Near the end of March last year, as I was walking near my house, I saw a small, blue teddy bear hanging by a peg from a log. At the time I wasn’t to know it was part of the Bear Hunt movement, intended to entertain children with school closures and lockdown approaching. Nor did I know that I would end up visiting Bear Hunts in all weather and taking hundreds of photos of a wide variety of soft toys.

The first bear hunt

This is the original bear I mentioned:

A sign of things to come

At the time it was late evening, so I didn’t pursue it. A few days later I investigated, and was welcomed to the hunt by an even cuter blue bear:

Welcome to the Bear Hunt!

(yes, that is a welcome note tied to its arm).

The trail wound through national park, and the eucalypt forest allowed for displays like this:

Are we flying?

When working from home it made a good spot to visit at lunch-time, and in the evening I sometimes disturbed wallabies feeding.

The second bear hunt

In a park a little further afield I found a much more organised bear hunt:

Welcome to another Bear Hunt!

Signs along the path encouraged us to “Count the Bears”, but it wasn’t just bears: So many different toys had come to play that I quickly lost count.

Wandering the streets

Those were the only two organised bear hunts I found in my local area, though I’m sure there were many others around Melbourne. However, there were plenty more toys to be found when wandering the streets, most commonly in windows or on letter-boxes.

In addition to soft toys, there were decorations like this one:

Bear Hunt

There was always something new to find, particularly in the first few months.

Time for a picnic!

It was Easter, lockdown had well and truly started, and the organisers of the forest walk clearly felt the need for something different.

Where would teddy bears be without a picnic?

All aboard the picnic bus!
Picnic time!
Where would a picnic be without hunny?

Some variety

I mentioned that it wasn’t just teddies. Here’s a sample of the variety I saw, including some of my personal favourites.

On guard!
Just hang in there!
Quessstion: What'sss all thisss sssosscial dissstansscing about?
Mickey and Minnie hold court
Isn't it colourful?
It's blue!
Hop to it!
No exploding, please!
Australian film stars!
Have a seat, platypus. Oh, you already have!
Aussie Aussie Aussie!

Need a hug?

It was left to one very cute teddy to sum up an important part of my lockdown experience:

It's a tyred little teddy bear

When I first saw it swinging in the tyre, it looked very uncomfortable with its head scrunched in and the text not visible. Then one day I found it lying face-down on the gravel, restored it to its tyre, and in the process discovered the text. And it struck home.

Like many singles, I’d found the lack of human contact difficult. There were virtual hugs, there were video calls, and I was well aware there were people who cared about me. But it just wasn’t the same, and I’m not at all ashamed of hugging a teddy bear and wishing I could be hugging a person instead.

That’s not to say my lockdown experience was terrible: I think I was in a better situation to handle it than many, and I know that sharing a house in lockdown with room-mates or partner or children could be challenging in other ways.

Dealing with weather

So far, most of the pictures I’ve shown have had the toys clean and dry and perhaps even smiling. However, winter was approaching, and the bear hunt continued in all weathers. Sometimes the toys could look quite bedraggled and miserable:

Suffering under the weather

Other times the path was covered with water, or impeded by fallen branches:

Obstructing the path

Discovering mortality

And it wasn’t just weather. Over the months, I saw quite a few toys torn apart on the forest trail. I’m not sure what was doing it - perhaps it was dogs or foxes, perhaps it was a wallaby who got tired of grass, or perhaps it was something else. But the fact was that they couldn’t last forever.

Lost in the cause of duty

Sadly, I’m pretty sure the “Need a Hug” bear was one of the victims. I only saw a few fragments, but they were about the right colour, and were on the ground downhill from where I last saw the bear.

Masking up

In August, masks became mandatory for humans over 12. As far as I know, stuffed toys were exempt from these rules. However, one house near me decided to give most of their impressive collection of teddy bears masks, including a couple of these:

Wear a mask - protect others!
Even on the trapeze!

Getting involved

For as long as I remember I’ve had one particularly friendly teddy bear (I think it was given to me by a relative when I was born). So I certainly wasn’t going to leave it exposed to the weather or the wild animals.

However, I did take the opportunity to do a photo-shoot one lunch-time. Isn’t that what everyone in lockdown did at one point or another?

A teddy as old as me

A time for giving thanks

During this pandemic, much has been said about us “All being in it together”. And yet we also recognise that some have been more affected than others. Not everyone was able to retreat into a comfortable work-from-home bubble like I was.

I saw one person save their teddy bear for a heart-felt thank you notice:

Saying thank you

I think that thanks is deserved. And there were more groups of people listed on the other side of the pole, but ultimately many people have contributed in many different ways, and there’s no easy way to list and thank them all.

I’m thankful for the bear hunts and those involved with them. I may not have been in the main target audience, but they did bring me joy and make it a little easier for me to cope with lockdown.

This isn’t just limited to bear hunts: I’m thankful to the people who joined the rainbow trail, those who drew chalk drawings, those who organised and contributed to Spoonvilles, those with Halloween decorations or Christmas lights, and probably other things I’m forgetting. Maybe they did it for others, or maybe they did it mostly for their own amusement, but it meant they were able to share a little of themselves for the good of the community (including me).

And perhaps that’s part of why I wanted to write this post. To share in my turn some of the cute toys I saw and some of the experiences I had, in the hope it will help others as it helped me.

Looking forward to a brand new year

The forest bear hunt was mostly given up by the second lockdown. Some toys were left, and there are even a few still there, but it’s not the toy-filled trail it was.

The other bear hunt continued strong for most of the year, with toys continuing to be added. However, I happened to be there on New Year’s Eve, and found only a couple of toys there. I don’t know whether the organisers concluded it was less necessary in Victoria’s summer of greater freedom, or whether it had been cleared by over-zealous officialdom, but it didn’t survive into 2021.

However, on New Year’s Day I was at a different park with siblings and saw a very cute couple:

Welcoming the New Year!

2021 may not be the year of the Bear Hunt. I know it has started badly for many parts of the world, but I still hope for it to be the year of greater freedom, not the year of more lockdowns. And I also hope to continue to see teddies around, because they are cute and can bring joy to our lives.