An Alaska Bear Tale: BEAR in the Backwoods
My two boys gathered blueberries from their secret patch near the road. Jars filled, they headed back towards the cabin, Anthony leading the way. Just before the sawmill, Anthony heard a loud noise rustling through the brush. Steven, behind him, startled at the noise and looked up to the face of a brown bear ‘bouncing up and down’, headed his way.
“BEAR,” said Steven, an Alaska Native born to the woods, not one to waste time on more words than needed. He began to climb the nearest scraggly spruce tree.
Anthony unsheathed the 8 inch survival knife my boys carry on their belt everywhere they go at home and lunged towards the next tree in his path. He tripped, dropped the knife, pulled his backup pocket knife from his jeans, and shimmied up a tree prepared for what, he wasn’t sure. He didn’t see the bear, but he’d heard its loud movements and knew he didn’t want to get any closer.
And then he began to scream loudly for help while Steven, in typical Steven fashion, waited calmly at the top of his tree.
The rumble of the dozer filled our woods all that day as my husband pushed gravel in our pit, piling up the rock for the driveway we’d been building.
I heard vague yelling from somewhere outside my cabin. One ear pressed to my cell phone and my mom on the other end, it was hard to tell where it was coming from with the dozer running.
‘Hold on,’ I told mom and stepped out onto the front porch.
My smallest boy, Luke, was running up the drive, looking back over his shoulder. From somewhere in the woods the noise turned to desperate screams drowned out by the loud hum of the dozer.
The dozer. My mind went to my husband pinned beneath tons of machinery. The screams were muffled, words distorted, yet terror was clear and I knew it was bad.
“Somebody is screaming,” I said, and clicked off my phone, leaving mom wondering.
Our cabin, raw and unfinished, has a front porch but no steps because we enter through the back. Five feet up, I lunged from the deck onto the ground below at a full run towards wherever my family was. In pain? Dying? I didn’t know. But the fear was clear, if not the source.
I scanned the woods, listening, my legs pumping at a full sprint. About twenty feet from the porch my right leg collapsed beneath me, sending me to the dirt. My sandals flew behind, hands desperately clutched fresh soil as I tried to stand. And like the dream where you are running for your life but can’t move…trapped immobile, unable to escape the monsters in your head…I couldn’t move. I couldn’t make sense of it. The screams felt all around, the dozer noise overwhelming, my legs wouldn’t carry me. I’ve had the dream a hundred times. Now it was real.
I saw my truck ahead in the driveway and my daughter, Mya, standing nearby and pointing further up the drive. Luke was clueless, unsure what to do, as we all tried to piece together what was happening in mere seconds.
Finally, I was able to stand and hop to the truck, something in my upper hamstring burning. I looked down the driveway to see my husband safely inside the dozer, earplugs in place, hands raised as if to say, “What’s going on?”
Mya pointed up the drive. He looked where I couldn’t see, then yelled, “GET THE GUN!”
The gun…of course…but I couldn’t even walk, let alone make it back to the cabin to fetch the gun. Unable to get my body to cooperate, I knew the truck would at least get me to what I now knew were my sons.
I threw my useless leg into the seat of the truck, started it up, and whipped backward towards the husband at top speed into the road to the gravel pit, turned around, and flew past him. I had my eyes pinned down the driveway, trying to find my boys, windows cranked down so I could hear. I knew then it was a bear. What else would it be? I pictured them being attacked. Everything I knew about bear attacks came to me in a vision, me helpless to stop it.
I scanned both sides of the driveway as I drove, flew to the end, turned around and had aimed back down towards the cabin when I saw Anthony descending a tree. Steven right behind him in another spindly spruce.
Eyes wide, the boys jumped in the truck before I even came to a stop.
We didn’t see which direction the bear went after Anthony likely scared the bejeebus out of it with his screams. But there is a beaten path through the brush that crosses our driveway and continues on.
And today my sons were right back out there because nothing, not even a grizzly, could keep my boys from their beloved blueberry patch hidden in the depths of the backwoods.