In which the singer
songwriter learns an early lesson in artist-audience interaction by getting into
a staredown with a mama Grizzly.
BY SARAH JAFFE
When I was younger most of my childhood friends were going
to Disney World or taking family vacations to Universal Studios in their Astro
vans with the swivel chairs and installed televisions. I was never envious of
this however. My parents, not beach people, were both teachers growing up. So
when it was time to vacation, there was no compromising for my older sister and
me. My family would take annual trips to Colorado, to a smaller mining town
where my aunt and uncle owned a couple of cabins. The town was Platoro,
Colorado which was a day’s trip away from
whatever the small suburb we were living in, in Texas.
Looking back it would have been nice to take the classic
trip to Disney World. But in my recollection, or maybe my buried denial, I’m
glad we never made those trips. Seems like it would have been a sunburn defeat
for my parents, and a fight waiting to happen for my sister and I. I could just
see me getting hungry, and grumpy, and unknowingly needing a nap. And my
sister, five years older than me, being “over it.” So the beach was out of the
question. Unless it was a cop-out trip to the beach in Galveston, where I also
have the fondest memories. Memories of my sister laying out on the beach and me
covering her in Chee-tos in order for the seagulls to dive bomb her. My sister
has a legit fear and dislike of birds. And I had an all too big appetite to
drive my sister crazy.
Needless to say the beach didn’t really work out well for my
family. So Platoro it was.
Platoro is in a valley. A town in which you can hike up any
of its surrounding mountains and find remnants of its mining history. I
remember one time in particular finding this old mining shack. Inside I found
old tools, and old mining boots without souls. Even at a young age, I could not
help but wonder what this town looked like a hundred years ago, and what the men
who wore these boots looked like. The air smelled really sweet. I recall it
smelling like syrup.
I looked forward to these annual trips so much. My family
would go in the summer to horseback ride or camp. Sometimes we would go in the
winter to ski. All four of us would pack into our 1988 blue Buick Century
(which we would later become my sister’s car in high school, and which we would
later call the “Blue Goose” in its dying days). We always had an amazing time.
My sister and I would always run off and explore, roam around in the hills,
find ways of getting across the shallow parts of the river. Sometimes we would
go with my grandparents, who had an extremely large RV, while my parents
caravanned in the Buick. My grandmother would make grilled cheeses while Patsy
Cline tapes were blaring on the 24-hour trip from home.
One year in particular, I was about seven, my sister and I
brought our bikes (Huffy!). This one evening Jessica (my sister) and I were out
riding around the outskirts of town. Jessica was riding ahead of me, in true
older sister fashion, way ahead of me on her Huffy.
We came to this tucked away cabin. On the outside of this
cabin there was a dumpster. As I came upon it I very quickly saw a Grizzly bear
and her cubs. Most people would continue riding, and quickly. I however have
this unique quality, or ability: When I am scared, I do not move; I’m
paralyzed, completely crippled by fear. So my sister sees that I have stopped
on my bike, and then she notices the bear.
This Grizzly and I, we begin the ultimate staring contest. It
was about 20 feet away from my scraggly, not yet mature body. It’s not moving,
and I’m not moving-but not for the same reasons. Recalling this I realize how
cinematic this must’ve looked. The bear and I just staring at each other, not
My sister, realizing how I react in these situations, starts
coaching me to get on my bike from about 300 yards away. For what seems like
about 30 minutes this Grizzly and I just stare at each other. Its cubs moving
around it like, “Mother, kill that human already.” I remember its huge breaths,
and its slobbery gums.
Finally my sister says something and I completely snap out
of it. Suddenly things go from slow motion to my body pumping as much
adrenaline as a seven-year old can produce. I rode my Huffy faster than I’d
ever ridden. I didn’t look back. I doubt the bear cared.
[Photo Credit: Melanie Gomez]
Sarah Jaffe’s new
album Suburban Nature is out now on
Kirtland Records. She kicks off a major U.S. tour on August 5 – for tour
dates, song samples and more, check out her MySpace page or official website.