In this time of voluntary quarantines and social distancing, many people feel disconnected from much of society. Social media is the method that the majority of the world are using to stay in contact with everyone from family to updates on the pandemic. It’s hard to unplug when you have so much plugged in. But social media is doing what it was designed to do, bring people together with events such as Bear Hunts.
A 1989 children’s picture book, "We’re Going on a Bear Hunt," written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, was the source of inspiration for keeping adults and children alike entertained and reminding us all that we’re all in this thing (pandemic) together. According to Wikipedia, "We’re Going on a Bear Hunt" has won numerous awards and was the subject of a Guinness World Record for "Largest Reading Lesson" with a book-reading attended by 1,500 children, and an additional 30,000 listeners online, in 2014."
The plot of the book revolves around 5 children and their dog going out to hunt a bear, "They travel through grass, a river, mud, a forest and a snowstorm before coming face to face with a bear in its cave. This meeting causes panic and the family run home, across all the obstacles, followed by the bear. Finally, the children lock the bear out of the house and all hide under the duvet saying ’We're not going on a bear hunt again.’ At the end of the book, the bear is pictured trudging disconsolately on a beach at night, the same beach that is shown on a sunny day as the frontispiece. At each obstacle is an onomatopoeic description. Before each obstacle the children chant the refrain:
We're going on a bear hunt.
We're going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We're not scared."
The idea is that families will read the book and then go on a Bear Hunt. And that’s just what many families have done.
The Bear Hunts in the communities of the Concho Valley all have happy endings, with children finding joy in discovering bears placed in windows and in front of homes around their communities. They will also find them drawn with chalk on sidewalks and streets. It’s a sign that there is still a sense of "community" even with so many people sheltered in their homes as the COVID-19 virus continues to strike thousands every day.
Ballinger’s Kimberly Tripp Dunn, who is also the jail administrator, took part in the Bear Hunt along with her husband, David, and 2 children, Mary and Michael. Mary attends college at McMurry University in Abilene and Michael is a junior at Ballinger High School. David is the pastor at Millersview Baptist Church.
The Dunn family showed that there is more than one way to find a bear and that the Bear Hunts delve deeper into the current situation around in the community, "Although I understand the need for the COVID 19 precautions, I worry about how all of the changes to our daily lives will affect the youngest of our citizens. Even when parents try to shelter them from negative information, children hear bits of news on TV and parts of adult conversations. They can read the stress in their parent's faces, see the worry in their eyes, hear the concern in their voice. The disruption to their normal schedule, such as school closures and cancellation of sports can cause disappointment and boredom. The separation from their extended family members and friends can cause emotional sadness and even loneliness. Children don't always know how to express these feelings in words and often suffer in silence. When I first saw the Bear Hunt idea on Facebook I thought it was an excellent way to help parents in their attempt to brighten the day and mood of their children. It shows the children that even during this difficult time they aren't forgotten and are loved by their community.
We didn't have a stuffed Teddy Bear to display, so my teenage kids and I took chalk and drew large Teddy Bears and other animals, flowers, hearts, etc. on the shoulder of the road in front of our house so that the children could see them as they drove by. This also created something that my own teens could do to occupy their time, and made them feel like they were helping someone else in our community. While we were sitting in the street coloring, some of the neighborhood children rode up on their bicycles and asked what we were doing. When we told them, they displayed very large smiles and stood watching us for a while. Every time they rode by after that, they would look at the drawings and wave at us if we were out in the yard. So even that simple act, of participating in the Bear Hunt, created a friendly connection with others in our hometown."
The Bear Hunt shows us that even as we learn to accept and live with terms such as, "Together, separately," there is still a sense of togetherness in our respective communities. In the end, when this virus has gone away, we might discover that we all came out of it on the other side better and stronger as a community.