Jason Lawrence Bell
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06-29-19.                AUDIO AVAILABLE SOON

‘How long will the delay keep us here?’ Asked the camp counselor. He is in charge of the special-needs grade-schoolers at Camp Stevens, and they have just begun to return back from the day trip, when they were stopped. A forest ranger and his large Jeep were blocking the path along the hiking trail. Apparently, a family of bears have taken over a portion of the trail and were sleeping soundly. The policy of the mountain reserve was to allow the animals first access to any reserve area they wanted. This is their home and visitors like the camp attendants were to honor their rights. So, the troupe of kids and their leader must wait.

There were five kids who make up the special-needs group. They know each other very well since they all have spent their summers together since they were in pre-school. They share the same cabin, meals and all activities. The councilor calls them ‘the unit’ because they function best as a group. Once one of them was sick for a couple of days and the remaining group wouldn’t leave the cabin, until the sick one could leave with them.

And they liked to call themselves ‘the unit’. Each wanted to be called it. Like ‘Unit Billy’, or ‘Unit Kayla’. Unit Kayla was a voluntary mute, who never spoke but had an amazing ability to calm the others, by just placing her hand on their cheek. Unit Billy was probably the member who needed the most calming. He had ADHD and when he got excited, he could lose control, but Unit Kayla would immediately calm him down. Unit Bobby was autistic and spoke only when needed. His emotions were flat, but his big blue eyes saw everything and he had total recall. Unit Becky has Downs Syndrome and was the heart of the group. She was very verbal and confident and covered the others in love. Often, they resisted her hugs and kisses, but they still had big smiles on their faces when they told her to stop. The last was Unit Sky. He was also autistic, but his distinction was he spoke in rhythms. Like when he introduced himself. ‘Hi I’m Sky, it’s where you fly, it’s where the clouds, float soft and proud.’

This was an unusual but wonderful group. Most of the camp councilors avoided the Unit, but Darryl always choose them as his group. He loved them and enjoyed what they brought to the camp activities. The ranger received a message over his mountain phone that the path is now clear. He moved his Jeep to allow the group to pass. Darryl lead the group down the path. About a quarter of a mile down, Darryl noticed the kids had stopped following. They were back standing on the side of the path looking intensely at something. When he got near, he could see they had found a sleeping cub bear. Unit Becky was petting the cub as it awoke up. The cub was surprised but very curious. He sniffed the Units and they mostly didn’t touch him, accept Unit Becky. The cub rolled over and Becky rubbed his tummy. All the kids sat on the ground around the club and watched with fascination.

Darryl tried to stay calm, but he was really freaking out inside. He knew the mother bear would come back soon and would aggressively protect her cub. So, he softly told the kids that they must leave before the mother comes back. But it was too late.

There on the trail about twenty feet away was the mother looking worried. Darryl demanded that the kids walk away NOW. Unit Kayla stood up and raised her hand in the air. This seemed to calm the mother bear a little and Darryl just stood there unable to decide what to do. Then the cub started walking to the mother and Unit Sky took Darryl by the hand and started to lead him away from the group the other direction from the mother. Then Unit Sky spoke. ‘Please make space, equal to the mothers place, then all is well, and everyone’s safe.’ He walked Darryl to the same distance as the mother on the other side of the group. The cub bear was back with the mother and she was licking him.

But then the cub started walking back to the group as the mother watched intensely. And the councilor also watched anxiously. Now the cub was back with group and they happily sat down on the path together.

Darryl and the mother bear were fixed on each other. Darryl took a step toward the group; the mother immediately took a step forward. Seeing that, Darryl took a step back and the mother took a step back. Eventually Darryl sat down on the path and the mother bear relaxed and laid down. But they both wouldn’t stop watching each other.

The kids and the cub were in their own world. The cub loved Unit Becky’s tummy rub. Unit Bobby who usually didn’t like to be touched, laughter and giggled, when the cub licked his face. Unit Billy was getting too existed, so Unit Kayla calmed him with her hand on his cheek. The cub saw this and wanted Kayla’s hand on his face. Kayla gladly put her hand on the side of his nose and the club looked happy. Unit Billy smiled broadly that the cub was like him. The group was so comfortable with the cub, that they eventually just sat in a circle leaning on each other and quietly sitting in contentment.

Then the cub stood up and walked back to the mother as the Unit watched. The mother and Darryl took one long last look at each other, then mother and cub left the path and disappeared in the trees. The kids stood up and joined Darryl. Darryl said, ‘that was incredible.’ The Unit Sky spoke, ‘what we saw was cool and rare, now we have a Unit Bear.’ The whole group shouted, ‘Yes Unit Bear’. And they laughed and giggled. Darryl still had a big concern. If the camp knew he allowed the kids to play with a cub, they would probably fire him. So, he said, ‘hey, Units, I think it best if we keep this bear adventure to just yourselves. The other camp people won’t understand.’ Then Unit Becky whispered to the others. ‘What happens on the path, stays on the path’. The others shouted in agreement. Peace