If you’re familiar with Harry Hall’s 1932 recording of “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic, ” you’re in distinguished company. For more than 30 years, BBC sound engineers used it to check frequency cycles before broadcasts, because of the fidelity of the recording and the wide-ranging pitches of the little ditty. Tell you something else that was wide-ranging: Irish lyricist Jimmy Kennedy’s various attributions of the danger posed by Teddy Bears in the woods. For a supposedly light-hearted children’s song, it’s as full of dark foreboding as a Twilight flick. “If you go into the woods today, you’d better go in disguise…you’d better not go alone. It’s lovely out in the woods today, but safer to stay at home.” And why all the angst? “Today’s the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic.”
I’m not a big fan, never was, of sending mixed messages to children about safety hazards. Seems to me there are enough truly scary things and situations out there “in the woods” to worry about, without setting up “straw men” like picnicking Teddy Bears, nar’mean? But that’s me being literal-minded, rather than Poetic, about it. I’ve read [and recommended] Bruno Bettelheim’s book, The Uses of Enchantment, the point of which is, that Grimm fairy tales [and zombie films, and their ilk] afford a less amygdala-setting-off, more reassuringly metaphorical way of facing our fears.
About 2 months ago, as Chris & I were walking Lili into the thick of the woods, a middle-aged woman [I should talk!], clad in a brown velour track suit which the 80s wanted back, jogged up to us and said, “Better be careful! There are police in the woods!” Intrigued, Chris & Lili forged ahead, while I stumbled behind them [my ankles suddenly turning to jelly from anxiety]. “A dead body? An armed & dangerous felon?” I wondered. What did their presence betoken, that had so freaked out the Lady in Velour? When Chris saw them, he asked “What’s up?” They said, “We’re looking for hunters.” They were U.S. Federal Special Police Officers, from the Smithsonian Institution Office of Protection Services [Did I mentions that “our” woods are a Smithsonian nature preserve?], acting on a tip that hunters had been spotted in the area. So we regaled them with anecdotes of our many encounters with [apparently illegal] hunters in the woods over the years, and they admired Lili, and gave me a business card with their phone & fax numbers, asking that Lili & I be their “eyes & ears” on our daily rounds. “Our office is just around the corner, and we’ll be waiting to hear from you.”
Talk about an official seal of approval! It was as if Lili had been transformed from a ravening beast, to a Deputy Dawg! I may continue to experience fear, intrusion, and even pain & suffering when I trip over a hidden tree root; but I think my days of humiliation in the woods are over.
But what, we wondered, was Brown Jogging Lady so spooked about? Was she a superannuated Hippie, who still regarded the Fuzz as the foe? [This was before OWS, mind.] Had they advised her not to wear deer-colored clothing in the woods during hunting season, or she could get shot?
Like Jimmy Kennedy, she manifested ambivalence about the threat level in the woods that day. I do, too, of course, always dreading my next encounter with Skipper the Unleashed and his insouciant owner. As it happened, the very next day Chris, Lili & I were once again menaced by the appalling pair; and I just happened to drop the name of the Smithsonian Police.
Haven’t seen them since. Still, with other free-range dogs about, newly fallen lumber every day, and muddy footing, it’s no picnic.