A scary morning and a bear on the trail
Our view down the cut, from the crest of the mountain, was straight from a postcard.
Where we were, at the tree-line, there weren’t any tall trees – well, they were twenty or thirty feet tall, but not tall tall, as they were farther down the mountain where there was plenty of air for them to grow in.
The ones up here were all wide and crooked from having to grow horizontally in the thin air, instead of tall. But looking down that strip of power-line land it looked like the mountain had been shaved – we could see all the way to the bottom of the mountain, and back up the base of the next range.
Pop led the way, the under-brush in the cut was about waist high, which made walking a little harder than the logging trail we had been on, but not too bad as long as I kept an eye on where I was putting my feet.
We were a couple hundred yards down when Pop spotted a grouping of boulders right at the edge of the trees that he thought would work as a hide for me.
They were almost like a boulder chair. The front one was a couple feet taller than the ones right behind it, and the back one was about as tall as the front one. I could sit between the two tall ones, looking over the front boulder, and leaning against the back one. I would have a clear view down the mountain and all the way across the cut to the trees on the other side, which was a couple hundred yards.
I couldn’t see far into the trees on my right, maybe 10 – 15 yards, but between the trees and the under-brush, I was well hidden. You would have to almost stumble across my feet before you would see me.
As he watched me get settled in Pop said, “Make sure you get comfortable, you don’t want to be moving around. And put your rifle across your lap, you’ll lose time, and a bear might see you if you have to be reaching around to get hold of it. Now you need to keep an eye out everywhere, but especially down the cut, there’s a lot of hunting going on down there and they will probably flush whatever’s down there, right up to you.”
“Ok Pop, I will”
“If you hear any shooting or anything you just sit tight. Lot of city hunters here this year and they shoot at anything that moves, so you keep an eye out.”
“Howard said he thought he remembered an old den just down the backside of that ridge on the other side of the cut. That’s where I’m going to be, I’ll be back to check on you around lunchtime?”
My head said, “What! You’re going to leave me here! By myself!” but my mouth just said,
Off he went. I watched him walk across the cut, then left back up the mountain until he turned into the woods, back on the logging trail at the top, where he faded out of site.
It sure seemed really quiet now, but it was a bright sunny morning, not too cold, and I was actually pretty cozy, snuggled in as I was. The wind was blowing a little, like it always does up a power-line, but I was shielded by the boulders around me, and this was beginning to seem like a grand adventure. I started hearing normal mountain sounds; birds, tree limbs rubbing in the wind, I even imagined I could hear the leaves tumbling along.
I was scanning everywhere. Eyes and ears alert, checking out every dark spot or clump I could see, I just knew I was going to see a bear or deer any minute. After a little while, I started nodding off a little. I mean at eight years old, sitting in a snug hide with bright sun shining down on me, and nothing but the wind to get your attention –it was only natural to catch a bit of a nod here and there.
Then, I woke with a start. It seemed like it ought to be lunch time by now, or maybe even after lunch. Pop should be coming back soon, but I didn’t see him or hear any sound of him coming.
Then I heard shots from down below. One, then two more, then nothing. Sounded like they came from the bottom of the mountain, where Pop said those city hunters were.
Again I looked around for any sign of Pop, but all I saw were trees and under-brush, and that under-brush seemed to be a little taller than I remembered it being when we walked through it this morning. Could I even see a deer or bear coming through it, or would my only warning be from watching it move? Like it was now. No, that was only the wind moving it.
I didn’t hear any more from below, and was starting to get a little fidgety. My head was swiveling left and right – like somebody watching a tennis match, as I tried to make sure I wouldn’t miss anything moving in my direction. I was even wondering if it really was some city hunter – and that’s when I started remembering the story Pop told us last night at the campfire.
I wanted to go find Pop but I didn’t dare get up, what if those extra shots meant they didn’t get what they were shooting at with the first one. What if they only wounded it. Now I was really starting to worry! All I could do was hunker down and wait for Pop.
It was only a few minutes later when I heard it. Then I heard it again. At first I couldn’t be sure, I thought it was just my imagination, but the harder I listened the more sure I was.
Now it was as regular as my breathing wasn’t. Thump…scrape, thump…scrape, thump…scrape! I had a death grip on that 30-30 and my body had turned to stone. I couldn’t move an inch. I didn’t dare turn my heard, it might see me. This went on for an hour, I was waiting for the bear to leap over the rocks and tear into me any second. Actually, it was probably less than five minutes, and when I heard the snap of a branch breaking I couldn’t stop myself from spinning around to see what it was.
Halleluiah, I was saved, it was Pop! He was only a few yards away and didn’t look worried at all. Maybe he hadn’t heard it. He had a big smile on his face when he asked me if I had any luck or seen anything, but all I could do was shake my head and mutter, “Nope, nothing.”
Moving slowly and trying to act normal, I climbed out of those rocks to join him, and mentioned that I had heard some shots earlier, “Did you hear them shots Pop?” He said he hadn’t, and I began to tell him about the noises I was hearing just before he got there.
“I started hearing some noises after those shots Pop. I couldn’t see anything, but it sounded like an animal walking in those woods over there.”
He turned to look, “Could have been a deer” he said. “They usually come back up this time of day. Did it sound like a deer walking?”
“I don’t think so Pop, sounded too heavy, like it was dragging a leg or something. Sounded just like that bear you were talking about last night” I offered.
“Well, probably just the wind blowing a branch in the leaves, but we’ll keep our eye open on the way back.”
I got a lot of questions about my first day from Uncle Howard and Johnny C. that night, and there were a lot of smirky smiles and chuckles, but it was years later before I discovered the truth.
Pop Cliff never really left me alone on the mountain that day. As soon as he was out of my sight that morning, he doubled back and found a sitting place of his own about seventy-five yards behind me, where he could keep an eye on me, when he wasn’t sleeping that is.
As I also learned years later, Pop didn’t really go on these trips for the hunting, he went for the things that went along with the hunting. So he just sat there watching me that day, and sipping on his “pocket bottle”, and napping, until he figured it was time to head back to camp. That’s when HE started walking in the woods – dragging a foot with every step. He must have been dying to laugh just thinking about what I would be thinking.
Damn lucky I didn’t panic and start firing off that 30-30.
The devil must have really been riding on his shoulder that day because …
We followed a game trail back up the mountain, heading to the logging road that would take us back to camp. Everything seemed so normal as we walked through the trees that I soon forgot the scary feelings from my morning in the rock hide. Almost.
Dusk was coming on fast, maybe another 20 minutes of light, and we were working our way back to camp along what was left of the old logging road, which wasn’t much more than a path now. Just a couple ruts close to the tree-line where the air was too thin for trees to grow tall, so they grew wide, – crooked, twisted, and gnarled.
Against a dusky sky, their silhouettes looked just like those cave trolls I read about in a scary book.
But I was carrying a loaded Winchester and Pop was only a few yards ahead of me, so what could happen.
I wasn’t paying attention to Pop just then, I was looking at those stunted trees – trying to convince myself that they were just trees, and not the monsters they looked like.
I heard him start to run, and turned just as he pounded past me yelling – Bear!
Looking past him, about 20 yards ahead, was a huge black bear, standing tall on its hind legs – right on the edge of the same trail we were walking.
Gun? What gun?
I don’t even remember starting to run, or passing him, but the next thing I know, I’m about 10 or 15 yards ahead of Pop, and still trying to put more distance between me and that bear.
Then I noticed that he had stopped running, and was bent over like he couldn’t get his breath. “Come on!” I yelled, but he still didn’t move. “Pop, are you ok?”, but he didn’t answer. He couldn’t. He was laughing too hard.
He knew what that tree-line must have looked like to an eight year-old on a mountain top at dusk. And he knew what that broken, lightning-burnt tree trunk would look like to a kid that wasn’t paying attention. Like I said, he never missed a chance for a prank or practical joke. And everyone was fair game. Especially an already scared grandson.
“That was mean Pop!” I said, as we resumed our trek back to camp.
He tried to mutter “I thought it was a bear,” but he couldn’t keep a straight face when he said it. I didn’t think it was funny and didn’t speak to him the rest of the way back to camp.
When we got back, Johnny C. and Bob were dressing a deer Bob had gotten that morning. This would be our meat for the rest of the week. They had it hanging from a tree branch about twenty yards up-wind of camp, and were almost done, – a cooler for the dressed deer meat beside them.
Uncle Howard was gathering wood for the campfire that would be cooking our thick deer steaks for dinner tonight. Several times I noticed he would take a sip from a bottle in his back pocket – just like the one Pop had in his back pocket.
Dinner was great that night. Johnny C. cooked-up some small potatoes to go with the steaks, and I ate till I thought I would bust. Once again, after dinner it was time to pull up the lawn chairs and start the man-talk.
Everyone had something to say about their day, and looked really thoughtful when I piped in and recounted my “wounded-bear” scenario on the cut, but the smiles and comments they had when I finished should have made me suspicious.
Also, once again, the whiskey bottle was passed from hand to hand as the talk continued towards late evening, and by my bedtime there was some serious story-telling going on. I didn’t really want to go to bed, but Pop said we would be starting out early again because he wanted to go back across that ridge tomorrow, so I needed to get some sleep while I could.
Darn! They were just getting started around the campfire, and I didn’t want to miss anything. I crawled into my sleeping bag, with my head towards the fire, as close to the tent wall as I could get so I could keep listening.
The next thing I know, Pop’s shaking my shoulder, “Come on boy, better get up if you want some breakfast before we leave.”
Next: To be continued …
See all of the Pop Cliff stories
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