Monday, August 13, 2012

If you go out in the woods today…

Out the door, we turn left at the deck and head into the thick of the woods. Leaving the house behind we follow the narrow path that cuts a slow winding trail, like the course of a small river, through the trees up towards the back of our property.

I watch Bear’s black figure skip confidently ahead as Murdoch and I start and stop. He dives forward with such force to yank me behind him while I plant my feet and haul him back with the leash so we can walk together, peacefully.

“With me,” I say to him as I give his leash a good tug. Murdoch backs up with muscles trembling in excitement, his eyes focused ahead. “Okay okay okay,” he seems to say as though I am some nuisance to be tolerated.

We start again and I call ahead to Bear. “Wait up,” I say to her retreating form as she disappears around a bend in the trail like some mythical creature we are trying to catch but can never quite reach. Murdoch and I stumble along behind, me refusing to go forward when he pulls and him just giving enough slack in the leash to keep advancing along the trail.

“Bear,” I call as I catch a glimpse of her tail. I chatter constantly trying to keep Bear in earshot while explaining to Murdoch again and again that if he would just walk nicely we would get so much farther ahead. We are not quiet as we bash along over snapping sticks and crashing undergrowth with Murdoch diving from one smell to the next.

We follow the trail around a sharpish corner, clamber over a small tree. I push aside the low hanging branches of another tree that drapes its greenery across the path and I’m vaguely aware of Bear’s solid black form turning right and disappearing into the bright green undergrowth along the trail. But I am mostly focused on Murdoch and not getting the leash tangled in and amongst the surge of small saplings that dot the path.

“Okay Murps,” I say with a sigh as I haul him to a stop again. The next part of the trail is an obstacle course of undergrowth and downed trees and tripping hazards. I hold the leash tight and lean over so my face is level with his and I kiss him on the cheek a couple of times and tell him he’s a good boy and try to get him to agree that this next stretch is going to be a breeze.

I am impressed because he is standing completely still. His right eye, the one I am looking into from the side, stares straight ahead, he is so focused. I assume he is watching for Bear, wanting to follow but waiting for the word from me. I smile at his apparent obedience and straighten up.

About 20 feet in front of us is a black shape lumbering out of the woods on the left. But Bear disappeared to the right just a moment ago, how did she get over there? I wonder. In the next moment I feel like I am seeing double as I know for sure Bear’s black shape went right and Murdoch’s black shape is beside me but there’s also one in front of me and beyond that, another.

Suddenly the woods seem very crowded. And then the black shape in front of us turns and lifts its head and I see the brown muzzle and realize it is a small bear. A cub. Where’s its mother? And then the shape beyond turns and looks, another brown muzzle.

“Oh,” I think I say out loud.

Murdoch and I stand side-by-side, each staring at the pair of bears. Thoughts tumble through my mind so quickly I only glance them as they pass. The moment is so real yet not real at all and as I spin on my heel and watch the forest blur around me I hope that Bear has wandered farther towards the back of the property where Murdoch and I usually meet up with her and that she does not stumble into the midst of the bears. Because I’m sure she was right there somewhere in the thick of the green.

Don’t run, don’t run, I am saying in my head even though my legs want to go faster and faster. As we step back over the downed tree, I yell, “Bear!”, not to alert anyone to the presence of our visitors but in hopes that perhaps Bear will listen this time and come. I keep calling her name as we return down the trail. Murdoch marches along right beside me, there is no tugging or pulling which seems weird to me. He is either sensing the seriousness of the situation through me or he just knows bears are not dogs or squirrels or deer, because if we’d stumbled upon any of those things in the woods I would have been on the ground being hauled through the bush behind him.

When we have turned the sharp corner of the trail and put some distance between the bears and us. I stop and look back. Murdoch sits right by my side not saying a word. I listen for a moment for the sounds of a large animal crashing towards us, but all is silent except for my heart beating in my ears.

“Bear!” I call again. I hear one bark and I wonder what to do. I need to find her. My stomach drops at the thought of this being the way that we lose her when all this time we were worried about the cancer. For a split second I think about going back, I even take a step in that direction but then I know I can’t take Murdoch with me, there’s no guarantee the next time he won’t try and challenge the bears if they are still there. And I’m sure they won’t take too kindly to me just showing up again after I so obligingly left.

So I turn again and run back to the house, adrenaline making me giddy as I leap over tree roots and dodge low hanging branches. Murdoch runs beside me, his collar jingling, and even in this moment of impending panic I am aware of how great it is to run with a dog and not be yanked off my feet.

As we round the last curve of the trail I wonder how I will go back up there for Bear without causing some kind of altercation and how will I get Bear past the bears before she sees them and tries to be a hero? She has chased a bear before and I wasn’t counting on her just giving these creatures a free pass through her woods.

I continue to call her name until Murdoch and I reach the house. We scramble inside and I grab a small bag we keep by the stairs. Inside it are various camping things, like matches and candles and a reflector plate for a camping lantern and flares and the pen-like contraptions they screw into and which set them off, but what I’m looking for are bear bangers. They are similar to the flares but when they’re set off they sound just like a shotgun. It’s all I’ve got. We’ve never used them to scare off bears, but I wasn’t going back into the woods without one.

I am just about to dump the contents of the bag on the floor when I look out the window and see my Bear trotting down the trail, forehead wrinkled, neck stretched tall, eyes focused on the kitchen windows, “Where is everyone?”

I fling open the door and run outside. “Bear!” I say and give her a hug as she stomps onto the deck as if it is a game. I escort her inside, breathe a sigh or relief and inform the dogs there’s been a change of plan. “Let’s go across the road and visit Jack,” I say, and the dogs skip out the door behind me. Our feet rattle the stones on the path like marbles and I look back over my shoulder at the woods, wondering if I might catch another glimpse.


  1. WOW! My heart was racing as I read this post -- I was right with you. Glad it all turned out well. Thanks for blogging.

  2. Hi Susan, thanks for reading! Glad you enjoyed this post. It was quite an amazing experience, more awesome than scary really, but I'm glad it all turned out well too.

  3. Eeeek! This is a situation I dread with all my being. Lady goes BESERK... I mean LUNATIC CRAZY DOG INSANE ASYLUM JUNKYARD DOG crazy when she sees a bear. I have never met one on the trail with her, and hope I never do. When I am hiking with the dogs I try to make lots of noise and talk loudly, so that the bears have plenty of advance notice that we're coming. It's either worked so far, or I've just been lucky! Glad you, Bear, and Murdoch just had an interesting experience and not a dangerous one. Bears are beautiful and fascinating to watch. I just prefer to watch them from inside the house. :)

    1. I would not have been surprised if Murdoch had acted just that way you describe Lady. I was relieved, and a little bit puzzled, when he became a quiet obedient dog when faced with two bears. You never know, perhaps Lady would not be so confrontational if she met a bear face to face and not from the other side of a window - though I hope you never find out!

  4. Unfortunately, I've already had that experience. I've never run into a bear while out on a trail with Lady, but she did confront one in the back yard once. I lost about 10 years off my life that night I think - I thought I was going to see her ripped apart before my eyes. I was screaming at her to come back, and she was chasing the bear and barking and being lunatic-like. The bear ran up a tree. Thank heavens it wasn't a mother with cubs, or I'm sure I would be telling a very different story. It's because of that experience that I hope I never run into a bear on the trail - I know how she would react, and I would have no doorway to duck into or pull her into!

    Interestingly, Jessie, my last shepherd - reacted like Murdoch. When we lived in Minnesota, I was outside washing my car when I became aware that Jessie was watching something with extreme interest. I followed her line of sight and a huge (and I mean, huge!) bear was lumbering across the road about 20 yards away. Jessie didn't move or make a sound, just watched. I was astonished, because even though she was nothing at all like Lady, she was always chasing squirrels.. so I assumed she'd chase anything. I put it down to her highly evolved intelligence, knowing that bear was too big to chase! :)

    1. Wow. That would have been really scary to watch your dog confront a bear! My Bear chased one once and I was freaking out, but thankfully the bear was already running away when my dog Bear noticed it, so I'm not even sure, in retrospect, whether or not the bear even knew my dog was there.

      Sounds like your Jessie was intelligent enough to realize a dog is no match for a bear. I'm really not sure if Murdoch got that, but he was definitely not his usual boisterous self that day. I always imagine him making bad decisions so it was heartening to see him stop and think for a moment.