Sunday, July 16, 2006

I Can Only Hope An Actual Bear Would Be Less Scary

Today K&A were gone so I had a housesitting day to myself. Still tired from the 8,000 pounds of hay (of which I probably moved at least 12,000 pounds), I read Harper’s and took a nap on the couch after breakfast and letting the horses out. The dogs napped too, sprawled out on the floor around me. Of course it’s undoubtedly hard work being so consistently underfoot while hay is being unloaded.

After I awoke, I sang through my jazz songs for my next performance (estimating beginning pitches based on how low I think I can sing—note to self: get a pitch pipe, or perfect pitch), then took the opportunity of a length of uninterrupted time to paint a couple watercolors for the new art class I’m taking. It turns out, I’m afraid, that I’m not just a dilettante traveler; I’m just a dilettante. Painting, singing, sewing—how Jane Austen can I get? I mean, I’m also a consummate hostess, a bit of a meddler, funny, and verbose. But enough about me.

Back to me—today Shadow and I went out for a ride, leaving all dogs behind. I like to think of dogs as protection from bears; bears don’t like dogs and keep away from them. But A. also seems to imply that dogs could be bear bait, or at least bear distraction while I’m galloping away. Which would be awful, awful, but probably slightly better than being mauled to death. Anyway, today I didn’t take any dogs because I was going to take a long ride, Shadow likes to run, and Marlee still has a bit of a limp (although it’s much better) and Spackle and Kit are just not that strong anymore.

The first half of the ride was perfect—perfect. Beautiful weather, interested horse, and my thighs and sitz bones had given up hurting because, well, it just wasn’t doing them any good. It’s Sunday so there isn’t any logging activity—which is particularly nice, because there’s going to be a double whammy later this summer with logging taking place on both sides of the Jerome Creek road.

Anyway, about 2/3 of the way through our trip we entered some relative old growth on a steep and narrow downhill trail and I saw, right in the middle of the trail in front of us, human poop. Now, I can say with assurance that there are no human habitations conveniently close to this trail. Furthermore, in my experience, humans generally take cover for such activities. Therefore, question: Do bears shit in the woods? Answer: No. They shit in the middle of the trail.

Immediately I noticed the scat, Shadow started at something off to our right down the hill and sped up her pace. I seated myself more firmly on her bare back, very carefully not looking away down the hill, confident that seeing a bear would not, in fact, allow me to feel more calm and collected as my steed crashed through the underbrush reaching into the trail and stumbled over deadfall not yet cleared from last winter (it’s not that commonly used of a trail—more evidence that humans hadn’t been there pooping). I consciously untensed my muscles while I batted pine branches away from my face, and in a couple minutes we emerged, both of us a bit breathless, near old Jerome City and one of the Gold Hill mines.

Now, I feel like a normal person would have considered this to be a close shave and headed straight home. Shadow certainly would have, but since I was already up there I made her take a detour, through more woods, to check on the huge log I tried to clear last year and failed. She kept flicking her ears at me—Really? We’re not going home? ARE YOU INSANE?—but she didn’t ever bolt.

The log is still there, we backtracked through the woods then headed on home, and we arrived after almost two hours and a fantastic outing. Shadow really is a joy on the trail.

Here’s the thing, though, and if anyone can help me figure this out, I’d appreciate it. I don’t like to be ruled by fear. For example, I’m flying to three different places this summer, and I don’t like the idea. So my feelings, when we saw bear scat and then a half mile later I insisted we continue deeper into the woods instead of hightailing it home, were that I wasn’t going to let a fear of bears keep me from checking on that log when it was convenient to do so. But! How can I tell—how does anyone tell—if my fear of bears is irrational—i.e. the scat was old, the bear’s long gone, he’s not interested in me anyway—and should therefore be challenged; or if my fear is actually a survival instinct, some long-forgotten keep-safe-in-the-wild-world sense—i.e. the bear is just waiting for your horse to slip and you to fall off so he can eat you, gorily and painfully—that I should absolutely listen to?

Was is reasonable for me to continue riding around in the woods, or was it bloody stupid?

5 comments:

joel said...

From personal experience, my opinion is it was "bloody stupid". When I was 10 years old, I visited a former classmate near Bigfork, MT. They lived in the foothills of the Rockies. We decided to hike up an overgrown road to an old logging camp. After we walked for a while he yelled BEAR, RUN!! I didn't hesitate and ran back to his house. When I got there his mother asked where is Jimmy? I explained he was being chased by a bear. A couple of minutes later here came Jimmy, his pants ripped and tattered. The bear was faster than he was and the bear mauled him in the butt. He played dead and the bear went away. He had umpteen stiches put in his wound and recoverd without permanent damage. Since that day I have not liked bears. Don't temp the bears, let alone give them a second chance at eating you!

Laura said...

Calin!!!!!!! AHhhhhHHH! BEARS!!!!!

ACB said...

I mean, I’m also a consummate hostess, a bit of a meddler, funny, and verbose.

And humble! That's why I love you...

Add another vote to the probably not a good idea camp. Challenge your fear of being ruled by fear by trusting pilots to get you safely to your destination, not by trusting bears not to eat you...

Erik said...

Way to go Dad. I guess you didn't have to be faster than the bear, just faster than Jimmy.

So Calin, leaving the dogs at home was bloody stupid. Because the horse IS faster than you.

Taking a tip from the horse is probably good too..

CMT said...

I talked to Alice about what she does and she said "I make noise, because these are black bears and they really don't like people. I don't know why, but I sing 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.' Maybe because I can."

and King said "The dogs could be a liability. Bears don't like people, but they will sometimes attack dogs, because dogs sometimes attack them. And an attacked dog will probably run back to you."

BTW, I'm home safe in Seattle where bear sightings (http://www.komo4.com/stories/43546.htm_ are still relatively rare.