Our most memorable encounter with wild animals in the Sierra was along the Silver Fork of the American River about ten years ago. It was Labor Day, and our family of four just took a wild chance and headed up to see if we could get a campsite, even though we knew things were going to be packed.
The campground host actually laughed at our question...until a family in a station wagon drove by on their way out of the campground--saying that they were going home. So we got the only campsite available, and set up our tent.
This campground was not the most scenic--it's along the river, and most of the campers were there to do one thing: fish the river. There were no nearby trails to hike, lakes to swim, or historical sites to visit. But we were happy. The tent was set up, and the two girls, aged about six and nine, raced off to play along the river while M and I finished setting up camp.
Half an hour later, we wandered down to keep an eye on the girls and let them know that it was time to get back to camp so that we could take a short walk up the river. The road ran along above the river, and soon we came in sight of the girls--happily playing among some rocks well below us.
We watched for a few minutes, enjoying the spectacle of our two children playing happily without toys or electricity, and tried to overhear their conversation. They were oblivious to our presence, and their talk was full of fantasy about kings and palaces, stone towns and rock walls. It was utterly charming.
But it was also time to get going.
P walked just a little closer, to a rock that was directly above their play site, and made a strange, somewhat animal noise that he expected would make them laugh.
He was right, but it took a little longer than he thought.
Because while the younger of our two daughters screamed in fright and then looked up and started laughing at her dad, her older sister did not. In fact, her older sister took a very different approach to the issue.
Head down and shoulders hunched, she turned and started sprinting for the river, some thirty yards away. And she kept running. As she sprinted, the rest of us had time to look at each other in surprise, and laugh even more heartily.
Then she dove into the river (quite shallow along this stretch) and scrambled/swam/crawled furiously determined to the other side. At this point, the three of us were now is serious danger of losing control of our bladders.
She then stood up on the far side of the river and looked back to see what had happened. What she saw was that her family had apparently been attacked by a strange disease that caused them to lie helplessly on the ground, barely able to breathe.
Then she saw we were laughing. And crying. On the ground, holding our sides.
She eventually came back to our side of the river, and we got her dried off in time to go for a hike. But I don't think she ever thought the whole thing was as funny as we did.
Her little sister, of course, disagreed!
THE RUNNING SHOES
All of which brings to mind the famous story of the two hikers and the bear. The bear sees the hikers, and starts sniffing the air. Slowly walking forward towards them. The two hikers, of course, begin to back up. At some point the bear picks up speed, and one hiker stops to change his boots for some running shoes.
The other hiker waits nearby, and says; "I can't believe that you think those shoes are really going to help you outrun the bear."
To which the first hiker replies: "I don't have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you."
THE HUNGARIAN MOUNTAIN CLIMBERS
P's grandmother was Czech, and used to tell this story about her neighbors and their mountain climbing expedition.
It turns out the the four men had been very successful, and found themselves on top of a towering peak in the Alps. And yet, there was some disagreement about the name of the peak. Some believed that it was called one thing, and others insisted that it was really called something else.
After some heated discussion, the group decided to request their navigator settle the argument. He pulled out his map and compass, and carefully studied them both. He took a sighting of the sun, and checked his map again against the surrounding peaks.
At last he came to a decision.
He pointed to a tall peak on the horizon, soaring high into the sky. "Do you see Mt. Blanc over there?" he asked all of his companions. They all agreed that they could see it.
"Well," concluded the navigator with great certainty. "We are right on top of it!"
Ahhh. Czech humor!
WHAT BEARS DO IN THE WOODS
We'd had a lovely hike to Showers Lake on the Pacific Crest Trail, south of Lake Tahoe. The lake was beautiful, and because we were there in mid-September, there was only one other group of hikers. We'd had a nice visit with them and their hound dog earlier in the evening, when they had found our bottle of wine chilling in the stream...and wanted to make sure that it wasn't litter.
That evening, M and I had noticed a bear bag, hanging in a tree, slowly twisting in the wind. The story it told was sad: someone had strung their food up there to protect it from bears. But we could see how the cord had become twisted, and the bag got stuck, way too high for any human to reach. It looked as if they had tied a knife onto a stick, and cut the bottom out of the bag, allowing the food to fall out. But also leaving the sad sack hanging like a corpse in the tree.
The next morning I woke up first ( as I always do ) and set about getting breakfast ready. And while M got into her clothes, I realized it was time for me to make a trip into the woods to do what bears do there. I got our trowel and TP, and worked my way down a slope well away from both camp and lake. There I found a nice spot, with a log to lean on and soft soil to dig.
Once prepared, I dropped my drawers and settled in. And as I did so, I thought I might have heard a low rumbling, a bit like a growl.
"Hmmm," I thought. "Awkward moment to be surprised by a bear."
But I didn't hear it again, and once again settled in against the log.
And that's when I heard it again. No mistake this time. It was a low growling rumble, and it was coming from not too far away, behind me. This was not good.
I slowly turned my head--realizing that with my pants around my ankles, I wasn't going anywhere fast.
And that's when I saw him: the hound dog from the other camp. He has seen me disappear, and wanted to make sure that I wasn't going to cause any trouble.
I smiled and said a few enouraging words to him. He stayed at attention, but stopped growling. I said a few more words, and he slowly turned his head and walked back to his camp, minding his own business.
As I did mine.
Another close call (of nature) in the woods!