We just got back from a week at Serene Lakes, two small lakes just west of Donner Summit near Tahoe. At one point we were 13: the four of us, two sisters, one brother, two brothers-in-law, one nephew and three nieces. No Internet access, but a lot of fun.
At Tahoe this summer there has been a record number of bears hit by cars, and an increase in break-ins to cabins--by bears. Most cabins now have bearproof garbage bins, but it's pretty impossible to bearproof a cabin. Last year my sister-in-law and her two kids saw a bear in the middle of the day, just stopped by the side of the road to the lakes. We've also seen bears in the middle of the day on a trail near Lake Tahoe: a mother and two cubs. I admit I did have bears in the back of my mind when my husband and I went out to look at the stars one night. There was no moon, so the night was quite dark and the star-gazing was perfect. The Milky Way glowed in a wide swath across the sky. We could hardly see to stumble down the path to the lake and lie on the air-filled AquaGlide, a massive inflatable raft that we called the RV of the Lake. One red and yellow shooting star burned slowly across the sky like a satellite. We watched more shooting stars for a while, then found our way back to the road and walked a block or so, but it was so dark that we were afraid we'd lose our way back to our cabin if we ventured too far without a flashlight. As we walked through a particularly dark spot in the road, my husband suddenly stopped, then grabbed my arm and started walking backwards. "Did you see it?" he asked me quietly. I saw a flash of green reflecting an animal's eyes about six feet away, and heard a snuffling noise. "Was it a bear?" I asked him. "Well, if it had been a dog, it would have barked," he said. "Maybe it was a deer." "Deer don't snuffle," I said. "It was a bear." A bear at night seemed very different than during the day. At night, they can smell while we are nearly blind. We walked swiftly and quietly back to the cabin. The next day, I walked over to the spot where we sensed--rather than saw--a bear. I don't know what I was expecting to see. Maybe the contents of someone's refrigerator strewn across the road? But all there was to see was this sculpture. We didn't have any bear break-ins--or any other kind of bear encounters--on the trip.