That Bear and Me
I've always loved those later fall days at the ranch. The days are getting shorter, and I know what's to come. There will be snow, lots of it, cold temperatures, and by December, most likely temps well below zero. It wasn't but just a few years ago, I think in December of 2013, and maybe that was December 7th, the thermometer outside our kitchen window showed -41below. Well, that was then, and on this early October Saturday afternoon, it is plumb flat gorgeous. It must be in the low 70's, the sun is out, and even though the sun is considerably lower in the sky than it is in July, that round ball of yellow fire is still warming our part of the country. I feel good and it's time to do some work. In this case, begin to winterize the cabins, turn the water off to them, the barn, the automatic waterers, and then pump the water out of each one individually. I start the process at the cabin closest to the barn, the Lewis and Clark cottage, probably twenty five to thirty yards from the barn. And at this point in time I'm not thinking about bears, in case you're wondering. We haven't seen a bear on the property the entire year. It ain't like the old days back in the eighties and nineties, bears, grizzlies everywhere, I kid you not.
So there I am, moving in and out of the Lewis and Clark cabin, turning valves off, pumping air into the system, blowing water out, stepping back out to get tools. And then halfway through that process, I happen to look inside the entrance to the barn and there's our large grain bin, laying on its side, hard against the rear gate directly adjacent to the corral. It isn't supposed to be there. I know right away it's a bear, been there many times. I wander back to the barn entrance and swing the gate open. There's a bit more mess close by. The 55 gallon steel garbage can has been turned over, there's paper garbage and empty grain bags on the dirt floor but not much more of a mess. No worries mate. Hell, I wasn't even thinking worry, much less thinking bear. I've seen nothing to sound off any alarm bells and my God, it's the middle of a very sunny day. I move through the barn, picking up what's been scattered.
About halfway into the large barn, there's a corner past the tack room and a large open space off to the right. I reach that corner and naturally, look to the right, and there he is, looking at me. Holy shit, we're about twenty feet apart. It's a grizzly, and he's half standing, hard up against the wall, and undoubtedly, waiting and wondering what in the hell he's got coming at him. I see him and he's seeing me. I make the bear, he's making me, and I swear it may have only been two seconds, and although I'd like to tell you that a whole lot went through my mind real quickly, that wasn't the case. I do remember recognizing it was a grizzly, immediately, and I do recall seeing long, white claws on what must have been a front foot raised above his body and I believe up against the wall. Beyond those thoughts however, there weren't any. And after what must have been just two seconds, perhaps three, but it wasn't any more than that, that son of a bitch made a move, a lunge toward me, hard and fast.
I didn't think, didn't have enough time to think, but perhaps whatever thought process I did have at exactly that moment of truth, passed that message to my body and I moved, and I mean with lightning speed. I spun on my left leg and ran, sprinted, harder than I have since my college days, towards light, the barn gate, and out. Believe it or not, and I can actually remember the fleeting thought I had during that flight. "Man, I feel good, I feel fast, I feel light on my feet." I had more than a little fear and adrenaline running through my veins and that must have helped. No pulled hamstrings, no bad knee, and no physical handicap holding me up. I made it out of the barn.
Daylight, temporary freedom. My sprint gets me fifteen, twenty yards beyond the barn gate and I am beginning to use some cognition (a fancy word for thought, my counseling education education!). I've got to look around and see where that bear is 'cause if he's on my ass I'm gonna' have to change my plan. I haven't thought beyond that but I do slow down and crane my neck around and look back. He's not on my butt, thank God, and so I look harder in the direction of the back barn gate and the corral, and there he is. He's hit a lope as well, a grand four hundred pound grayish colored griz, probably a male, and he's hauling the mail, wanting no part of me, and I, no part of him.
Remember, I opened this writing feeling pretty good about the day, the time of year, and the beauty of this particularly fine fall day. Well, I'm here to tell you that I'm feeling even better, as I continue on up toward the lodge, safety, and my beautiful wife. Life feels real good at the moment. Hell, I just dodged another bullet. Oh yeah, I have more than a good idea how that afternoon event could have ended. That image I have of those long, white claws, classic grizzly features, are still with me. I know that had that bear been a sow with cubs, or perhaps a grizzly with less shy behavior, or simply a bear that had been even more suddenly confronted, I might have felt those long claws across my back. I don't think much beyond that scenario. Ain't worth it. And besides, I did dodge another bullet. That's three of them this season. Been cow kicked in the head by a good horse, knocked me down, a first after having shod a couple thousand head of horses in my life. Got bucked off hard, my head finding the only large rock in an area of soft grass and dirt, and then of course, the bear. And I'm still hear to tell you about it.
Vaya con Dios!