Give the bear a break…

On occasions when I’ve had maybe one more glass of wine that I should have, I have been known to break into embarrassing (for my wife) songs. There are usually three of them that fall into rotation:

“Deck us all with Boston Charlie…” from the comic strip Pogo, which I have written about in an earlier blog.

The other is my high school fight song: “Hail mighty Warriors, brave and bold, onward to victory Blue and Gold…”

And the third is this: “Smokey the Bear, Smokey the bear, growlin’ and a prowlin’ and a sniffin’ the air. He can find a fire, before it starts to flame. That’s why they call him Smokey and that’s how he got his name.” It was written and performed by Gene Autry and was mildly controversial because Smokey’s actual name was “Smokey Bear,” not “Smokey THE Bear.” Anyway, it was an ode to the abandoned bear cub found clinging to a burned pine tree in the Capitan Mountains of the Lincoln National Forest in 1950 who was made famous as an icon for encouraging Americans to prevent forest fires.

And speaking of Smokey, years ago my sister Wendy was photographed cuddling a small female bear cub named “Smokina” who was possibly to become Smokey’s paramour. She too, like Smokey, was found abandoned in a forest fire in the Lincoln National Forest in the late 1950s. I never heard any more about Smokina — apparently she did not have an agent as effective as Smokey’s. Despite the best plans for bear romance, Smokey never had offspring because his private parts were apparently scorched during the 1947 fire, making him sterile and unable to produce any offspring.  That’s probably more than you really wanted to know. 

Smokey is buried in Capitan at the Smokey Bear Historical Park after living many years in the National Zoo in Washington. I’ve attached a photo of his burial plaque and a link to the park if you’re interested. We visited the park a couple of years ago with good friends, and it’s worth the trip.

Smokey’s burial plaque at the Smokey Bear Historical Park in Capitan

EMNRD Forestry Division (

So why all this blathering about Smokey? Well last week, I read an article in the Albuquerque Journal that said that 28 abandoned campfires had been found in the Santa Fe National Forest, one of them still with flames lapping at logs. My wife and I once ran across a similar still burning campfire in Colorado — and dutifully extinguished it. It was scary and a completely irresponsible act by whoever left it.

But for Pete — or Smokey’s sake, please douse your campfire during this extremely dry windy spring season in New Mexico. As Smokey was quoted: “If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.”


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