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September 01, 2011 8:39 am

SPORTS GUY: Of birthdays and bears

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Daddy’s Little Princess turned 3 this past week. My how time flies. It seems like only yesterday that I was teaching her how to post up in the lane against her baby brother. Now she’ll be heading off to preschool before I know it.

Can the scholarship offers be far behind? They’d better not be. As I write this, I’m staring at a news story announcing that a year of day care costs more than a year of college tuition in 36 of 50 states.

No wonder she can fix my computer.

In any event, like any good parent, I asked the birthday girl what she wanted to do for her special day. She responded that she wanted to go see buffalo — she calls them bison-lo — and snowmen.

In most of the country, a late-August request like this would be a sure-fire recipe for birthday disappointment. Fortunately, I didn’t move my clan to just any little part of the country.

By mid-afternoon, we’d been up to the high country of the Beartooth Wilderness, left a couple snowmen on a remote lingering field of white and ventured into Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley, where the little one gleefully munched on a birthday cookie while watching a couple hundred of her requested party guests grazing contentedly in the meadow below our vantage point.

This is the kind of simple joy that life in this part of the country can routinely furnish.

I feel the need to provide that reminder since, listening to the national media the last few days, it seems the perception of our little corner of the world has once against transformed into one where we’re all under siege with mankilling ravenous bears lurking behind every bush. Step out of your house folks and you’re stepping into the buffet line. As dinner.

Thank goodness Hurricane Irene had the East Coast distracted or we’d really be hearing it. Can another shock piece from Men’s Journal be all that far behind?

For everybody’s peace of mind and in the hope that I may still be able to convince my ursine-skittish in-laws to move to Powell, can I simply say enough, already?

Yes, a man died as the result of a bear in Yellowstone. Yes, that’s tragic news. Nobody’s visit to paradise should end in such a fashion.

But let’s keep it in perspective. Last week’s death was only the seventh bear-related fatality in Yellowstone’s history — possibly the eighth if we’re to believe the unconfirmed 1907 tale of a man being mauled to death by Mama Griz after poking one of her cubs with the tip of an umbrella.

And can I just say that, even if it isn’t true, it should be?

Seven confirmed fatalities. That’s it. Even with this year’s two maulings, we’re talking one death every two decades. Considering how many casual visitors confuse “stay 100 yards away from bears” with “feel free to set common sense aside and stick your camera up the nose of Yogi and his friends” in any given summer, that’s really a shockingly low number.

From a mathematical standpoint, your odds of being involved in a fatal traffic accident while driving to and from the park dwarf the chances that you’ll fall victim to a bear once there. I know, I’m probably preaching to a choir of locals here, but someone has to speak up for sanity’s sake.

Autumn is just around the corner and is one of the most magical seasons you’ll find in Yellowstone. As the crowds shrink and those golden colors start to descend upon the landscape, it’s a great time to get out and enjoy the park and the outdoors.

Yes, the bears will be there. Yes, they’ll be a tad more cantankerous as they hunt for food and attempt to get as fat as possible. Hey, it’s football season, can you blame them?

Be aware. Make noise. Carry pepper spray and hike in groups if you wander off the highway. Do all that, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t have a safe, memorable and enjoyable fall experience.

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