I've lived "in the woods" my whole life. But for a brief stint of apartment living when my husband and I were first married over thirty years ago, during which we bemoaned the life of street traffic and neighbors and houses blocking our window views, I've always lived surrounded by woods and water, dirt roads and quiet. I'm comfortable wandering alone in the depths of the forest or walking a field in the pitch dark of night, unafraid. There have been wondrous encounters with wild life, and then... there have been moments of stupidity. One such moment occurred on a late October evening in 2013 around ten p.m.
First let it be said, I love October. There's nothing about it I don't like. I love the crispy nights that demand a fire in the wood stove and the brilliance of leaves twisting free of their hold on the forest crown. I love the smell of cool earth, split wood, and frost. I revel in the caress of a flannel shirt. I'm jealous of anyone born in October. I love the way the animals go on the move in October -- the geese, calling discordant stains, flying high above the earth or just above the tree tops in endless trailing vees, the deer browsing acorns on oak ridges while they grow thick with fur, and bucks getting rutty. The bears turn logs for lethargic bugs and roam far and wide for the last of summer's windfall fruits to build their store of winter fat. In October, it's not unusual for the dogs to bark chaotically as night falls and all God's creatures move about.
We had just settled in to some late night television on the October evening in question when our daughter-in-law Brandi called from her mobile home on the back forty. She was living alone while our son worked out of state, snuggled bravely further in the woods than we were.
She got directly to the point. "The dogs are going nuts. I think there's a bear. Will you come and see?"
Hubby was fast. He had his shoes on, a flashlight in one hand, and a pistol for protection in the other, while I was still tugging on my first tennis shoe. But moments later, we both bounded out the door. He was four steps ahead of me carrying the light. I felt like we were charging over there a bit too hastily since we had no idea where the bear might be, and I could hardly see where I was going.
"Hurry! Hurry!" He sounded like a little boy with a deep voice.
"It might be in a tree over our head." I was still the mother, warning.
"Better walk faster then."
"I'm going to trip."
He turned and shined the beam at my feet so I could catch up.
Brandi was waiting for us on her front step. Her two small pooches, a beagle and a beagle mix were bouncing about and yipping about fifty yards away on the other side of a small pond. Our golden retriever was out there too. "I think there's a bear in that big pine tree," Brandi said.
Jeff shined the beam of his flashlight into the branches of a lone white pine outlined beneath the crest of a hill on the opposite bank of the pond. Sure enough, about two-thirds the way up the tree, a pair of eyes glowed. He shined higher. A second pair of eyes glinted back. He shined some more.
"I think there are three," he said. He started walking the trail alongside the pond. Brandi and I followed close behind.
|The pond and "the" pine tree -- not in October, clearly.|
"This is dumb," I declared. "We should not walk over there."
But of course, he ignored me completely. There never was a man in our family who didn't think he was invincible.
So walk over there we did. We stood atop the hill beyond the tree searching the heavy limbs with a flashlight beam and trying to take pictures with a cell phone of three young bears, probably born the previous spring. All this while, a growing sense of wariness crept over me, and I think Jeff and Brandi felt it too. I inched back a few feet, and Jeff took to the top of the hill, turning to scan the meadow and tree line around us with a narrow ray of light that seemed woefully inadequate.
"You know..." his flashlight waved an arc across the uncut field, "there could be a momma bear around here..."
Brandi and I turned toward the trail, that wary feeling growing urgent.
At that very moment, Jeff shouted. "There she is... and here she comes!"
You know those dreams of running blind in the dark as a monster races toward you? The ones where your legs are churning in slow motion? Yes, those. That was sort of how it felt. We were all out for ourselves right then. Jeff smacked into something and almost got eaten. Brandi and I took off. She claimed the lead. I sort of clumsied my way along, trying not to twist my ankle in a hole, hoping the bear would be satisfied with man-dinner. Brandi bolted like a streak of blond lightning back to the front steps of her house. I was ten yards behind her, laughing in pure fear as I, too, found purchase on the cement beneath the yard light. Jeff, for a short guy, runs really fast. He leapt up on the steps a moment or two behind me. We were panting and giggling, and Jeff was shining his light back and forth, trying to see where we'd left Big Mama when I glanced down at Brandi's stocking feet.
"Brandi!" I gasped. "Where are your shoes?"
She giggled and wiped tears from her eyes. "I left them in the field!"
Laughing over that, we turned toward the door. Then Jeff thought he'd be real funny and once more yell, "Here she comes!"and fire a couple rounds from his pistol into the night sky just to terrify us.
Oh, haha, Mr. Musch. We didn't fall for it anyway, even if we did sort of crash through the doorway into the house. We called that the end of our wild adventure.
So mama stayed by her brood. Sometime later, their own blackness hidden in the darkness of night, her trio made their invisible way down the tree and disappeared over the hills, unaccosted by the dogs or their dumb owners. Hubby and I went home and tucked ourselves in.
October rolled on, and other bears made their way into our yard and were chased by a pup up our trees. Some hoped for a meal of our chicken feed, others nosed around under the apple trees leaving traces of their passing. Did I already tell you, I love October, and the way the animals go on the move?