Thursday, March 28, 2013

It's Not Too Early To Encounter A Grizzly

Snack time.

"Hey! You!"

That's what it sounded like.

What I thought I heard.

I couldn't be sure. It was a gruff sound, off somewhere. Muffled.

So muffled I wasn't sure I heard anything at all.

Or if I did, it could have been one pants leg grazing the other. I was snowshoeing after all, and wearing lots.

But I stopped. And listened. Just to be sure.

Nope. No sound. Aside from breathing.


Everything was quiet around me, which was why I had put myself into the middle of it. Deliberately.

You don't find quiet much anymore. The world. Full of people and their things. Much coming and going. Much shouting about it all.

When I was younger, when each telephone had a cable coming out one end, and all were tied to walls, you knew when you saw someone walking, shouting into the air, that you had a nut job on the loose.

Some parts of the country had more than others, but you'd see one every now and then, no matter where you were. And you knew what the score was.

Not now.

The streets, the stores, every place you go. Full of these people now, day and night. A few are still the traditional wild-eyed, ravaged crazies.

The rest are moms and dads and their spawn, yelling their most private thoughts into cell phones, and spraying the rest of us with thoughts we do not want to receive.

So I get away when I can. To where it's quiet.

And in winter the backcountry is quiet. Genuinely.

No bugs. No birds. Nothing moves but wind, pushing an occasional snowflake around. No people.

But winter is nearly done, and today I saw something moving. Right behind me. When I turned to look.

A bear.

A grizzly. Bear.

Coming at me.

"Hey! You!" It said. To me. At me. Yes.

No. I hadn't been imagining. The bear was talking. With its mouth full.

"Hang on a minute," it said. I think it said. Hard to tell. With that meat in its maw.

Ripe meat. From last fall, or from winter. Meat returned from the dead. From far enough in the past to have a tang. Which came to me on the wind. Accompanied by bear stink.

No doubt about that one. Even though it was my first close encounter. Because there was only one possible source.

Which by now was an arm's-length away, staring at me.

The meat fell from the bear's mouth and sank into the soft, warming spring snow with a sound. Like "Shush!"

I didn't need a hint. I was not about to annoy this bear. Any bear. If possible.

I waited.

"Peanuts. I really like salted peanuts in those little crinkly packages. My favorite thing after a long winter of nothing. Even better than decaying moose. Much better, in fact. Got any?"



I didn't.

Have any.

With me.

The bear waited, staring straight into my eyes. "Well, what you got? Do I have to eat you after all?"

Slowly, so as not to startle what should not be startled, I unbuckled my pack, then carefully lowered it. Opening the pack, I began pulling things out. Also slowly.

As I did, the bear sniffed each item with interest.

First, my gloves came out. Then my wool cap.

Both were clearly inedible, and not buttery or salty or spicy in exactly the way that gloves and a wool cap are not edible, and not buttery or salty or spicy.

A deep rumble rose from inside the bear and passed through me on its way to infinity. It was a deep rumble not indicating happiness.

I kept removing one thing and another from the pack until I reached food.

As I pulled out my lunch, the bear's jaws moved. Its massive teeth clacked together.

First its jaws shut. Then they opened. Then bear drool dripped onto my sleeve. I was OK with that, considering.

The bear snorted, then said "Don't hold back. I'm counting on you. No dumb tricks. I am really hungry today."

"I don't have much," I said, "but you're more than welcome to it. All of it if you like."

"Great," said the bear, "a few munchies from you, and this hunk of rotting moose and I'll be fine. I shouldn't have to eat you. I tried hiker once. Sour. Didn't like it, to tell you the truth. But if there's nothing else...well, you may know how it goes."

Unfortunately. I did.

I opened my lunch sack.

Inside was a tuna sandwich, an egg salad sandwich with lettuce, two bananas, and four Snickers bars.

Bananas I eat a lot, but not the rest, much, any more. No reason especially, I just don't.

And I don't know why, but this once in a blue moon I had a hankering for tuna, and egg salad. On the same day. On white bread, no less. And since it was a hiking trip I had splurged on a few Snickers bars, mandatory for any real hike, as you might know, if you hike.

"Ohgod," said the bear, "ohmygod, ohmygod. Oh my fricken god. Gimme."

Before I could lay the food out on the snow the bear was sniffing it, bobbing its head up and down. Wiggling its ears excitedly. Its back feet pumped up and down as it shifted its weight impatiently.

"Wait!" I said, "I have to unwrap the sandwiches. You don't want to eat this plastic wrap. Hang on a sec."


The bear. Stopped.


Not a hair of it.


I looked.

It looked back.

Eye to eye. We were. The grizzly and. My puny self.

"Rrrraurph!" it rumbled with a basso profundo rumble so basso, so profundo, that all my joints came loose.

The rumble of a thunderstorm wearing fur. A thunderstorm with intense, intelligent eyes.

Which were glaring. At me.

"Very kind of you," it said, finally.

I unwrapped the sandwiches.

"More than anything that I hate, I hate being poked with a stick. But right after that, it's eating sandwiches in plastic wrap. You don't want to be around me when that happens," said the bear. "I tend to become impulsive. In an unpleasant way. For all concerned. Within a large radius."

Once unwrapped, both sandwiches were gone in a flash. The bananas too.

Which barely gave me time to skin the candy bars, but the bear took each delicately, and nibbled, slowly.

Considering its size, the size of its mouth, the size of its teeth, I'd say the bear nibbled, and with genteel precision.

It nibbled each and every Snickers bar.

First one.

Then another.

Until only one was left.

And this one it took whole into its mouth, and lay down, and rolled onto its back, and slowly chewed. Very, very slowly.

It chewed.

Grunting with delight.

As it did so.

And then, finished, it was back on its feet, with its nose touching my nose, and its eyes looking into my eyes.

It didn't move, and neither did I.

Until finally.

The bear grunted again.

"Now it's your turn," it said, its breath reeking of death.

"Have some rotting moose."


It's not too early to encounter a grizzly

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Go Easy On The Land

Proper wilderness storage.

I miss bears the most.

They were the first to go into storage.

After that, the other big animals. Elk, deer, the few mountain goats we have here. The occasional bighorn sheep. That kind of thing.


Coyotes are hard. Too wily for their own good sometimes, but we had to get them, and we did.

The wolves - few and scattered. Hardly here at all, but they were here, so we were obliged to nab every one.

After the large animals were taken care of, we went small.

Beavers, marmots, muskrats, otters, ground squirrels, voles, shrews, snakes, lizards, frogs, and then.

To even smaller scales. The buzzies.

That's what I call them. Buzzies.

The kind of stuff most people want to get shut of, but they're part of nature. They belong here as much as anything. So we had to store them too.

Deer flies, horse flies, mosquitoes - all that. Rounded them up, stuffed them into boxes (yes, carefully), and shipped them to cold storage.

In a few years when the budget thing improves, and if we've done our job right, we'll truck everything back out here, and it should all be good as new. Slowly warm every species back to ambient temperature, add a bit of water, and release.

That's about it.

Personally speaking - and this is just my own opinion - it's the ticks that I'd skip over. Mosquitoes I can take. Even horseflies.

Ticks, no. They've always given me the creeps. You ask me, I'd finish them off now.

But on the other hand, I am a professional. I do have standards, and do what I'm paid to do, and that is S.O.S. Save our species. All of them. Which is why I'm here.

So I guess the ticks will be tucked away safely like the rest.

At least my work is almost done. I don't envy the botanists.

Do you have any idea what a tree weighs? My god.

In the rain forests you see trees over 250 feet tall. That's 76 meters, and tons and tons and tons of tree, repeated endlessly along the coast.

Here, where it's drier, sure the trees are smaller, but even small trees are large, you know? And heavy. Each and every one of them has to be collected, wrapped, laid into its own special box, and shipped.

Now that's a job. One worse than mine.

But after the trees and shrubs and grasses and mossy patches and lichens are all collected, then the trail rollers move in.

That work is so awesomely nasty that only volunteers will do it. Otherwise we'd lose hundreds of miles of trails.

But the people who hike here want to preserve their trails, and they helped to build lots of them. So they will do the work.

Every inch of trail has to be rolled up while preserving each minute detail. Every curve and bump. Every jig and jag. Every jottle and jump.

It's endless.

Dusty, sweaty work, but it has to be done.

And when the trails have been pulled up, we shut off the water, lower the sky, and deflate the mountains.

Mountains aren't as bad as you'd think, once the air is out of them. It's pretty easy to haul them off. Well, not easy, but, you know. It's relative.

So, while you may think that federal budget cutting is only theater played out in stuffy rooms, it does have effects in places you might not expect, like deep in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.

All eleven million acres of wilderness - mountains, forests, everything that lives there - all of it has to be stuffed into boxes and stored away for the sake of future generations.

I may not live to see it back in place again, but your children might. Or your grandchildren.

So I guess that's why I do what I do.

Call me crazy, or just call me Dr. Art Bark, Wildlife Salvage Specialist.


Trails Of Trouble On Wild Lands

Friday, March 15, 2013

How The People Became Stupid

Never underestimate a turtle.

"These people, they are ruining our land," said Skunk. "I can no longer find tasty lizards or moles to eat. The people have scared them all away. What shall we do?"

The other animals, all gathered together, thought and thought, but they had no good ideas.

Day by day, and every day all season long, the people came marching past on the trail. Their big feet raised clouds of dust that choked all the animals, and the noise of their tramping annoyed them as well.

"I know," said Ant. "We will sneak up on them at night and pull out their leg hairs. When they wake up without fur they will become frightened and run home, leaving us in peace."

The animals discussed this, and then they thought about it, but they were not sure that the people valued their leg hairs so much.

Then Moth told them a story about seeing the people using their great flat paws to swat with, and how they killed many members of the Fly Family, and then the animals all became afraid again.

Next, Bunny Rabbit cleared his throat to speak. He looked like he had a good idea, so all the animals turned to listen. But Bob Cat came up behind Bunny Rabbit and ate him.

"Hey, I was hungry," said Bob Cat. "We have been here all day and I was hungry. Gimme a break, OK?"

Some of the animals nodded and sighed.

Some moved far away from Bob Cat, in case he wanted dessert.

Some of the other large animals ate some of the other small ones, without even making excuses. A few of them belched and licked their whiskers.

"This meeting is not going well", said Turtle. "We must have order, or else we are all lost. We must save our home from these people who constantly walk through it, carrying their giant backpacks and trampling everything. We must have a business plan."

Suddenly all the animals became silent.

They remained motionless, staring at Turtle. They realized that Turtle, whom they had always regarded as just a rock with legs, was on to something.

"This is the only good idea I have heard all day," said Weasel. "It is a start. I can help. My MBA will finally pay off, I think. I will save our home with a clever business plan."

"No, wait," said Crow. "A plan is good, but we must remain flexible. We can outline a business plan, but the key is a killer business model. There is no need to go into debt. We do not need lawyers, or banks either. We can do this if we remain agile."

"Yes," said Spider, "we can weave a web. Then we will catch these people and bite them on the butt."

"Agreed," said Bat. "But better yet if they catch themselves in their own web. If they never suspect us, then they will not seek revenge."

The animals discussed this.

Then they acted.

First they designed a backpack with sparkly things on it, and the people were fascinated by it. It sold and sold.

They they branched out. Into titanium cookware, and synthetic fleece. The people became obsessed with shopping for toys and playing with them, and they nearly stopped backpacking.

The forest became civilized again.

Then the animals created waterproof/breathable clothing. The people bought into it.

Big time.

Even though the laws of nature decreed that waterproof/breathable clothing was impossible, the people bought it, and raved about it. Endlessly.

The animals rolled on the ground, laughing all day. Right after counting their receipts.

The people were so stupid that many animals laughed themselves sick.

Before long, the animals became rich, and had money to open satellite stores in malls in every conceivable location.

Then they invented credit cards, the internet, and online shopping. This required superhighways and gigantic trucks whizzing every whichway, making deliveries. The superhighways went straight through the forests, and destroyed them all.

But the animals no longer cared. They were rich, and that counted for a lot.

Finally, the animals built a rocket ship and went away to someplace quiet, to savor their revenge and to retire in gated communities, with servants. Hey, they could afford it.

The people never caught on.

Not with so many cool toys and sparkly things to distract them.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Unnaturally Relaxed

Stinky too.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The bison has been a symbol of the Old West. It's been featured on the nickel, as a name for sports teams, and all kinds of stuff.

Legislation has been introduced to make the bison the national mammal.

Meanwhile, everything else continues to hit the fan.

Something needs to be done.

And Congress may have a solution to that too.

Starting next year we may see a summer-long national hunting season on backpackers.

No one likes a smartass, and Congress has declared that the root of all U.S. problems is the hordes of shifty, homeless slackers and goof-offs who wander around all summer, flouting the basic principles of The American Way, which is working hard and worrying a lot, driving cars, and watching TV.

Backpackers make us all nervous because they're so much not like that.

And who knows what they're up to out there. Right?

If you, a decent citizen, can barely keep up, let alone get ahead any more, the last thing you want to know about is a bunch of seedy, jobless-by-choice carefree losers tramping back and forth endlessly on trails (which the rest of us paid for, by the way).

These people contribute nothing to our raging, screaming political theater, let alone the tax rolls.

This means they must be anti-American, and the best solution to that, as to all problems, is to start shooting.

Hey - it worked in Iraq and Afghanistan. No one can deny that. It's proven, time-tested, and pretty soon you can join in.

If firepower keeps down other varmints, well, it'll work on backpackers too. They don't move that fast, so even Granny can have some fun.

Rep. Pete Feedle: "At one point in American history, backpackers were put on display at world's fairs, and even during the U.S. Bicentennial celebration. People thought of them as rugged individualists, and we all like thinking about that. Problem is, backpackers are rugged individualists. You can't make them do a damn thing. They just wander around like there's no bills due tomorrow or anything. What the hell kind of life is that?"

Cindy Huffer of People for Varmints, Etc. somewhat surprisingly welcomed the idea of a hunting season on backpackers. "No fur, no fun. Even rats deserve the chance to live a long and productive life. Backpackers? No. Sure, some of them are fuzzy, but not in a good way, especially the females, and they don't squeak when you squeeze them. I say open fire. Now."

Congress votes next Thursday, God willing.


Bison -- a 'symbol' of U.S. strength -- may become national mammal

Friday, March 1, 2013

Famous Volcano Going Private

St. Helens to host world's largest lava lamp.

Release Date: Mar 01, 2013

Today Gifford Pinchot National Forest Supervisor Janey Ashfutz officially announced the privatization of Mt St Helens with the appointment of Andrew Mason, recently fired Groupon CEO.

"Words cannot express how excited I am to bring aboard such an experienced manager," said Ashfutz.

"Or how pleased I am to be dumping this pile of dirt. Under the expert guidance of Mr Mason Mt St Helens National Volcanic Monument can be turned into something special - a high-class tourist trap.

"It is my firm belief that only the private sector can make this place interesting. God knows, we've failed at every turn.

"No matter how many signs we put up, it's still a landscape, and mostly dirt besides. No one wants landscapes anymore, especially depressing dirty ones without fun rides, and the Forest Service is much more interested in selling logging rights, which don't exist here. Duh."

Acting Monument Manager, Bob Temp, appointed only last month, will fill in until Mason and his new employer, LLamp Inc., can take over operations sometime in May.

LLamp, holder of 1187 patents on every possible kind of Lava Lamp ™, will be funding the changeover from public monument to private theme park.

"In fact, we've got so many patents and trademarks going on, we can charge you for just thinking about anything vaguely shaped like a Lava Lamp ™," said LLamp CEO Wayne Zoots. "So hey, since we're going to charge you anyway, you might as well come by and have some beer and pizza, hit the Ferris wheel and the Whirly-Thing, and get your picture taken in front of the Big Bubbly One ™ - it won't cost that much more, and EEE-ZEE Financing, Inc. will have a kiosk right on-site," he added.

Immediately following this announcement, current Monument officials, government pooh-bahs, and representatives of LLamp Inc. held a ribbon cutting ceremony consisting of pouring a dollop of Proprietary Red-Orange LL-Goo ™ into a champagne glass and setting it on fire.

After that sputtered out and quit smoking, corporate representatives and others made themselves available for a few background comments.

CEO Zoots: "We see the St Helens LLamp ® as a thing that's going to have this irresistible pull. People are going to see it and say, 'What is that?'"

Chief Engineer Randy Dornab: "The St Helens LLamp ® will use parts from K-Mart's short-lived 'One Lamp to Rule' project, started in Cleveland about 16 years back. It still looks pretty good, considering it's been out in the weather all this time. But that means it should fit right in with all this dirt."

Randle, WA Mayor Walt Wankler: "My City Council is excited by the project. We immediately agreed to get on board. We've always wanted something like this to put Randle on the map, where it belongs. A plain old volcano - what's that worth? The world has plenty of volcanoes, but a gigantic Lava Lamp ™ - that's really something there.

Andrew Mason: "After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I said I wanted to spend more time with my family, but no one believes that one any more, so I might as well do this, right? Hey, I need an income. Want some two-for-one coupons?"

Rumor has it that LLamp Inc. also envisions an interpretive trail running parallel to the lamp's power cord, explaining how the lamp works, why it's interesting, and what it's cultural significance is reported to be. Geology, history, and the rest will be left out because that's boring, and not bright red-orange and goopy.


New plans for massive Lava Lamp in Soap Lake