Dorothy muses on jewelry-making bears, Fox Island and other things as summer turns to fall

We couldn't find the brown bears.

My grandson and I covered all 723 acres of the wildlife park. We found a sign and a deserted enclosure, but no bears. So I asked one of the volunteers: “Where are the brown bears?”

“They’re not here,” she announced, fixing me with a severe look. “They got old. And then they died. That's what happens, you know.”

I wanted to see those brown bears.

I was given a lovely pendant by my daughter-in-law. She explained that it was created by a brown bear at the Minnesota Zoo, though just how this is done is a closely guarded secret. I imagined the bear, going into his cave, sitting down, adjusting his glasses and turning out a masterpiece with his plump little bear paws.

Recently dark rumors have surfaced that the art is actually hijacked from work by the otters at the zoo who can easily do the work with their little otter fingers. Still, I wanted to meet one of these talented creatures even though reality rarely lives up to hype, even for animals.

For instance, I was devastated to learn that there are no foxes on Fox Island. None. My youngest son took it especially hard. He’d always visualized Fox Island as a sort of Disneyland for foxes, rides and slides, that sort of thing. But there are no foxes.

The island was named by Lt. Charles Wilkes of the United States Exploring Expedition, who sailed these waters from 1838 to 1842. He named practically everything he saw for someone on his ship. In this case, it was Dr. J. L. Fox, the expedition’s assistant physician. Dr. Fox never even set foot on the island named for him. Furthermore, it turns out that Wilkes’ unstable personality and excessive discipline of his crew was so extreme that he was used by Herman Melville as the model for Captain Ahab in Moby Dick. I certainly wasn’t expecting that.

I’ve been surprised by less exotic animals, too.

I was a young army wife living in temporary quarters at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, when all of the children caught chicken pox at the same time. This wasn’t as much fun as you might imagine. I spent my days dipping the kids in oatmeal baths, which of course clogged the plumbing.

And there were mice in the house. Not just ordinary mice, either. These were smart mice, all graduates of Mouse MIT. They couldn’t be caught and they enjoyed flaunting their superiority. There was a mouse hole in the ceiling directly above the bed in the small, stuffy master bedroom. In moments of passion, Sir and I would look up to see a little mousey eye staring down at us, apparently evaluating the performance and finding it inadequate. Unsettling. We finally stuffed aluminum foil into the hole. We could hear it crackle as the mouse struggled with it but it took quite a long time to get it out. Long enough, anyway. It’s important to find all possible solutions.

I almost missed the solar eclipse. I found “directions simple enough for an eight year old,” so I made a projection viewer from an Eggo box. No image, so I watched the eclipse projected onto the porch wall through a hole in a Cheez-It cracker. It worked surprisingly well. Then, after the event, I didn’t have to worry about storing my viewers. I just ate them.

Summer is suddenly over.

Put away the white pants and that sort of thing. The kids are back in school. I miss the years when the first day of school meant a crisp new outfit, never worn before. It somehow got you in the mood for something new and wonderful. Today, new and wonderful isn’t always easy to find.

These shorter, darker days can mean problems for us as we get older, according to Elizabeth Scheid, director of the Lakewood Senior Activity Center who warns that older people can be prone to discouragement and depression as the long days fold in.

“It’s most important to stay connected to the community,” she says. “This is a great time of the year to find a new interest. Sign up for a class and stay with it. Don’t quit because you think you’re not good at it.”

Or go somewhere new. The wildlife park is open all year round. We can learn a lot from the animals. Take my advice, though. Don’t ask about the brown bears.

Dorothy Wilhelm is a professional speaker and writer. Follow Dorothy’s blog at itsnevertoolate.com. Contact her at P.O. Box 881, DuPont WA, 98327. Phone 800-548-9264, email Dorothy@itsnevertoolate. com.