Creative Journeyat Tonglen Lake Lodge

GRIZZLY: The Rest of the Story- Part 1

The view from The Big Rock

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My daughter, Tessa, and her friend, Clint, were visiting this week from Boulder Colorado.   When the kids were small, we would pack up their little backpacks with a picnic lunch and “hike” up the trail from our home to The Big Rock at the top of the hill.  It is a beautiful spot with an incredible view of Pyramid Mountain and the Yanert River Valley.  It is also a thoughtful place where several of our beloved family pets are buried, marriage proposals have been made and a moment of peace has been found for those in need of a quick retreat. Of course, Tessa was eager to introduce Clint to some of the meaningful places and memories of her childhood, so on the afternoon of May 29th, we all trundled off to The Big Rock (not quite so big to Tessa any more) along with three of my four border collies.  Peg, Q and Arrow were still damp from their baths that morning.  My forth dog, Tack, was still having his “spa day” with our Tonglen Lake Canine Resort dog-groomer, Erika, so he was left behind. 


And in retrospect, that was a very good thing.


At the Big Rock we all enjoyed the view from the high vantage point as the dogs orbited around us like electrons enticing us to go further down the trail.  The plan had been to turn around here.  I suggested to Tessa and Clint that they continue on down the hill, around to some sweet little lakes we could see below us and back up Hannah’s Hill (also known as Heart-Attack Hill) for a nice, little walk around the “hood”.  Tessa convinced me to take some extra time away from the Lodge and join them for the walk.  Which I did.


And in retrospect, that was a very good thing.


As we headed down the hill toward the small valley below, Clint was interrogating us about bears:  Do we carry bear spray?  Have we had close encounters?  Are we concerned?  Tessa and I cavalierly smirked at his questions explaining that bears really have never been much of an issue here.  They are hunted in our area (just outside Denali National Park) and seem to choose to keep their distance.  Granted, there are several cow moose with newborns in our area at this time.  Those gangly little tykes are a tantalizing treat for hungry springtime grizzlies.  Cow moose have cleverly chosen to give birth to their babies in areas that are well-inhabited by we humans in hopes of defraying some interest from a variety of predators, grizzlies being at the top of that list. So, where there are young moose calves, you will likely find hopeful bears.  It creates a certain amount of a “Reality Show” type atmosphere for those of us dodging fleeing moose or watching our dog burst through the brush, proudly carrying a moose calf appendage toward us as we frantically look around for its recent owner.  I personally have had one heart-thumping-life-flashing-before-my-eyes bear encounter in 1980 with a fellow ranger on patrol.  I regaled Clint with the story as we trooped down the trail.


The dogs typically run out ahead… at least Peg and Arrow do.  Q is the quiet, almost boring type that sticks close to my side, venturing little.  He truly is not an adventurous sort and many times it takes coercion to get him off our sunny, window seat for a walk.  He has some fear of loud noises and many times looks for an excuse to cut his walk short to head home on his own.  I certainly never would have picked him out as the Lassie-saving-Timmy-from-the-well-type-of-guy but I suspect I have underestimated him.


As I finished up the bear encounter story from ancient times, we were about to drop down into a little meadow where the trail turns west toward the small lakes we had viewed from above.  A few quiet steps… I was ahead of Tessa and Clint when I heard Tessa say, in a very calm and direct voice, “Mom.  Bear.”  She said it just like that, as though it were two sentences, and in such a unemotional, matter-of-fact way that it took me a second to register the bear, just 10-15 feet off the trail.  I had actually walked past him, so I had to turn around to the left and back toward the kids to get him in view.  In clear sight, he looked calmly at me through the small trees that are just beginning to leaf out.  Wildlife has an amazing propensity to disappear like magicians while still remaining very near.  I slowly backed up to where Tessa and Clint were standing.  I wasn’t feeling overly delinquent in my observation skills when I realized that Peg and Arrow must have also run right by the beast as well.  There were a few moments of a stare down.  At this point the camera was retrieved from Tessa’s pocket.  Tessa asked if we should back up…. I told them both to remain quiet and still as I yelled at the bear in hopes of him dashing away.  No dashing.  He meandered out of the brush as if he might actually wander away but then thought better of it and turned back toward us on the trail.  I was fixated on him.  Tessa and Clint were now on my left and out of my peripheral vision.  I could hear the camera shutter capturing the moment. I have to admit the details are a bit hazy but I believe he then veered away once again maybe being attracted by one of the dogs.  Q was down the trail a bit and began barking at the bear at the same time he ran toward us.  I called all the dogs to us and made them sit at our feet as the bear began to circle us to our right.  I was holding Q’s mouth shut while he kept woofing though his clenched lips.  I was attempting to get him to stop barking but that simply was beyond him at this point.  The other two acted as though they had never registered the presence of the grizzly. They sat obediently at our feet, quiet and apparently oblivious to the goings-on.  It appeared as though the bear was slowly walking off into the woods (unfortunately in the direction we needed to go to return up the trail toward home) so we continued to remain quietly hopeful and close together to give the big fellow time to create some distance from us so that we might feel comfortable enough to move in the opposite direction.  Just as we were losing sight of him in the trees he turned back toward us and continued full circle to the spot where we first saw him…. closer this time.  

Continued in The Rest of the Story-Part 2





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