Saturday, June 24, 2006

Maybe I'll See a Bear Today...

Saturday June 24 2006

Detriments to being a Forest Service Peon are: low pay, no benefits, and never knowing from year to year if I’ll have a summer job. Benefits as a FS Peon are: I get to go out in the field almost every day, and every day, I see something. Every day my mantra is: “Maybe I’ll see a cougar today” and “maybe I’ll see a bear today.” (Bears really like climbing this aspen tree here.) I keep a tally. Beavers, snakes (1 rattler from the car), coyotes, hawks, eagles. (On horseback my first week here we saw a bear). If nothing else, I always see a deer.

And, I’m a tree hugger – literally. Have you ever hugged a tree? I mean really, put your arms around a tree, a little tree who’s maybe never felt a human touch, or a huge tree big around as a car, lay your head against it, and wonder how long it has lived there, what it lives through, the winters it’s seen and snows it’s felt. Look up into its branches and wonder what birds have lived there, what myriad life it supports in its branches and leaves and bark – insects, spiders, bats, birds. Stick your nose in the bark crevices of a Jeffrey or Ponderosa pine, and you smell vanilla. Put your ear to a eucalyptus trunk, I’ve been told, and you’ll hear the inner water works of the tree.

This early early morning during my bird survey, roaming the willowy swampy riparian meadow area of Robinson Creek, I suddenly realized I was following a bear trail – very recently made, within an hour or two. Couldn’t have been anything else – unless it was a cougar! (unlikely) – big feet, big steps, wide apart (couldn’t see distinct prints in the swampy ground), with the tall grass mowed down as if by a big belly, and mud droplets still on the bent-down grasses. I’m on alert anyway as I crawl blindly through willows, but this morning I was on hyper-alert because there was a bear close by. He had walked past 3 of my bird call stations where I stop to look and listen for willow flycatchers. Maybe he was doing his own bird survey! His path diverged from mine – I would have rather followed the bear trail than that of a bird I know I’m probably not going to find here… but, it was a bird survey after all. Later I did see a bear print on the trail I took back. I must’ve just missed him!

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