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Banbury Cross

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Post details: Of Bears and Czechs

Of Bears and Czechs

There is an ancient lawyer joke that involves Czechs and bears. I forgot most of its plot, but the bottom line is that some Czech gets eaten by a male bear and when the joke's protagonist inquires about his whereabouts, a lawyer glibly answers: "The Czech's in the male."

Jokes aside, in real life you don't get to see Czechs and bears in the same environment very often. When we were planning the trip to the Rockies, however, we expected to find both. The bears - because the West is their natural habitat, and Czechs ...well ...because Czechs are really everywhere.

When I moved to New Mexico in 1996, my first local sightseeing expedition lead to an overlook over the Rio Grande river. It is not the busiest tourist destination in the world and from a distance I could see that there were only two people standing on its platform. When I approached to within an earshot, I immediately recognized where they were from. You never mistake the intonation of your mother tongue. There was no one else within sight. Only a sprawling desert, the two Czechs and some cactuses on nondescript nationality.

A few years later, I was waiting for my parents at the Auckland International Airport in New Zealand. I didn't expect many Czechs there, what with New Zealand being almost directly on the other side of the globe from Prague. But before my own mother showed up, I heard the snippets of the tongue she once taught me twice from two different sources. Czechs are ubiquitous. No matter where you go, there they are. Consequently, our expectations of running into a band of camera toting Bohemians in an area fraught with fetching destinations were quite high.

They deflated fast. We spent three days combing through Yellowstone, we ran into all sorts of weathered globe-trotters and all sorts of wild things, but at the end came out empty handed on both ends - no Czechs and no bears were readily available for sightings. So we packed up and headed south to the Grand Tetons. Within the span of 60 minutes, both landed on our plate.

We left Yellowstone through the Southern Gate and had to drive on a dirt road for about 5 miles because of a construction. Every now and then a flagman stopped us to let the cars from the opposite direction pass. During one of the stops a mama bear and a cub suddenly emerged from behind a mound of soil on the side and were clearly thinking about crossing the dirt road. I instinctively grabbed for my camera and also strived to roll down the window.

At times like these I usually turn into a spasmodic baboon. I managed to lock and unlock the rental car, side view mirror perplexedly whirred and various windows came down - except for the one through which we ogled the brown furry critters. For the bears themselves, however, my clumsiness must have been too much to bear. They must have sensed that my vividly animated antics had constituted an unfriendly behavior and decided to split before I would inadvertently squirt them with a hearty doze of windshield washer liquid.

A few consolation snapshots later, we are walking down the concrete dike of the Lake Jackson Damn and who do we bump into? A clearly audible group of Czechs. Two guys and two girls in their late twenties strutting jauntily alongside the lake's edge. This time I left my camera alone. I have enough photos of this species and I didn't want to fall into the dam's turbine while attempting to take a picture. We merely engaged in a short conversation and continued our journey south.

After this there were no further encounters of either kind. Nor were there any encounters of the third kind. But here is the strange part: all in all, we spent some 170 hours in the West. That's plenty of time for things to happen. Yet both encounters that we thought would be plentiful and randomly spread out over the whole trip happened within the same hour.

My favorite writer Karel Capek once wrote : "Happenings have a mysterious tendency to clump together". Encounters of Czechs and bears surely do.

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