Tuesday, July 5, 2011

DOES A BEAR…? – A Warm Welcome Indeed

The wilderness is a great place to sharpen your senses. Obviously, being observant (and knowing your maps) helps insure safe, proper navigation. Once in a great while, awareness even turns out to be the key to survival. But most often, keeping your eyes, ears and other senses open just increases your enjoyment of being outdoors far from crowds, calls and cars.

Once in a great while, noticing one of Nature’s little gifts proves just plain hilarious.

There for the taking are sights, sounds and smells you likely won’t find anywhere else. The sunglow inside a red rock canyon, the mournful call of a loon across a northern lake, a whiff of white pine sap in an old-growth forest.

I'm used to thinking that Nature's to be beheld in silent reverence. But, once in a great while, noticing one of her little gifts proves just plain hilarious.

When my kids were in their twenties I took them on a fall canoe trip in northern Minnesota’s amazing Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).

One cool, damp afternoon, after paddling and portaging our way through five or six lakes, we were ready to find a good campsite for the night. The map showed several possible spots within a short distance along the left bank of a narrow bay.

Keeping your eyes, ears and other senses open increases your enjoyment of being outdoors far from crowds, calls and cars.

The first campsite we came to looked unoccupied, so I got out to survey it out for the key amenities: a good, flat, root-free spot to pitch our tent, a well-made stone fire pit, enough dead and fallen trees for firewood, a good branch for hanging our food pack beyond the reach of bears, and, of course, a decent Forest-Service-built latrine.

Following the path back into the woods, I found the wooden “throne” to be in good shape. On the way back to the landing, I realized I hadn’t had a “pit stop” all afternoon. Still out of sight of the kids, I stepped off the path, unzipped and watered a large, rotting, moss- covered stump. It’s always nice to have a target.

My kids had already decided the campsite merited only about three stars. So we hopped back into the canoe and paddled a few hundred yards down the shore to the next campsite. Unfortunately this one, with its lumpy tent site and poor landing area, rated only two stars. It was getting late and we were feeling the chill. So, instead of going on to check out a third site, we opted for the far-from-ideal, though certainly adequate, first campsite, and paddled back.

While the kids put up the tent and unpacked their sleeping bags, I headed into the woods to collect some firewood. In no time, I had a nice double armload and headed back toward the campsite to build the fire.

That’s odd, I thought. Just ahead, next to the trail, I thought I saw a wisp of steam.

On the way, I connected once again with the latrine path. After a few steps, my happy whistling came to an abrupt stop. That’s odd, I thought. Just ahead, next to the trail, I thought I saw a wisp of steam. I slunk a few steps closer. Could it be the breath of a small animal, I asked myself. No, it didn’t come and go like breathing would.

Wait…this looks familiar. I recognized the stump I’d just used as a urinal fifteen minutes earlier. And there on top, in the very center, was a fist-sized pile of still-warm bear shit.

What do you do when a North American black bear acknowledges you in this most personal way? You can run. You can feel insulted. You can ignore it. Or, as I did, you can look around for a big brown-and-black face peeking out from behind a tree and smiling. And then you just laugh out loud.


Evita said...

Hi Jeffrey

Oh this is such a great story! I live in an area that is so similar to what you describe and have the pleasure of seeing Loons on the water daily. Mind you they are so shy and I can never (for now) get close enough to them to take a good shot.

As for the bears, well I so far saw the back of one a bit in the distance, but haven't had my personal experience yet. What I love about your story is how your describe it with pure wonder and delight, no fear. So many people live on all sorts of fear tied to nature and look for anything they can to alienate themselves from it.

Well, let's embrace, let's rejoice and let's indeed find wonder in it all :)

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hi Evita -- How nice of you to comment -- glad you like my post! May I ask where you are that you see loons and black bear?
I've had quite a few encounters with bears, and can't honestly say that all have been free of fear. Hard not to feel some adrenaline surge when you're face to face with one! But that's always tempered with a clear sense of whose home the woods is.
Thanks for your interest in OMW -- be well!

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