And Now a Word from Our Sponsor, Mutual of Omaha!

May 5, 2011 § 4 Comments

Remember Marlin Perkins? His Zoo Parade (’52-’57) and Wild Kingdom (’62-’88) TV shows invited us into his domain at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago and introduced us to a plethora of animals, birds, and reptiles from around the world.

Marlin Perkins and Friend

We learned about lions and tigers and bears! (Oh my!). We’d oo and ah at the sight of each baby gorilla, or llama, or macaw, as we learned about habitats, eating habits, and preservation.

Through the years, as we camped in state and national parks, we looked for the birds and animals the rangers said we might see – we never missed the “ranger-talk-around-the-campfire-evenings wherever we camped.

In 1959 we Summers moved from Fort Worth, TX to Louisville, KY and switched our allegiance from the Rockies back to the Smoky Mountains – site of our first foray into the world of cross-country road trips (see post: “A Song for the Open Road”). We did see American Black Bear on that trip, though not many, and we didn’t camp, just took picnics along the babbling brooks filled with the coldest water we’d ever stuck toes into.

The first summer we ventured forth to camp in those venerable mountains, we chose the Chimneys Campground (now a picnic-only area), and found a great spot near the mountain side (and not far from the bathhouse!). After unloading the cooking paraphernalia, David  and Dad put up the tent, Sarah and I helped unload the bedrolls (not cots!) and Mom got started putting out the picnic spread for lunch.


What was that?

Black Bear

We looked up the side of the mountain to see a Black Bear walking toward us. David and Dad gave him a wide path, which he took with ease as he headed straight for the food.

Mom and Sarah ran for the car, but I sat on the table – I wasn’t about to let this intruder eat our lunch! Besides, all the rangers said not to feed the bears! I just knew that bologna and potato chips would not be good for him!

He sniffed and I said “shoo”, or some other inane thing, and then – miracle of miracles – he walked past the table and down to the road, making his way to the large trashcans standing on the other side.

“One Black Bear,” I said, writing the ‘find’ down in our “Animals seen” list.

The following summer we again pitched our canvas and tarps at the Chimneys Campground. But this time we had a camping spot nearer to the Little Pigeon River. There’s really nothing quite like bedding down inside a tent in a warm sleeping bag (a new purchase) and falling asleep with the sound of roiling river rapids just beyond the boulders.

Dad’s job first thing in the morning was to get the fire started and make the coffee. Then he called Mom, who by that time would be dressed (and I mean a dress, hose and medium-heeled shoes – Mother didn’t wear slacks or shorts). She would then immerge from the tent to finish our traditional campout breakfast – scrambled eggs and bacon (Thank you Coleman for the two-burner stove!), with toast or biscuits (we had a camping “reflector oven” next to the campfire that did a nice job!). Some mornings we even had pancakes. We were old hands by this time.

One morning, I left the tent in my sleeping attire – jeans and hooded sweatshirt – donned my tube socks and tennies, and sat in the car to put on my make-up and comb my hair – I never went anywhere in those days without makeup, even mountain climbing!

I looked up just in time to see Dad turning from the stove to call Mom for her duty and startle a Black Bear as he trekked through camp – between the stove and the tent door. Dad nearly toppled the stove, I yelled “Watch out!” That bear, who had nearly turned into the tent in fright, got another scare when Mom yelled, too, and quickly scampered out of there.

By the next season the rangers had installed bear-proof trashcan lids and fun-with-bears was no more. We did spot them occasionally, but we understood. A bologna-and-potato-chip diet wasn’t good for bears – I’d known that all along!

Grand Teton National Park

Skip forward now to 1977. Sarah and I drove up to Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Parks – my last American vacation for some time as I was soon heading for Brazil – and spent two weeks spotting birds and mammals in the wilds – and not a few tourists, too, I might add.

By the time we checked into the Old Faithful Lodge (no camping that trip) we had checked off moose, beaver, big horn sheep, coyote and countless elk. We’d even seen a young Black Bear running for his life with about fifty tourist and cameras following close behind! But we had yet to see buffalo.

Then, we spotted them – three, no four buffalo grazing in Haden Valley, just where the ranger had said they would be.

Buffalo in Yellowstone

I knew that even with a telephoto lens I couldn’t get a good picture – and I wanted a good picture! So off we went, across the field. I led the way, keeping an eye on the buffalo and looking around for any others that might be lurking. As we walked in single file through the tall grass, we talked to each other in hushed voices. Then for a while we were quiet. All I could hear were chirping birds and a light wind in the grasses.

And then Sarah’s voice came softly to my ears – “And now a word from our sponsor, Mutual of Omaha.” Marlin Perkins had taught us well!

Note: These are not my photos, unfortunately. My thanks to the National Parks’ web sites for so many wonderful photos from which to choose!


§ 4 Responses to And Now a Word from Our Sponsor, Mutual of Omaha!

  • My daughter grew up from ages 2-8 aboard a boat in The Keys. We spent most of our free time in the water snorkeling, diving, collecting specimens for the tanks we kept. Her catch phrase was, “Next time, on Nova…”

    • A, I love Nova! And now there’s Animal Planet and National Geographic chanels – what Marlin started all those years ago!

      BTW, I just realized that I left a chunk of story out – how, I could not tell you! I fixed it! You might want to read it again!


  • Your post brought back memories of watching Marlin Perkins’ Wild Kingdom at my grandparents’ home on Sunday evenings. And your encounters with the black bear made me smile! Reminds me of our years living in the wilds of northwestern New Jersey and northeastern Pennsylvania. No matter how many times we’d spotted a bear, in our yard or in the fields or on a hike, we always were impressed with its beauty and size “close up and personal”.

  • Donna Beard says:

    Mary Lois, Once again you have brought back special memories. Our family loved Wild Kingdom. At one time we upgraded our TV selections in order to get Animal Planet. We are in the state of Washington right now. We camped at Wenatchee State park and heard birds that we did not recognize. Next we camped (RV camping nowadays) at Dry Falls, a 20,000 thousand year old channeled scablands where the falls were ten times larger than Niagara at one time. It is located just a hop, skip and a jump from Grand Coulee Dam where we saw the biggest marmots we have ever seen.
    At night we heard the yip-yip-yip yiiiiip of a coyote. Soon we will be back in Florida where birds of a different feather will be heard. Your mention of ice cold water on your camping ventures also brought back vivid memories. Keep on writing. I love to read about your great trips.

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