Katherine Dykstra


Essay: A Place for Everything

I won first place in the Waterman Fund's annual Essay Contest!

Editor’s note: The winner of the fifth annual Waterman Fund essay contest, which Appalachia sponsors jointly with the Waterman Fund, ventures into new territory. In the previous four years of the contest, writers have reflected on the ways civilization encroaches on the wilderness. This year’s winner turns it around, describing the clash of wild animals with a busy car campground. More black bears show themselves near Delaware Water Gap, on the New Jersey–Pennsylvania border, than most people will ever see in darkest Maine. Katherine Dykstra’s honest story of what happened when she met her first bear on her first camping trip left us squirming and thinking harder about what happens when wild animals wander into settled areas. The Waterman Fund is a nonprofit organization named in honor of Laura and the late Guy Waterman. It is our mission to encourage new writers. See the end pages of this journal for information about next year’s contest.

We'd thrown the trip together in a flurry of phone calls and email exchanges all in 48 hours. Parker researched state parks, campgrounds, driving times. Ann went to a dollar store and bought four nylon camping chairs. I went to Target and came away with two tents. There was a moment when we nearly called the whole thing off, Seth having phoned every rental car company in the five boroughs and coming up dry; it was Fourth of July weekend after all. But dogged in his pursuit, he eventually found a car that had been returned early. It was the last, we believed, in the city.

      As we inched our way west on Canal Street, Seth caught my eye in the rearview mirror: “So I hear you’re worried about bears,” he said, amused.