I SUPPOSE AT graduation parties one would expect conversation would mostly be directed toward heaping honor upon the college or high school graduate being fêted. Oh sure, additional commentary would drift acceptably to such topics as family, friends and pets perhaps, but when you live in north Wisconsin all such topics are usually dispensed with rather quickly in favor of fishing, hunting, camping and other such important topics.

I was happy to be welcomed to a graduation party last weekend which honored siblings, brother and sister, the former a recent high school graduate and the latter a graduate from the finest institution of higher learning in this state, my old alma mater, UW-Eau Claire.

After taking care of properly and gentlemanly offered congratulations, along with questions as to where the future was taking the young graduates, the health and well-being of the rest of the family and other such topics, my conversation with the dad turned to bear stories.

Now, anyone who has lived in north Wisconsin for more than a month has a bear story, perhaps several of them. With 70 years of living here, I have many bear stories, most of which contain at least a few grams of truth.

Having several decades of experience over the dad when it came to living here in our part of north Wisconsin, I naturally had most of the stories to tell. Being of a shy and retiring nature, not given much to storytelling and certainly not possessed of the glibness many storytellers are, it took much prompting for me to relate some of my bear stories, but I did.

When I was a child, we often had bears in our backyard, even though feeding birds in the summer was virtually unheard of at the time. For some reason bears seemed to think they had ownership of our yard and the surrounding woods.

Oftentimes, after an evening of fishing, we would come home to a bear perched in a backyard tree, with our Chesapeake, Ike, circling the tree. Standard procedure was for my dad to send me inside, jam a couple very light loads of 20-gauge shells in his shotgun, corral Ike and get him into the house and then, wait until Mr. Bruin decided to come down out of the tree.

When the bear was 70 yards away, Dad would send him packing with one of those light loads in the rear end, making sure the bear was not looking back, as a BB in the eye was not what he wanted to have happen. With a bear’s fur, tiny BBs didn’t penetrate the skin, but the sting would give Mr. Bear the idea he wasn’t welcome. It worked so well that sometimes, it would be a week before he would come visit again. It got so Mr. Bear would stop and ask my dad if he was shooting Remington or Winchester ammo before he would wander off.

Then, there was the time my brother and I, he about 10 at the time while I was 7, were walking the Starrett Lake road throwing rocks at red squirrels and otherwise acting as though we owned the woods. About a quarter-mile from home we came up on a little commotion coming from several yards back in the woods off the road. We took a quick peek through the brush and discovered a bear ripping apart a rotting log going after, presumably, grubs for a tasty meal. We departed the area posthaste.

My sister is 10 years younger than me; to me, a spoiled daddy’s brat as a little girl. Seriously, she got away with stuff as a child my brothers and I would never have dreamed of doing. Anyway, as a designated babysitter I would tell her when she annoyed me to no end that if she didn’t behave I was going to tie a slab of bacon around her neck and send her out in the woods with the bears. To this day she is petrified of bears. Mission accomplished.

In the old days, when each town had its own dump, usually contained within a small circle road, resort owners would routinely dump leftover food from guests including squash, tomatoes and other such garden truck. Dumps, with their fantastic composted soil, provided an excellent growing environment. Come late summer and early fall, young guys like me would take gunny sacks and pick much of the produce.

One afternoon, I rode my bike to our local dump prepared to harvest some squash. As I rode into the dump circle I discovered someone else had the same idea. That someone else was a bear of what in my 12-year-old wisdom was determined to weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 pounds. Until then, I never realized my Schwinn had a reverse gear in it; a very fast reverse gear.

One last, quick bear story. On one of our first camping trips together, my wife and I took an early September trip to what was then called Sibley Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. It is now known as Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, after the so-named landform jutting into Lake Superior east of Thunder Bay.

One morning of our stay we decided to hike a 7-mile trail, actually an old logging road, to reach an access trail to the top of the sleeping giant, Nanabijou, an American Indian who in legend was turned to stone as punishment for telling white men there was a rich deposit of silver at the tip of Sibley Peninsula.

As we walked the tote road we early on started seeing piles of reddish-orange mountain ash berry dung. My wife, fearful as my sister of bears, inquired as to whether bears had made the droppings. It took some slick-tongued talking to convince her, but eventually, I had her believing it was moose droppings. It didn’t hurt that we spooked a moose shortly into our walk and in the end, we made it all the way to the top of the sleeping giant and back without being eaten by either a bear or a moose.

So far this summer we’ve had only one bear use our driveway as a walking path. I might have to get outside and heat up a jar of honey so we can get a couple more to visit and give us fodder for more bear stories.