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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sleeping in Bear Country

Last night, 
as the final hot arcs of sun stretched over the hills, after the tent was up and the sleeping bags unrolled, when the hum of ten million tiny wings grew to a roar,
I walked along the dirt path neatly separating the redwood forest from the open fields.  Sancho and I took our time, he busy sniffing out the trails of wild turkeys, me stuffing pockets with blue Jay feathers and plump rose hips.  Regularly I squinted into the sun, scanning the meadow; past the blackberries and thistles, around the scattered wild apple trees, keeping the pup close just in case. 
And then, against the far tree line, two black ears rose above the fescue.  Standing perfectly still, pale brown muzzle, sloped shaggy shoulders.  
I would be lying if I did not say my heart was beating a wild waltz.
I walked a few steps, shielded my eyes against the watery glare, and looked again.  The shape had changed, moved, but that profile was distinctive.  Was it a coy trick my retinas and my subconscious had paired up to play?  The sun was boring into my face, fading color to nothing but hot outlined shapes.  
We retreated calmly but with quick feet, climbing back up the short path to our site, glancing back at the now obscured meadow, adrenaline rushing in my ears.

When we entered the park, the ranger told us black bears had been sighted recently - and when it comes to caution I'm not a gal who needs to be told twice.  Before we tucked in for the night, every last stitch and crumb was locked away tight.  With the pup snuggled close at our feet, bellies full of flame-cooked food, and filtered moonlight on my face, we fell asleep to the sound of crickets.

When I awoke the first time the moon had set.  The black branches of the redwoods above us were barely perceptible against the midnight sky.  The pup was growling low and something large was rustling nearby.  SNAP a twig would break.  CRACK a branch would give way.  I tried to breathe silently in the futile way of humans; slow, open mouthed breaths so as to not compromise my hearing.  I poked BC's shoulder until he stirred with grunt.  The thwacking and crackling continued on, but no nearer the tent, until eventually we fell back into fitful sleep.  
When I awoke the second time, the stars were out, winking merrily through the needles.  Something walked across the tarp on the far side of the site.
When I awoke the third time, I needed desperately to pee, but a loud crunching sound was all I needed to convince my bladder back to sleep.
When I awoke the fourth time, the woods were blissfully silent.  Clear light was beginning to pool in the eastern sky and for the first time that night, I shivered.

When the first light of dawn brought color back to the forest, we pulled on layers and piled out of the tent.  Our little site was untouched, but the wild apple at the base of the hill, the one not more than fifty yards from us, looked worse for wear.  The ground below was scattered with broken limbs, healthy green leaves, and the largest pile of bear scat I had ever seen (composed primarily of apples, for interested parties).  The trunk held several sets of fresh gashes, deep marks from claws on their way up and one long stripe from what must have been a slip of the foot.

All of this to say,

I love the wild.

But I think I'll sleep sound in my cozy bed tonight.


MrsLittleJeans said... are a brave woman...I would not have been able to sleep a wink, and I felt the adrenaline rush just reading about it...WOW! You have reminded me of my advisor at school who used to tell us that he did not wear deodorant in order to not attract bears. I told him that I may have to push him off a cliff! : )

UmberDove said...

So there was a pretty threatening wild bear situation at this school?

Yeah... snort!

For the record, I DID take my chances with that one - I was plenty camping-dirty but fully deodorant slathered!

Sierra Keylin Jewelry said...

Sounds like a fun adventure! I think I must wake up in the night at least as many times when I'm sleeping outside...I love those moments of soaking in the smells, the stars, the sounds and then falling back to sleep in a tent! Nothing like a night in the outdoors! (I never would have been able to go back to bed after the waking up to pee, I hate that!!!! But perhaps a bear would have been enough to get me to give it a try :)

MrsLittleJeans said...

ha ha....well, he was always prepared for the unexpected, which is what prompted me to say what I said. : )

Cat said...

that is an awesome story Dove! cool

pup and I had an encounter with a bear the other weekend bear on side of the road pup in back of the parking the truck to take pics...bear saunters up hill side, pup barks at bear,bear looks at pup "like really?", pup says no more..bear continues to good!

glad you lived to tell the tell
and thanks for the info on the

love and light

Cat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cat said...

pics found here:

pencilfox said...

and: moonlight.
what more does a wildhearted gal need??

UmberDove said...

Sierra: No roof is ever as great as a tent. Period.

Cat: Ah the Wild! Also, I spent a good deal of time fireside burning through the book. So. Good. So far!

Pencilfox: Only ravens, whisky and a sketchbook. Luckily all three were along for the ride. ;)

Joyful said...

Wow! Too close for comfort. I love the wild too but I am really afraid of events just like you wrote about, and worse. Glad you're all safe and secure and can watch the bears on television instead ;-)

emmy d said...

There really is nothing like the sight of a bear for the wild to hit you full smack! I remember backpacking in college once and not 10 minutes into the hike on the first day we saw a cub (with the mom likely nearby). We took hanging those bear bags with our food a distance away from the site SERIOUSLY after that!

The Sage Leaf said...

Oh, he was after twigs and berries...
and then of all the shame,
leaving dingleberries too.
Bad bear.
Glad you are safe and the vegan bear was fed well.


mme. bookling said...

miss camping with you two.

Ann from Montana said... the dark hours...on 9/28??? How can this be :)!

srsly...I am a moon person - since I was 2 according to my Mama...and as a 56 year old person who follows the moonrise/moonset... it is a bit of a mystery to me.

Melinda said...

Ahhhhhhhhh! I can't believe you stayed! I have been scared out of a campsite by far less, lol!!!!