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Bear Tales 15, A Mountain Too Small
By Leland Waldrip
Sunday, August 03, 2003
This is the final excerpt from the novel, The Last Grizzly.
A MOUNTAIN TOO SMALL
"You hear that?" The excited voice in the darkness was Larry's.
The small glare of a flashlight broke through the Stygian blackness.
Kenney's puzzled voice said, "I don't hear anything. What are you talking about? It's four-thirty in the morning. What's going on?"
"Does anybody else hear it?" Larry was insistent.
"What?" Wes voice sounded loud and irritated at his dad. "I don't hear anything."
"That's what I mean. You don't hear anything because it's stopped raining. And the wind has laid too. Things will be popping this morning. Time to paint your rosy face and hit the woods, boy."
"Oh, God! I thought something terrible was happening. It's just Dad's cute way of waking everybody up!" Wes really felt irritated.
"Cute, huh? Just for that, your cute little ass is going to be the one making your breakfast this morning. I'm going to cook for everyone else. You can fend for yourself."
"I knew the good weather would bring out the best in everybody. It gets so peaceful when the rain goes away." This was Nat, pulling on a clean pair of camouflage pants by the light of a little hand light on his sleeping bag. "I'll have the coffee going in just a few minutes. Don't anybody set off a rocket or drop a nuke till we have some hot Java in us."
There was bustling in all parts of the tent, as the men were wide awake now from the vicious sounding volleys in the dark. Larry unzipped the door flap and went out to retrieve the food chest, flashlight in hand. By the time he returned, the men had mostly dressed themselves. They were painting camouflage marks on their faces or were readying and strapping on pack gear.
"It's nippy out there, too," Larry announced, rubbing his hands after coming back into the tent. "Time to break out the sweaters and jackets. It'll probably warm up during the day though, so don't put on something you can't shed later."
Jimmy rummaged around in his duffel bag and came up with a medium heavy camouflage jacket with a hood. He laid it on his sleeping bag where he could get to it easily, then continued lacing his boots.
Larry put together a pot of oatmeal and fried loaf bread toast in light margarine. Soon, everyone wolfed down the pasty meal and finished coffee or juice.
Jimmy put on his jacket, leaving the hood flopped back. He put his hat on and began wiping greasepaint on some places Wes had missed. Wes returned the favor, then said, "Here, let me fix that hood for you. It's going to be full of twigs and water and trash the way you have it." He straightened it out and began to roll it up and turn it inside itself, so it would stay. "There."
"I should stay warm now. That's like a thick muffler around the back of my neck. Thanks."
Larry started gathering the dirty plates to wash. "It'll be getting light in forty minutes. Everybody still happy to hunt in the same sectors?"
Bill said, "I'm happy with mine, but I'm looking for a buck now. If Kenney would like to try for that big bull I saw Monday, he's welcome to swap with me. Of course, that bull could be anywhere by now."
"You sure you wouldn't mind?" Kenney sounded grateful. "How about you Wes? Is that all right?"
"Fine with me." Wes was pleased with the idea. "We can both concentrate on finding a bull."
Nat said, "I think I'll hunt high in our sector, Jimmy, and try to get a buck. That one you killed wasn't the only one leaving tracks in that area. I think I may be able to scout one up. If you want, you can take the lower area. Might have more of a chance to find elk drifting down a little in anticipation of cold weather. If you get something, you can come up to the contour where you got your buck and I'll be along there somewhere. And if I get something it shouldn't be too hard to get it out from up there."
Larry asked, "Stoney, you going after that big bull you saw the other day when that bear made a 'possum out of you?"
"Yep. But I hope that yellow-faced bastard is in Montrose or somewhere now."
Larry had some more advice. "All kidding aside, you guys be careful out there. It would be kind of nasty to run into him if you can't climb like a squirrel. I know I have the jitters when I think about it. Mostly I don't think about it, but I'm going to be a little more careful where I meander now. Don't go into super thick stuff where you can't see fairly well."
Larry carried the food chest back to the tree by the little creek to hoist it for the day. When he returned, he and Stoney left the tent immediately. They picked up their bows from the back of the trucks. Larry whispered loudly as he came back past the tent, "Last one out remember to zip the door." Then they were gone.
Most of the other men were immediately behind Larry before scattering to their own directions. Nat zipped the door flap and joined Jimmy at the edge of camp. There was just a hint of rose in the eastern sky above the faint road that disappeared down the mountain as they turned to the right and walked into the sodden timber. After they had travelled a little beyond the general area where Jimmy had taken his buck, they waited for daylight by standing back to back next to a large ponderosa pine.
"Everything is too wet to sit on. And besides, I don't like wandering around in these woods in the dark," Nat whispered.
Jimmy was glad he felt that way. He didn't like it either.
Daylight came quickly and with it a profusion of noises from awakening residents of the forest. Most of the sounds he had heard before, but this morning they seemed to be cheerier and happier. The sun was coming and it was good to be alive in the chill mountain air. Jimmy began to feel that way himself. The air had such a clarity to it, after the cleansing rains.
The sun slowly lit the morning sky and the woods about them. The trees were still dripping and the ground was soaked. But they sighted no game animals early that morning. Finally, Nat said quietly, "I'm going to go farther on around the hill now. You be careful and I'll see you around noon back at camp. There's not much use in staying out during the middle of the day when it's bright like this."
"I think you're right. Nothing much is moving during that part of the day. May as well have lunch and loaf around back there."
He slowly took a few steps down the hill and stopped at another large tree to scan the forest below him. Looking back he saw Nat moving off to his right, stopping behind the trunk of a large pine tree. Now the forest became a part of him, and he of the forest. Aristotelian style, he thought with a little smile. He wouldn't move until he was absolutely certain that nothing escaped his attention, that there was nothing alive in the woods ahead of him.
He began playing a game with his mind that Nat had taught him, pretending that the elk had high-powered scope-sighted rifles. He would be shot if they saw him first. It was a good game to teach the discipline of hunting through the woods. It made you doubly, triply cautious about giving your position away to anything.
Slowly, very slowly, he moved down the mountain, meandering to avoid logs and rocks, or to have cover in front of him, taking advantage of each of the bigger trees.
He saw many of the species of birds and wildlife he had already seen out here. Another porcupine, two young red foxes, another golden eagle, or perhaps it was the same one he had seen before, wheeling across the sky and seen briefly through the openings in the canopy above.
Many birds were flying, and they were very active this morning, flitting and singing. Small species swarmed by in small flocks, picking at the trees and leaves. Many species were singing. Woodpeckers hammered. Crows and ravens cawed and rasped. Magpies shrieked. Jays fussed and scolded in saucy gray and blue dress. A little brownish colored wren lit on the pulley of Jimmy's bow. It startled away by his own equally startled reaction.
Jimmy meandered, but he was travelling in a basic line, straight downhill. Over little ridges, down hollows, across relatively flat shelves, but mostly down steep slopes. Past blow-downs, through black timber, skirting the thickets of smaller fir trees and shrubs. After three hours he began to think about the altitude he had lost and the fact that he wanted to gain all of it back sometime before noon. He had moved almost half a mile in his slow descent, but perhaps only five hundred yards in actual altitude.
He turned to his right. For the next hour, he moved on contour, covering about three hundred yards. He saw a doe deer moving ahead of him in the same direction. She was soon out of sight. He didn't believe she had seen or smelled him, as the black thread on his bow said there was no breeze, or if it was, it was to his face.
His uncovered wristwatch revealed it was nearing ten o'clock when he decided he must begin regaining the lost altitude. He swung up the hill on an angle, still working in an easterly direction. When he felt that his body was beginning to warm the tree he was leaning against, he would steal softly and slowly to the next in his ground plan.
Another of Nat's lessons had been that you could rarely see an entire animal at once, and you shouldn't look for them with that frame of mind. You should instead locate parts of animals. An ear, a buff patch that was the rump of an elk, a funny limb that might be antlers, vertical lines that might be legs under low hanging tree limbs, horizontal lines that might belong to the belly or back of an animal, the blackness of a wet nose or of a round eye peering through a small opening in the underbrush. And always the movements.
A perceived bird flitting in the undergrowth, an imagined squirrel tail flicking, the breeze flipping a leaf. All must be checked thoroughly before being dismissed as being usual, and unassociated with game quarry.
Recognition came slowly. At first it seemed like deja vu, the familiarity only haunting, then a partial disorientation, then the scene settled into the right crevices in his mind and he knew he was back at the place where Nat had killed his bull on that first morning of the hunt.
Jimmy felt slightly surprised as he didn't realize he had gained that much altitude yet. He thought, the gut pile should be just ahead and to the left, behind those two small evergreens. He was standing in the open now, between the cover of a large pine trunk and a group of small fir trees ahead.
A sensation of movement penetrated his peripheral eyesight, up the hill slightly and thirty yards away behind more evergreens. It wasn't the quick type of motion often seen when a deer flicks its ear or wriggles its tail. This was more subtle and slower.
Jimmy's head didn't move while his eyes cut to that location. Gradually his head turned to follow the path of his eyes. Nothing at first. Then a darkness that didn't belong to the shadows of the fir trees low in the tangle. His eyes tried to penetrate the dense foliage. Through one small triangle of an opening at chest height he could see a motionless tan object. It was motionless for only a second, then the perception of motion, rather than full acknowledgment.
An elk's buff colored rump. They must have come back to the area. No cover to hide my motions. The only thing to do is use Parson's trick. Molasses on a cold morning. If he steps out before I get the bow drawn, it'll never happen. I'll never be able to draw and shoot fast enough. He'll be gone in a heartbeat. But if I can just get the bow drawn, he may step out at the right time, before I give out and have to let it down.
Jimmy began the timeless journey of quietly pulling an arrow from his quiver; feeling the little ridge of the cock-feather with his thumb; feeling for the nocking point on the bowstring, placing the nock of the arrow on the string and pressing until the satisfying little thump told him the nock was fully seated on the string; moving the arrow quietly onto the arrow-rest, grasping the release and sliding it up the string to the release stopping point, raising the bow ever so slowly to drawing position, and, the hardest part, drawing it slowly without erratic or quick motion.
The release settled against his cheekbone in familiar comfort and the view through the peep sight emerged with the thirty yard pin lining up in the near vicinity of the buff colored patch of what could only be animal hair, as he began to wait for the elk to move into the open.
Either a bull or a cow is okay by me. I'll take either one. If it has horns, they have to be four on a side though. He reviewed his legal options for taking an elk.
Jimmy held the bow several seconds, waiting. He was beginning to feel fatigue from the strain of holding the pent-up energy when something in his sight picture went very wrong. The animal didn't step out -- rather it squashed the limbs of the small fir tree and bowled over its top. Comprehending the difference between an expected image and the one presented used much of the boy's precious time. Reality burst on his consciousness with an explosion of horror and motion and sound.
Not the side of a slow moving bull elk, but the front of a charging grizzly invaded his jarred senses. His jaw dropped as his mind played the slow motion event. He would have only a scant couple of seconds.
Heavy grunts punctuated bone-chilling roars from the furious bear. Its churning, rapier armed paws tore viciously at the forest duff. Head up, ears back, the curled lips exposed long yellow ivory canine teeth and a slathering pink tongue that spewed bright spittle and froth into the sunlit glade.
Horror broke through the boy's stupor. His answer to the bear was a terrified scream -- quickly stifled, along with his death fear. His breath slowed, strangely calm. Ancient words of courage were only flicks of electrons somewhere in his neural networks: Stand still feet. Arrow, fly true , arrow fly sweet.
He no longer tried to deliberately aim. Eyes wide, instincts alive, the bowstring was only a blurred vertical line against the yellow, brown and black wall of hair, teeth and claws in his immediate future. He held for impact eight inches below the V of the tan chin under the creature's wide open mouth and released the arrow when the bear was still six feet away. He continued holding the bow toward the closing bear for milliseconds after the shot, only beginning to turn to his right as the onrushing grizzly slammed him like a runaway truck.
His breath exploded with shock and pain ripping through the shoulder and chest on his left side. The cushioning rolled jacket hood was crushed and jammed into his neck with incredible force. There was commotion above him and blubbering snarls and growls. Then a worse pressure on his head almost made him pass out. The grating sound of huge teeth pressing and raking across his skull reminded him of the sounds he had heard as a kid when his friends had poked and raked sticks across his old wooden barrel hiding place.
The pressure on his head released then happened again. Eventually the awful guttural, gurgling roaring growls in his ear ceased and the unendurable weight on his neck eased. He was only barely aware that he had been dropped to the ground. He could still hear, through a warmness in his left ear, far away now, more snarling and growling.
A force like an avalanche suddenly expelled his breath. He couldn't breathe anymore. "I don't need to anyway. I'm dying now." The peaceful thought came to him as his relaxed body began feebly coughing. Shallow breathing returned, with pains in his chest. He felt an awful pressure in his right buttock, a deep searing pain as muscle tissue gave way to penetrating canine teeth exacerbated by violent shaking back and forth. He could feel his backbone popping and cracking with the wrenching. He expected his backbone to snap. His earlier fear gone, he calmly waited and welcomed spinal severance, vaguely knowing the ordeal would then be over, his life done, finished without completion. Let it happen now , he thought.
But that was not to be. The arrow, a mere straw, had sipped deeply from the bear's life, whose new concern became a heavy, settling fatigue -- too heavy, too settling.
Jimmy tried to sort it all out. "I'm going to sleep now. I'm so tired. I'll get up later and go back to camp and tell the other guys that I shot a bear ... you can't go to sleep now. There's lots of work to be done. You have to cape the bull out. He'll be a nice trophy. Get up and get going ... I think I'll go to sleep now -- so tired..."
Jimmy would live, knowing a deep silence, numbness, prickles of sensations and pain. And for a while this would be his only remembrance of the last grizzly in Colorado.
Nat's voice came from the canyon below. "I'm going for help, son. I'll be back as quick as I can."
Jimmy tried to answer, but he new Nat couldn't hear him. It was too far. And he couldn't seem to make any progress toward his friend. "I'll just let him work his way up to me. I need to stay here and rest some now."
He listened for a while as Nat's voice faded away. Then he heard it again, closer this time, but still far away. Nat was talking like Larry and Parson, though. He had never heard his friend mimic the other men before. This was strange.
The bear had him again, now, shaking him, hurting his ribs, but not as badly as before. He must lie still to make it think he was dead. It might go away if it thought he was dead. He couldn't move even a little or it would come back and pounce on his chest again. But it seemed only a little while that the bear worried his battered body this time.
Then he heard Nat speaking with a strange voice, this time, still far away but not in the canyon any more. Then Nat's strange voice, behind the rushing noise, said, "It'll be St. Mary's Mercy in Durango."
"'St. Mary's mercy in Durango'," Jimmy rolled over in his mind. "Maybe she will take pity on me and let me in. If she's helping, I can get in -- keep the bear out."
Then he heard Nat's normal voice, but still far away, "Take it easy, son. We're getting you some help. It won't be long now."
The rushing sound kept getting louder, then Nat talked in more strange voices. His head was hurting now and Nat was pulling his hair. "If he would just not pull so hard ...." The bear was biting his rump again now, but not as hard as before. "Maybe the arrow is beginning to have an effect on him now. He can't go on forever. I saw the fletching sticking out of his chest. Only three or four inches of it left sticking out. It has to be having an effect on him. That's why he isn't biting as hard now."
"You hear me now, son?" Nat's voice had returned to its normal tone and resonance. He was standing right over him, looking down at him.
White curtains loomed up and behind Nat. "I ... hear you, all right, Nat. Where are we? Is this ..."
"This is St.. Mary's Mercy Hospital and you're going to be all right. The doctors say you'll be all right. Just need some rest and tender loving care for a while. But you're going to be all right. How do you feel?"
"I feel kind of funny, like everything isn't really real. Sore all over," he said grimacing as his hand came up to feel his face. "They got a lot of bandages on my head. What's wrong with my head? Am I hurt bad?"
"Your head is going to be fine, son. And all things considered, you came out of it pretty good. You got a tear and bruises on your butt and on your neck, a couple of cracked ribs and your scalp came loose where he bit on your head some. But you are going to be fine. Everything is going to mend up real nicely. You remember that bear giving you a whipping?"
"Sort of, ... yeah. I remember he was biting my neck first, ...then my head, and my butt.... He shook the hell out of me, too, and jumped on me and hurt my chest.... That's about all I remember. How long I been here? How long am I going to have to stay in here?"
"Hold on now, one question at a time," Nat smiled, holding up a halting palm. "You got into the fracas with the bear on Thursday. This is Saturday. You've been mostly asleep, but you would wake up and talk to me a little every now and then. Something about me pulling your hair.
"They've been giving you morphine and a bunch of other stuff and I know that makes you feel groggy for a while after. They say it looks like you won't get any infections. You had some good doctors, boy. They managed to get you cleaned up and patched up pretty good. Wait till you see the pretty little Mexican nurse they have tending to you. You won't even want to get out of here.
"I haven't called your mother, yet. I was thinking you'd want to do that. Besides, I didn't have her number and I wasn't sure of her name."
"That's okay. I'll call her when I feel better. She wasn't expecting me back for a while anyway, so she won't be worried about me. Where are the other guys?"
"They're still back up on the mountain. We made a stretcher out of hunting jackets and two poles we cut. We hauled you up that mountain while the helicopter came in from Durango here. Larry was finally able to call 911 on his cellular phone in the truck and get some people involved that called the hospital here. Then we got them up there. Almost by the time we got you hauled back to the camp, the chopper was coming in to the field out in front of camp there.
"They brought you and me in here to the Shock-Trauma unit and that's just about it. They paged me yesterday morning and it was a call from Larry. Said he had to drive up the mountain road to a higher elevation to get his phone to work. He's been calling a couple of times a day ever since. Like an old mother hen, worried about you. Maybe now you can talk to him and get him settled down.
"And there's been Colorado wildlife people calling and I talked to them. They wanted to see a grizzly bear still living in Colorado. I told them that as far as I'm concerned, there aren't any grizzlies still alive in Colorado, because the one that beat up on you was dead, lying not twenty feet from where I found you.
"They said they wanted to verify my story, so I gave them directions of how to get up there. I told them that Larry and Stoney had caped out the bear's skin, but that they knew the Wildlife Division would want it. They just didn't think it should go to waste, so they skinned it out whole for a body mount. The game people can have it mounted and put it anywhere they want to. Larry said they had left the body whole because he knew the officers would want to examine it.
Anyhow, the wildlife people trucked off up there, I guess. When I last talked to Larry, I told him they were on their way, but he said he hadn't seen them yet. Said he'd meet them at the slide and take them on up the mountain. I haven't heard from Larry since they could have gotten there. One of the men said he would like to see you when he got back, to see how you are doing. I told him we aren't going anywhere for a while, so he could come on in and you'd be happy to talk to him."
"Hey, amigo, I see you are awake! How you feel?" A primly dressed nurse whisked into the room, pulling back the curtains. "How long you been awake here?" She cast a disapproving eye at Nat. "You been talking to Meester Jeemy, keeping heem from hees rest?"
Nat just smiled. "We had some things to catch up on. I would've come and got you pretty soon now anyway. I figured once he got a look at you he wouldn't want to talk to me anymore. So I'd better get in a few words before you came in. Jimmy, this is nurse Maria Varinya Manaroso. And I know she's going to take good care of you."
"Shoo, shoo," she said. "I have to change hees dressings now. You come back een one hour, yes?"
"Okay, now don't you steal his heart while I'm gone. I have to take him back to Virginia. He looked back at Jimmy, then wagged his head. “It’s a good sign. I see he's already moon-eyed over you." He smiled and walked out of the room.
Site: Rappahannock Books
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|Reviewed by Elizabeth Taylor
|Enjoyed the trip...
|Reviewed by Susan Barton
|Reviewed by Trish - The Trickster
|An excellent read. Enjoyed this very much.|
|Reviewed by Karla Dorman, The StormSpinner
*whew* what an intense, scary encounter
i'm with tinka--will you hold my hand and protect me from that big ole bear?
excellent, pulse-pounding adventure!
(((HUGS))) and love,
|Reviewed by Tinka Boukes
|Wow!! this hold my attention...I was waiting for the funny part but no fun in this one...geeeezz scary...hope you will protect me from that bear if we go hunting.....i think we must rather fishing....OkaY!!
Enjoyed this one very much Thank you Leland!!