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The Appalachian Trail gives me lots of time to think. There are a number of hiking jokes. There’s one that every time I think of it, I smile.

In light of the rising frequency of human/grizzly bear confrontations, the Montana Department of Fish and Game is advising hikers, hunters, and fishermen to take extra precautions and be alert for bears while in the field. …We advise that outdoorsmen wear small bells on their clothing so as not to startle bears that aren’t expecting them, and to carry pepper spray with them in case of an encounter….

It is also a good idea to watch out for fresh signs of bear activity. Outdoorsmen should recognize the difference between black bear and grizzly bear droppings. Black bear droppings are smaller and contain lots of berries and fur. Grizzly bear droppings have little bells in it and smell like pepper.

So many hikers carry bear bells on their packs (no, I am not one of them). When I hear the bells coming up the trail I actually think of Christmas.

Growing up in Florida, we never had a white Christmas. In fact I only have the memory of seeing snow once. Family photo albums probably make the actual snow days at two or three. The important point here is that native Floridians have zero experience with what a white Christmas is. So why do I associate bear bells with Christmas?

Every year we got a call from my grandfather in Pennsylvania at Christmas. This would be one of the many calls from family in the north regaling us with stories of a white Christmas and how beautiful the snow outside was to behold. This conversation was usually followed by our own stories of turning on the air conditioning because of the ninety-degree heat wave we were experiencing. But the call from grandpa was always my favorite.

Grandpa had a set of sleigh bells. Every year at Christmas he would call and ring them for us. It always felt like Christmas once we heard the sleigh bells over the phone. When grandpa passed away, my uncle inherited the bells and every now and then, I’ll get to hear them around the holidays. It always brings me back to my Florida Christmas with the air conditioning on to keep us cool.

Walking the Appalachian Trail, hearing the bear bells always makes me think of Christmas and talking to grandpa.

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