A True Arkansas Story
In the summer of 2006, my second year at ACT, never did I imagine I would come face to face with one of the largest and most feared predators in the state of Arkansas. To this day, on occasion, I relive the experience in the form of dream and seem to instantly return to this place in time.
As I remember, it was a hot July day. Although common in these parts, a little too steamy for my liking as I originally hail from the North. I was wrapping up my last property before lunch and, as sweat ran down my face, I walked back to my non air-conditioned Ford Ranger pickup truck. My only thought was, water, I need WATER! Lots of #$%^&* WATER! So, as I got back to the truck, I tossed my gear onto the passenger seat and started guzzling water like a weather- worn dog.
After drinking what seemed to be a gallon of water, I decided to find a nice shady tree with a relaxing view under which to have my lunch. I drove up the road and parked by a small beach near Blakely Dam. I was thanking God for the refreshing cool breeze I was enjoying coming from the cold water of the dam. My truck radio was working as well as the air conditioner, so I resorted to listening to the sweet whistling music coming from nearby birds.
I had the truck seat leaned back. The first crunch of Cheetos was rimming my mouth with orange and I began to think of how nice a fudge sundae would be at that moment. I closed my eyes and tilted my head over to my left shoulder. I could hear kids laughing and playing near the cool water down at the nearby beach.
As I relaxed and savored the moment, I slowly opened my eyes and as I did, I saw a BEAR! A BLACK BEAR! I immediately said” Holy S#%t!” In response, the bear’s ears perked up and my Cheetos went flying! I noticed this bear was close, only about ten feet from my truck, so I hurriedly rolled up my window and simultaneously, reached down for my flip phone (remember it was 2006). In a clumsy effort to capture something no one in my office would believe from a city slicker like me, I bobbled and dropped my phone a few times before getting a hold on it. I opened the phone with shaking fingers, pushed buttons, and turned to take a photo of my new furry friend, only to find he had disappeared from the view of my driver’s side window. I turned and looked to the right…GONE!!! I then looked over my shoulder and saw the seemingly hungry bear making his way to the beach. OMG the beach! The beach filled with playing kids!
Nervously, I got back into my truck and drove frantically to the park office to alert someone. In the time this was happening, the thought running through my head was “What the Heck! ACT never told me these kinds of situations were a part of the job!” Dodging disturbed bees, possible bullets, and angry dogs was one thing, but BEARS?
While trying to explain the situation to the park ranger who bore a striking resemblance to Barney Fife, he stumbled out of his chair and ran out the door to his truck. Up the drive he went, and of course, I had his back by driving right behind his vehicle, all the while scanning with careful eyes to spot that creature of fangs and claws. Off to the woods he must have gone, because there was no sign of the big black bear, except for an over-turned garbage can.
Although I was left with no photographic proof of my ordeal, from that day on, I referred to going out into the field, as “going out to Jurassic Park”. Indeed, I was vindicated a week or so later when the same bear became such a problem for nearby neighbors that he was apprehended by the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission. I guess the whole experience served to make me into a seasoned employee of ACT, as I barely flinched when a year later a mountain lion skipped pass the front of my vehicle!
Matthew S. Padgen
originally posted 4/21/16