Jason Lawrence Bell
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06-29-19 Unit Bear


‘How long will the delay keep us here?’ Asked the camp counselor. The counselor was in charge of the special-needs grade-schoolers at Camp Stevens. They had just begun to return back from a 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 was their home and visitors like the camp attendants must honor their rights. So, the troupe of kids and their leader would have to wait.

There were five kids who made up the special-needs group. The kids knew each other very well since they all have spent their summers together while they were in pre-school. They shared the same cabin, meals and all activities. The counselor called them ‘the unit’ because they functioned 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 especially 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 had 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 counselors avoided the Unit, but Darryl always chose 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 was now clear. He moved his Jeep to allow the group to pass. Darryl led 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 woke up. The cub was surprised but very curious. He sniffed the Units and they mostly didn’t touch him, except 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 in 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 Darryl was also watching 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 and said that the cub was a lot like him. The group was so comfortable with the cub, that they eventually just sat in a circle leaning on each other and quietly cuddled in contentment.

Eventually, 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 the mother and cub left the path and disappeared into the trees. The kids stood up and joined Darryl. Darryl said, ‘that was incredible.’ Then 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. But 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 nodded their heads in agreement. Peace***