Bear sightings memorable

October 02, 2013 10:12 am
I’ve confessed my lack of mushroom finding ability, but I don’t think I’ve shared my general lack of focus in the woods.

As much time as I’ve spent in the Oregon forests since the age of 4, I have seen a fraction of the wildlife that must have seen me.

As a tyke in a 4T Garanimals outfit and waffle stompers, I would follow Patrick Zook down the forest roads adjacent to his family’s neighborhood, when Mrs. Zook wasn’t looking, and look for Bigfoot. We could plainly see his footprints, that others mistook for potholes or mud puddles, yet, we never got a clear glimpse of the elusive, hairy fellow.

Signs near my hilltop Oregon coastal range home alerted residents of bear sightings, but I wasn’t to see one for another 35 years. Even on a prescribed burn, when EVERYONE else saw at least one bear a day, I was only privy to a horrific scene of a coyote taking down a fawn.

My first bear sighting was when one ran across the road in front of me as I drove through a mountain neighborhood outside of Boulder, Colo. The second bear sighting was similar; I was in a vehicle when one ran across the Redmond Grade near Flora.

Finally, after decades of woods-stomping, I caught one on camera during a kokanee spawning grounds survey the last week of the summer. I begged onto a field trip, borrowed wading boots, and with the camera around my neck, tripped my way up the braids of the Wallowa River to Boy Scout Falls.

The morning started out cool and rainy, but the mist cleared, revealing a bright September morning. Soon, I shed my jacket and hustled to keep up with the biologists counting thousands upon thousands of fish. I was assigned a braid or two to count, then went back to recording the journey with my camera. 

The wading boots allowed water to seep in, but I was not uncomfortable and walking through the pools and riffles as opposed to the bank gave a new perspective to the river.

Nearing the end of our trek, we reached the remains of the Boy Scout Camp, demolished by a flood in 2002. Remnants of buildings lined the river as huge logs choked the channels, creating pools for fish to rest and tiny falls where some successfully jumped up the stream.

When we reached the confluence of BC Creek and the river one bio announced, “A BEAR.” The other bio and I quickly asked, “Where’s Mom?” Even if you’ve never seen a bear, you know to look for a cub’s mother….

And wow, was he the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in the woods?

My Finnegan has oft been compared to looking like a bear cub, and this guy was about the same size as my Labrador. He paid us no heed and ambled along, picking up a kokanee carcass and sitting on the bank while he enjoyed his snack. 

I wonder if, on my own, I would have seen him at all, or if he would have gone as unnoticed as a morel in the duff.