaining residents in the kitchen said “not me.” No one would venture out and risk becoming feed for a hungry, angry bear. A suggestion was put forth: straws should be drawn, and the person who drew the shortest straw would be compelled check on the safety of Charles and his cats. Still, no one was willing to risk life and limb. After all, for all they knew, the
bear could have been lurking right outside the house, quietly and patiently waiting for its next evening meal.
The kitchen radio continued to provide updates. Since local and state
authorities had been unable to contain, capture or kill the bear, the governor had enlisted the aid of the National Guard in hopes of ending the crisis before it escalated any further. Every resource possible would be made available. A radio interview was conducted with General H. Norman Schwartzkopf, famed military leader and former commander-in-chief of coalition forces during the Persian Gulf War. During the interview, General Schwartzkopf reminded citizens to remain vigilant, but also emphasized that no civilian should make any attempt to engage the bear. This was now n the hands of trained professionals, he said. An expert on tactics, he compared the power of the bear to military hardware:
â€œThis opponent is not to be trifled with. Pound for pound, the Kodiac
bear is equal in strength to an armored battalion.â€?
In the kitchen, Matteo finally fished his rice and yogurt. Thomas the
Chinese guy and his girlfriend, Cindy, panicked. They were ready to pack any immediate belongings and flee the farm. The situation, they said, was dire. If anything happened to them, Matteo would be blamed. Pamela nodded in agreement. Others said that any potential loss of life could have been averted if Matteo had properly secured the farm. Shane, the artisan, and his girlfriend, Kitty, seconded the notion. Matteo had potentially jeopardized lives while calmly eating his rice and yogurt while pandemonium reigned on Fish House Road. For all anyone knew, Charles and his cats were dead and eaten. The majority agreed that Matteo was liable for any future injury or damage to property.
It was only then, two hours after the bear’s escape, that Danny The Jew
began to look at the radio with suspicious eyes. Something, he said, wasn’t right. The voice of the radio seemed familiar, too familiar. “It’s you!” said Danny the Jew, and pointed a finger at long time farm member Michael Baxter. But how? After all, Baxter had been sitting quietly at the stove since the ordeal began. He hadn’t moved. He certainly was no ventriloquist. He might have altered the tone and pitch of his voice, but he was no magician. Danny, though, had a keen mind for a Jew. The pieces of the puzzle fit together. There was no bear, the entire event some elaborate hoax. He understood what had happened, he just didn’t understand how. People in the kitchen demanded answers, and now knowing the charade had run its course, Michael and Matteo laid out the form of the story they’d devised.
Matteo knew that--by calling a community meeting--the majority, if
not all, of residents would be in the kitchen that evening. It was the perfect opportunity to confront Matteo about some perceived grievance. No one dared miss such an opportunity. Safe in the belief they’d have a full audience, Matteo and Baxter hatched their plan.
They used an old casette player to record a typical evening’s broadcast
from National public radio, and then strategically injected their own fiction into select parts of the broadcast. The final piece of the puzzle was an old party microphone that Baxter had found on the farm. It was one of those 80’s microphones that broadcast a weak signal to an A.M. radio station. Then they tuned the radio to a vacant frequency. With the cast of characters assembled, Baxter ducked into the living room for a moment, set the microphone atop the cassette recorder, and pressed play.
With the truth revealed, tempers flared. This was an outrage marked
with irresponsible and reprehensible behavior. People threatened to leave the farm, vowing never to return. Some, once the initial shock had passed, laughed at the event, amazed that theyâ€™d fallen for such a hoax.
The story of Teddy the Kodiac bear is still told today. When people-
-who were not present at the time--hear the tale of the escaped bear, they insist, without exception, that they would not have fallen for the hoax. They believe that the cast of characters who lived on the farm during that winter must have been fools and idiots.
I believe otherwise. Human beings, even when faced with the absurd,
even when confronted with contradicting evidence, tend to accept the voice of authority, which in this case was an old clock radio sitting on a shelf. Most people trust the voices and the pictures they hear on the radio and see on television. If they canâ€™t trust the voice of authority, who can they trust? Who can they believe? After all, the majority of Americans believed Barrack Obama, twice. And if they believe him.....they will believe anything.
A sample story from our soon to be released first issue of The Scented Flower