I hiked down the trail, singing loudly:
The other day, I met a bear,
a great big bear,
away up there.
Anybody besides me know that song? I'm not sure where I learned it, but it seemed appropriate. A few minutes earlier, I had my hand on the trigger of my bear spray, waiting for the angry/frightened bear that was thrashing in the brush to come boiling out of the woods.
When I arrived at the trailhead, the parking area was full of cars. I've never worried about hiking here, because of the number of people usually there, and because this area is not known for bears, at least not as much as the nearby park. I decided to meander toward my favorite lake in the area.
Only a few huckleberries clung to the bushes. There were still patches of snow in the shade from the last storm, but it was sunny and quiet at the lakes I passed.
I decided to take a trail I had never hiked before to get back to the trailhead. "Hey Bear," I yelled intermittently, but not seriously. There was no bear sign anywhere.
Suddenly, I heard a snort from the woods, then crashing through the brush. A bear! I couldn't see through the woods well enough to see what kind it was, but it sounded mad, huffing in an unmistakable way. The crashing grew closer. It wasn't running away.
"Go away Bear," I yelled, still walking. "Lots of people here, with bear spray!" I took the safety off my lone can of repellent. The bear continued to thrash through the brush. It sounded like it was running back and forth, trying to decide whether to come out.
I felt strangely calm. This is it, I thought, scanning for trees I could climb. None looked probable. At any second I expected the bear to come leaping out of the woods. I kept walking and yelling.
It worked. Nervously I continued down the trail.
He looked at me,
I looked at him,
he sized up me,
I sized up him...
At the trailhead, I encountered the wilderness ranger packing up his cabin for the season. "In the heat of the summer the bears aren't really in here," he said. "But this time of year..." A couple had recently been charged by a sow with a cub at one of the lakes.
It was a good reminder. We live with bears here. There are more of them now than ever, and they are being seen in places where they haven't been seen before. They are coming into town and staying in the valleys. They are moving out onto the plains.
The last verse of the song is:
That's all there is,
There ain't no more,
unless I see
that bear once more!
Bear, no offense, but I hope I don't see you again. I'll be making lots of noise so I don't scare you, and dragging some people along with me next time. It's almost time to hibernate. Winter well.