All the non-political things.
Guest Contributor Mike Out Yonder
Two men were walking in the same patch of woods one cloudy afternoon, from opposite directions and unaware of each other as they made their way along the path.
One man was middle-aged, tall and in shape, with some gray in his hair. He moved briskly along and kept an eye out as he walked, aware of the dangers in these woods. He’d heard stories of bears being surprised just by coming up on them, and he’d seen pictures what damage a bear could do when provoked. He wasn’t too concerned really, but would be glad to be clear of these woods just the same.
The other man was younger, slightly built, and moved with a quiet, measured step. He took his time and strolled at an easy pace. As he walked along the path, he listened to the forest around him, enjoying the quiet sounds of the birds and various insects. Hours spent wandering among these trees had made them familiar to him, and he was comfortable here. These woods held no danger for him, and although he had seen some bear signs...a few clawed stumps from digging grubs, and matted places in the grass along the path...he’d never seen a bear even once.
As it happened, these men were approaching a stream in the forest. The path crossed over the swift current on an old wooden bridge that looked like it had been there forever, worn with age but still sturdy. Near the bridge was an old gazebo overlooking the stream in a small clearing along the bank. It was larger than most, solidly built like the bridge, and had a bench running around the inside of the octagon shape where one could enjoy the place.
Suddenly, with a crack of lightning, a cloudburst opened, and a hard rain began to fall. Fortunately for the two of them, they were near the stream, and they were able to take refuge in the gazebo. The older man got there first, followed by the younger one a few minutes later, who had further to run from the opposite side of the bridge.
Of course, they had no way of knowing there was a bear under that gazebo.
He wasn’t a big bear, the size of a large dog, really, and had been munching berries in the thickets along the stream. When the lightning struck, he’d bolted for the nearest cover. The weathered wooden lattice along the bottom of the gazebo provided shelter from the torrent, and he was safely hidden from sight as he watched the men arrive, stomping on the floor above him. The violence of the storm kept him in place, hidden and quiet for now, but agitated.
The rain was pouring now, and pounded the gazebo relentlessly. It held up well enough, and remained relatively dry despite the deluge. After the first awkward moments in greeting, and exclamations of surprise at the thunder, the men relaxed a little and sized each other up as they chatted. They could see the rain wasn’t going to end anytime soon, so they made themselves as comfortable as they could in the dry center of the gazebo and watched the rain come down.
The bear beneath them could smell them, sensing their mood. He was used to humans, and had experience sneaking around them to rummage through their trash. He kept his position under the far edge of the gazebo, tucked up in the supporting structure to stay dry. He watched and listened, occasionally looking around considering escape routes. Every clap of thunder startled them all with its nearness, and kept them hunkered in place.
As they sat there, the men became aware of a roar in the distance, growing louder upstream of their gazebo. With all the rain in such a short time, the stream had become a raging current, and the water was rising on the banks. Neither man had ever been in a flash flood, and the alarming rate of the rising water made them both nervous. Lightning flashed with a sharp crack nearby, making them both jump again, and the rain continued to pour.
Beneath them, the bear waited, morose and growing more agitated.
The ground was soaked under the gazebo. The bear had climbed into a small crawlspace just under the floor, so when the water finally came over the banks, he was out of the flood that began to flow under it. Quickly the water rose, first an inch or two deep, then suddenly a foot or more and rising, moving relentlessly under the gazebo and beginning to tear at the loose latticework around the perimeter. The men above watched in awe as the water flowed under them, mostly sure the structure would hold, and saying so to make it more certain.
Finally, the water level reached the bear, and he began clawing on the floorboards above him. The men immediately heard the scratching, and backed away from the spot as the bear began pushing and clawing on a loose board, trying to get out. The clawing became more frantic as the water rose, and the men soon realized what was happening.
Without thinking, the younger man began trying to help, looking for something to pry the board loose as the older man watched in horror. The bear had managed to loosen the board enough on one end, but didn’t have the leverage or strength to loosen it further. Finding nothing suitable, the young man finally, tentatively, approached the loose board near the bear’s protruding claws, grabbed it, and began pulling it with all his strength. The bear felt the hands on the board and redoubled his efforts. It did little good. The board was 8 inches wide and warped enough to have loosened some nails on the one side, but was held firmly in place by the rest. The best the man and bear could do was to make it creak loudly and rise a little as they pushed and tugged at it.
The older man watched, marveling at the scene before him. The water had stopped rising so much, but the rain poured down, the place was flooded, and here was a man trying to free a bear that would surely kill them both, he thought. After a few moments, it was clear the bear was doomed if he didn’t get out. The water had risen high enough to leave only a few inches of clearance, and the bear was wailing now as he fought for his life, tearing frantically at the wood.
The younger man was trying hard now, his hands grasping the end of the board uncomfortably close to the bear’s claws protruding from under it as they both strained to get it loose. When he noticed the other man just standing there, he looked desperately at him for help. When he saw none was coming, he scowled at him, saying nothing, and turned his attention back to the board. This shamed the older man, who suddenly felt guilty. The bravery and silent rebuke of this fellow stirred him to action then, and he forgot his fear. Moving quickly beside the other, he got a good grip, and began to pull on the board. It groaned in protest, cracking and popping as the three now put their combined effort into it.
When it finally gave way, a lot happened very quickly. The bear came up out of there like a wet dog, frantically clawing and scratching the floor as he scrambled to get out. The two men jumped back, tossing the board, momentarily dazed, then went to help. They each grabbed a handful of fur and pulled the bear up, being careful to stay clear of his mouth and those sharp claws. Once freed, the bear scrambled to get away from the new danger. He clambered up the nearest supporting post, to the farthest corner of the gazebo roof and wailed in fear and desperation. The two men backed away, sitting on the bench opposite, and watched in amazement.
The bear finally quieted, looking forlornly at the two from his relatively safe spot, and they could see it was young and more scared than scary. As the rain began to slow, their racing hearts did so as well. All were quiet then, with the flood waters roiling under them and the immediate danger passed.
The rain finally stopped entirely, and the bear seized the first opportunity to bolt. He quickly climbed down and jumped from the railing into the wet grass on the high side of the gazebo and was gone. The water was receding quickly now, and other than the soaking and some broken lattice had left little real damage. Each man waited until he felt it was safe before leaving the place. The older man left before the younger, who lingered for a time at the gazebo, reflecting on what had just happened. When he finally left, it was with a newfound respect for the place, but also with a tinge of fear, that although he had made a difference, he could have failed had it not been for the help he had been given.
The older man walked on his way, still briskly, but now also more reflective as he looked around for signs of the little bear. He was no longer worried about bears, and saw them in a new light, as fellow creatures worth considering. He felt pretty good, all things considered, with the feeling that comes from having done something worthwhile, but he was still stung by the rebuke the man had given him. He would remember that look.
The bear ran for a long way before slowing, glad to be clear of the whole mess. When his nose picked up an interesting smell of something to eat, he investigated it and was soon munching berries again, the excitement quickly forgotten as he made his way through the woods.