Monday, August 18, 2014

Snow White and the Three Bears

I love having a dog.

Late this afternoon, after procuring pizza for three teenaged boys, I abandoned them for a little while so I could walk Teddy. I mostly trusted these kids and Teddy needed it. He was overdue since we skipped a walk yesterday and went to the movies instead.

I headed over to the local trail. It's a seven minute drive from my house. It's a known trail, paved except for a section that goes up to the ridge. It's easy to think the trail will be boring since I've been walking it with Teddy since he was a puppy. I know exactly how long it is in different sections. I know which friends live in which yards. I look in their yards, listen to their chickens clucking and crowing. I've watched their horses shake flies off their withers. Usually, I have to look for new things as I go. I have to try to find tiny miracles, an Indian pipe plant by the trail, ferns growing in the crook of a tree, or even gnarled branches that have survived many generations.

Once I found a dead fawn curled up in the grass by the trail as if it were sleeping. But it had died, not quite a miracle. Still, I marveled at its spots and the way its tender nose and gangly legs tucked into a tight circle. I often go the entire length of the trail seeing no more living creatures than Teddy and a few birds along the trail.

This time, I decided to take the trail away from the paved section and up toward the ridge. I needed a little more exercise than I could get walking two miles on level ground. I have felt quiet in the woods lately. I have felt as though I belonged. Just to the left of the paved trail about a quarter of a mile up the hill, I heard a small sound at my feet. A garter snake warmed himself on the trail's stones. When I pointed, Teddy snuffled at the leaves where it disappeared. He turned back to me, happy. I've seen him jump straight in the air when a snake surprised him, but he likes them when they're on the retreat.

A little further up the trail, I heard something bigger in the brush to my left. It was far enough away that I didn't get spooked. I kept climbing until I was looking down on a lane of sword fern among Western Red cedar, Douglas Fir, and Hemlock. It's the classic look of the forest around here. Throw in some fog, salal, and Oregon grape and you can expect to find Big Foot at any turn. Well, supposedly you could find Big Foot. I love when I'm in forest like this. Then, I heard the creature moving through the brush again. I kept trying to look where I'd last heard the noise. Then, I realized that I should be looking where Teddy was looking.

And there she was, a mama bear with two cubs. I walked up the trail a bit to see if I could get a better view. Teddy stayed at my side, looking at me to see if I'd send him to chase. No. There would be no chase for these three. Suddenly, I saw the mama bear turn and look right at me. There was a question in her eyes. Something changed in the way I was breathing.

"I see you there," I said in a quiet voice. "I see you have two babies. They're beautiful and I'm not going to bother them."

Then her small cub, which had climbed part way up a tree, came scrambling down and tumbled at her feet. The other cub walked ahead of her as she stood with her back to me but her face turned squarely toward me. Twins.

"You have a beautiful family," I said, keeping up my chatter. "I'm going to walk back down this trail here and I'll keep making noise so you can tell exactly where I am, okay?"

Then, as she was still looking, I turned and walked down the trail, telling Teddy to stay close. When I ran out of things to say, I sang. The only songs that came to mind were Christmas songs. Mike has been singing Christmas songs around the house lately and they're in my head. To the tune of 'We Wish You a Merry Christmas,' I sang,

"I'm walking down the trail now, I'm walking along the trail now, I'm walking along the trail now, and I'll leave you alone."

I made up verses until we were around the curve and across the bridge where the trail double-backed and I was afraid I might cross paths with her again. To tell you the truth, I switched songs and kept up a quiet babble of them until I was nearly back to the paved trail, well away from where I had left her.

I felt hushed for a moment, as if I had been allowed into something special. I had been. I was grateful to finally see a bear here after living here for twenty-four years. Just then, Teddy pounced at the edge of the trail. I never saw what it was, though he snuffled at it under his feet for a minute or so. A mouse? A shrew? Maybe another garter snake? I didn't get to see, but I saw the struggle under the leaves. I walked down the trail, a sign to Teddy to let the poor thing be.

Then an owl hooted from the trees. Oh, I don't know what kind of owl. It was the classic 'who, who-who' sound. I knew that animals were more active at dusk, but this was more than I had ever seen on this trail. Oh, I'd had people tell me they'd seen a bear on the trail or to watch out for coyote or the elk herd running at dusk.

Then, when Teddy and I got back to the car, a deer was standing within a dozen yards, looking like a statue. It took Teddy a minute to even see her. As if we were no problem at all, she walked casually across the road while I finally had the presence of mind to snap some pictures.

I put Teddy into the back seat, took off my day pack, and sat sideways in the driver's seat with the door open, thinking about everything I'd seen and heard. As I lifted my feet to close the door, I looked up and saw a rabbit munching grass a few feet away.

There was some kind of magic in the air tonight and Teddy and I have been allowed to witness it. I tell you, it made me feel like Snow White for a minute.

Thank you for listening, jb

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