Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Reconnaisance


Photo courtesy Flickr
Our annual group camping exercise took place in a new location this year. The scout cruised the site from the road, but failed to notice two large signs posted on the cooking shelter. Several hundred words detailed the best practices for ensuring a night free of visits from local grizzlies.

When the garbage can is fabricated from half-inch iron plate, prudence dictates considering the wisdom of sleeping zipped into featherweight nylon like a tasty snack in cellophane. Nylon is stronger than steel of an equal dimension but vulnerable to sharp things, meaning sleepy I would have a hard time getting out while claws and teeth would have an easy time getting in. Several hundred morning words of my own convinced my companion of the best practice for managing a field situation for which we were unprepared and untrained. The short version was, “Bug out.” Not for the first time, we learned the kit can be thrown into the car in less than ten minutes. 

When large local carnivores began to recover from near-extinction, I assumed that something would be different on the trails that had hosted many an unarmed, lighthearted romp through various weathers. A third-generation senior Peninsula woodsman helped a cyclist fight off a juvenile cougar and refused ever again to get out of his truck when he drove up the Elwha. His father had made his living hunting the cats. No doubt Donald had inherited field wisdom that informed his caution, as I had added personal experience of bears to several generations of stories from my elders.

A friend decided she hated office work and enrolled in a field science course at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. Part of the curriculum was two-weeks' training in bear management. Sally said the first day after the course ended, a single mother of two toddlers dropped a charging female grizzly with one shot from the hip. Presumably the University of Alaska stocks large-caliber handguns in their bookstore along with textbooks and dissecting kits. 

One of the several hunters who use our annual outing to tune up their gear for the fall season twitted me about the wilderness getting to me. Yes, indeed. I’m not willing to cede the initiative to a large carnivore that’s faster than I. One night’s sleep is all it gets. Should I decide that bear country holds something of interest, I’ll do the homework and get out there. Meantime, there’s wilderness enough in town and internationally to keep me on my toes.

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