Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Little Bit About A Boy & A Bear On my second summer on the farms I was allowed much more freedom to roam about in my free time and do whatever young boys seem to do, mostly fishing and swimming. It was while fishing that this little tale began to unfold. The photos above are to illustrate the "sucker fish", which was the catalyst for the beginning of the tale. These fish live in rivers having deep pools of still water and spawn up the streams feeding the river in the spring. The other photos are of adult and young (just older than cub and on their own at last) black bears. They also show the difficulty in spotting the bears in the bush, even when you think they're watching you. The photos also illustrate the only place it's even remotely safe to observe a wild black bear, from a pretty good distance. The greater the distance away, the safer you are. On the far north border of R's farm, about six miles through the woods on a seldom used logging road that was comprised mostly of two parallel ruts, ran a fairly large stream. It seems to have gotten smaller with time, as it no longer seems so large on my occasional visits these days. It must be something in the water at my old hometown, as so many things aren't nearly as large as I remember them. The walk in to the stream seems every one of its several miles however, as the road remains mostly two ruts that deter even Jeeps from passing, so a hike in it is still. It was in this stream that the sucker fish would fight their way against the current every spring to reach the sandy-bottomed shallow water in which to lay their eggs. As this always occured at the time of spring snow melt, the current was stronger and the water deeper than normal. It was also extremely cold, which apparently wasn't a problem if you were ten-thirteen years old and had "sucker fishing fever", a common malady among the entire population of the male youth of the area. In most places, the logging road would allow a bicycle to remain upright with a lot of good balance, quick reactions, and muscles beefed up by farm labors. The spring of my second summer marked the start of my newly gained freedom, and I immediately informed my aunt of my destination and purpose in going, then departed on my first solo journey to the stream to check on the "sucker run". I'd been lectured endlessly until then about always letting somebody know where I was going, when I planned to be back, and if I was alone or with others. This wasn't merely an effort to track my movements. If you live in a wilderness area with its associated dangers, these details can mean the difference between life and death should trouble arise. I'd also been taught the dangers of some of our furry forest neighbors and what to do if I happened upon one during my travels. As luck would have it, my first trip alone was also my first solo encounter with one of the more dangerous neighbors that inhabited our woodlots. I'd just finished scouting around for a good spot to fish for suckers. A good spot is essential as you have to use an unbaited three-pronged hook to snag suckers. This means you needed a place where the fish would gather to rest a bit, and where the current was a bit weaker. The current strength was important, as you often would snag the fish by the tail and it would swim downstream away from you with the aid of the current. As I pedalled slowly along the ruts, I heard a crashing of bushes just behind me, accompanied by a series of snorts similar to those of a bull. Stopping the bike, I looked to see what a bull was doing so far from the farm, forgetting all about other critters that might be around. I was quite shocked and badly shaken by the sight of what appeared to be a huge black bear not far away. I looked at the bear as it looked at me for a few long seconds, then jumped on my bike and pedalled recklessly away from the danger. After a distance, I didn't hear any sounds of hot "bear pursuit", so I chanced a glance over my shoulder to see if the critter was gaining on me. I nearly fell off the bike laughing as I spotted the "monster bear" running as fast as it could, branches and leaves falling off it from its fall through the bushes onto the road, in the opposite direction! It was as startled and frightened as I was. I also had calmed down enough to realize that it was not a "huge" bear, but rather a small one and probably newly on its own also. I remember wondering if momma bears lectured their cubs on the dangers of the animals that lived in the "wooden dens" in the clearings. As I finally regained my composure and headed once again toward home, I decided that telling uncle R about the bear was probably not going to be in my best interests as far as returning to fish for suckers was concerned. I did visit the school library during the following week and read all I could about black bears. The ensuing week was spring vacation and I intended to be as prepared as possible to thwart any and all bear assaults should the need arise. As I was going to be far upstream from the "town" boys, I'd need to be extra careful to keep from drowning, or being eaten. As the first day of fishing arrived, I set off with my trusty pole, spare hooks, a lunch of apples, and a referee's whistle, which I'd read was a fairly good emergency bear repellant. Ah, to be young and fearless. As it turned out, all went well during the morning as I snagged, fought, landed, and released a number of fat sucker fish. It was as I was resting on a rock drying in the sun and munching an apple that I heard a terrible commotion just downstream from me. Suddenly, there it was, my bear from the previous encounter. It had to have been it I figured, how many bears could possibly fail "sneaking through bushes" lessons, as was clearly the case with this noisy interloper. Of course, if I'd been older and wiser, I'd probably have guessed the crashing entrance was meant to have the effect on my presence the whistle was meant to have on bears. At any rate, the whistle was safely on my handlebar, about twenty feet away. I decided that lesson number two of bear avoidance was in effect, stay very still and hope they don't see you. If I was older, I'd have known that the critter was well aware of me as it'd have smelled me long ago, my being upwind and all. Well, this turned into one of the best afternoons I remember ever having. As I lay on my rock watching, it soon became apparent that the fellow had also flunked basic sucker fishing as well. After a couple hours of watching the poor thing catch and lose fish after fish, and seeing no apparent threat to myself, I decided to try an experiment. I gathered up my pole and cast as far downstream as I could. It must have heard me, as it suddenly stopped not catching fish and started sitting and watching me. Too late now I figured, if it's gonna get me, so be it. As I hauled in my first sucker of the afternoon, I worked my way carefully to shore before landing it. After unhooking it, I rapped it on a rock to finish it off, and estimated the distance to the small area the bear had trampled flat. Taking the fish by the center, I drew back and threw it for all I was worth, barely getting it into the clearing. Looking back now, I realize how close I really was back then! My actions had an unexpected effect on the critter, as he disappeared into the brush immediately. Seeing this, I waited a bit, and then resumed fishing thinking it'd gone away. Soon I looked up from a cast and was surprised to see the bear had returned and was sitting there pawing my fishy present. Pretending to keep fishing, I watched as finally hunger got the best of the bear and it started eating the fish. After it finished, it just sat looking at me, so I figured why not, and got another down to it. This time there was no running away as the critter hungrily munched away. Over the next hour or so I repeated this several times over with the same result. Finally, tired, wet, and a tad chilly, I picked up my stuff & headed back. Before I left I tossed the last juicy apple to the bear and overthrew the clear spot. As the bear went in search of the latest free snack, I took my leave. I arrived home all set to relate my great bear adventure, but wisely realized this would surely be the end of sucker fishing. The rest of the week passed without my spotting the bear again, although the fish I left on rocks on the stream bank were always gone the following day and the rocks surrounded by bear tracks. I never again saw my furry fishing companion, but when I went gathering rabbits for a stew, I always took a small burlap sack and some string along. After getting a few more rabbits than we needed, I'd put two or three in the sack and tie it well off the ground from a tree limb near where we'd fished. The first few times, I returned to see if they were gone. I found the torn sacks and no rabbit bodies, but loads of bear tracks. This little game continued until I left the farm, by which time I'd figured the bear was a male, but never laid eyes on him again. I'm pretty sure he knew when I was around though. Until next time, take care.

9 comments:

lori hahn said...

Great story Mike!

Mies said...

Mike, Your story shows how intelligent and what a fast learner the black bear is. George thinks black bears may be smarter than their cousin the Grizzly. Grizz do a lot of things on instinct, where the black bear actually plans and plots a situation out. He saw a lot of this when living in Idaho. It didn't take long for your bear to know where to get an occasional effort free meal...
This was a very entertaining story...Good one......Mies

Patricia said...

Really good story, Mike. A kid kid, and a bear kid. Both of you probably too young to have much sense, which allows wonderful things to happen, sometimes.
I think I've told you that I once got to bottle feed a baby Florida Black Bear only a few months old, about the size and bulk of a human one year old. You hold it and feed it just like a human baby, and to see those brown eyes looking up at you while you are doing it is amazing. I''ll never forget it.
Keep it up with those good stories.

Sarah said...

Great story Mike. It is also amazing how the bigger WE get, the smaller all those Large places seem to be.

Anonymous said...

Great story - I just knew when I came back to visit you would have a treat for me, just like the little black bear.

Ananth said...

i am looking for link exchanges. what ya say? i'm linking to you.

and btw nice adventure man. And dont tell me you clicked those photos of the bear while running away from it. :-)

Red Hog said...

Mike,
Wow, a childhood with memories like that is truly a blessing. Thanks for sharing with us.

I linked you on my website.

Happy Holidays.

Ananth said...

woah! that was a lightning quick reply, mike. You sure seem to have learned to be on the run. And many thanks for the link.

Melly53 said...

Loved it.

My only encounter with a black bear as a kid was in Yellowstone. We left our car window down and the next morning we woke up to a little bear asleep at the wheel..plus he/she ate part of the upholstery.