Savage Country

One is prompted to ponder, at times, “Who is the most fearsome of animals?”

Well before sundown, I returned from a solitary walk along an unused logging road, a couple of miles into the forest.  As I approached within about fifty paces of where I park my camper van—which is approximately one hundred feet from a vacant summer cottage—I heard something crunching branches underfoot among the trees alongside the road.  The son of the owner of the cottage sometimes drives out to collect firewood; I looked farther up the road to where he usually parks his pickup truck, and it was not there. 

Recognizing that these were not the sounds of the gentle deer, I looked more closely among the trees.  Surprised by my proximity—a rustling, mid-June breeze had masked my footfalls—a bear stared at me.  This was not a cub, but a mature bear, dark, with a silvery face, and it was close enough that my first reaction was to glance at the terrain behind me. 

The bear saw no cause for violence.  Still on all fours, it turned and bounded away into the woods. 

Days later, at about the same time on a similar day, I walked about a quarter of a mile, in the other direction on the road, to a neighboring cottage.  Through the owner of that cottage, I had previously been told that it was being visited by a fundamentalist minister who had recently transferred from the Chicago area to California, and it was suggested that he and his wife might welcome my visit. 

Inside the gate, a blond boy, about twelve years old, was playing near a car which had an aerial in the middle of its roof, as police cars do.  “Are your folks home?,” I asked.  He nodded shyly, and watched quizzically as I approached the door and sounded the chime.  Inside, a slender man moved quickly out of view, and I heard what—from my experience—is the distinct cocking of a gun.  Almost as if by signal, someone in the bedroom, alongside the porch, began dialing a telephone. 

Twice I called out, “Hello, there!”

No reply. 

I turned and walked back toward my forest.