"We like camping better!" --Raymond Alexander Kukkee

view of the north shore Critter Pond, KOA Canandaigua NY [c] 2009 jcb

Debunking Blueberries for Sal (Of Bears and Camping)

by Grace Alexander guest columnist

[Editor's note - Grace is a full-time freelance author and editor.
Her new column is exclusive to Just Camping Out]

Grace Alexander, columnist for Just Camping Out
In case you don't remember me, I'm the one who hates camping. Today, I am listing another of my objections to this strange tradition. That would be bears. Unfortunately, when it comes to camping out, bears are the rats of the campground - pesky, fearless and eager to sneak the crumbs…only in this case, the crumbs can mean the entire contents of the garbage, the cooler, or possibly your tent.

Don't give me that Blueberries for Sal propaganda. Why would a bear be content with a few berries when it could feast on blueberry-fattened human? In my opinion, Blueberries for Sal should be on the banned books list as it can lull people into a false sense of security.

For those of you who haven't read the delightful but erroneous book by Robert McCloskey, the story line runs something like this - Sal and her mom go to pick blueberries on Blueberry Hill. They become separated and Sal ends up following Momma Bear, while Baby Bear trails along after Sal's mother.

They cheerfully tromp along eating blueberries all 'round, then parents and progeny reunite happily. THIS IS RIDICULOUS. I am afraid this book may have caused countless bear encounters to go horribly wrong.

I humbly present the HOW TO DEAL WITH BEARS WHEN CAMPING checklist, annotated by myself for clarity and reader usability. I have carefully researched the key points from several Game and Fish Department bear safety guides, combined them with my common sense as a mother, and sincerely hope this post will serve to undo some of the damage inflicted by Blueberries for Sal.

Hang food and garbage out of reach. Never intentionally feed wildlife. (OK, I don't think Sal's mother was intentionally feeding the baby bear, he was more like sneaking berries out of her pail and she thought it was Sal, but still….)

Store all food, toiletries and other scented items well away from sleeping areas and unavailable to bears. (The illustrations show Sal's mom all dressed up and what do you bet she had perfume on. And who wears a skirt hiking?)

Walk or jog in groups. Pay attention to your surroundings when hiking, jogging or bicycling. Supervise your children and keep them in sight. (Well there's the main problem right there. Obviously Sal's mom never read ANY bear safety literature - and living in Maine, too!)

If you are confronted by a bear don't run. Stay calm, continue facing it, and slowly back away. (OK, Sal's mom gets Kudos here. She did manage to stay reasonable calm - eerily calm in fact, considering it only should have taken a little logic to figure out that if she had the bear's cub, Momma Bear probably had hers…)

Try to make yourself look as big and imposing as possible; put young children on your shoulders. (This is an ACTUAL TIP from the Arizona Game Department - it goes on to say make as much noise as possible. I'm sure the screaming from the child about to be eaten first would do wonders to scare the bear away.)

Finally, my favorite 'bear encounter tip' of all time - Remember, you can't outrun a bear. However, if you can outrun the other guy, you should be OK. If you can use him as a springboard to get up into the tree, that's good too.

Hopefully these tips will serve to make people realize that a merry day picking blueberries with the bears JUST AIN'T GONNA HAPPEN.

Remember the bear guy? Swore up and down you just needed to try and UNDERSTAND the bears, and what happened to him? GOT ATE BY A BEAR. (What's worse, he took his girlfriend down with him. Now, that was just plain wrong.) I bet he read Blueberries for Sal as a kid.

Copyright 2008, all rights reserved - Grace Alexander for Just Camping Out

Read Grace's Profile on Helium.com

Personally, I love blueberries. On the other hand, bears scare me, though they are indeed adorable from a distance. I've never seen one near our local campgrounds, but you never know. Bears are sneaky. I'd better read the book, just to be safe. Maybe someday I can convince Grace that camping can be good fun. We'll leave the blueberries at home. ~Jim


  1. Gives one something to think about if they go out blueberry picking. However, where I pick blueberries, I don't have that problem... the local supermarket. Although last time I was there, I was being followed and they were kind of hairy... Molly

  2. Anonymous12:07 PM

    Umm... are you being tongue-in-cheek? If you are, then disregard this. But if you're serious, um, well, children's stories are children's stories and nothing more.

    By the way, climbing trees to escape bears doesn't always work. And, although you aren't supposed to run, I agree with the author Bill Bryson. He says you should run since it will give you something to do with the remaining 15 seconds of your life. :)