• Mary Anderson


I smelled him before I saw him. I wasn't totally surprised. I'd been seeing signs he left behind for the last hour or so. But when I rounded the corner and saw him, my heart skipped a beat.

Grizzly, for sure. He had the telltale nose and back. I assume it was a male because he had no cubs with him.

He looked up from digging. He shook his head side to side, probably getting my scent, though I was downwind. Of course this meant he was upwind. As I reached for my bear spray I realized there was no way I could get upwind of him. I hoped I wouldn't have to use it. I remembered the can that went off in the car. My lungs burned for a week. I thought of the hiker I heard about who sprayed himself while taking the spray out of its holster. He was too intent on watching the bear to notice what he was doing with the spray.

I said, "Go bear, go" under my breath, and then I repeated it a little louder. It has been my mantra out here whenever I am pushing through thick vegetation. I backed a few feet down the trail, but really I did not want to go too far. It would have meant rounding the corner and losing sight of the awe-inspiring bruin. If I was going to be attacked, I wanted to see it coming.

I thought of the woman my age who was recently killed by a grizzly. I wondered if she heard it coming. Did she know she was in the process of being killed? Did she fight or lie still like they tell you to do? I thought about her sister and her friend who watched helplessly as the bear mauled her to death. Their lives will never be the same. I was glad none of my friends were here to watch if I was to be mauled to death.

I stepped partly behind a tree to where I could still just see the huge fellow. I said, "Go bear, go" a little louder. I told him I wasn't really afraid of dying but didn't think being killed by a grizzly was my method of choice. I told him it could go badly for both of us if he killed me. I told him about the protective spell my witch friend wove around me for bear protection. I got brave and made a bigger noise by banging my poles together. Then I blew the whistle I carry on the shoulder strap of the pack. I doubt any of this took much time, though it seemed an eternity.

Finally, he shook his head, did a 180-degree turn, and headed up the mountain. I returned my bear spray to its holster and waited a short while before moving on, thanking him for his choice.

I'm sure my blood pressure was high enough to be worrisome in an emergency room. I focused on relaxing, though every movement made me jump. A multitude of harmless black and brown shapes took on the appearance of a bear. I sighed, knowing I had enough miles yet to go for water and so it would be one of those rare evenings whenIi hiked until twilight, a popular time for bears to be out. I had six miles of singing to do. I started with "The bear went over the mountain . . .”

Above: Bearproof food bags.

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