Lisa Bondurant

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I spend my time raising kids, gathering eggs, cutting wood, scoping out trees for tapping, making syrup in the last days of winter, watching my garden NOT grow in the summer, writing, wishing that there were more hours on the clock for sleeping.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A warm rain

A warm rain fell on the layered winter just before dusk. So gently it was almost unseen. But then the warmth of rain touched cold snow and a great fog began to lift from the forest floor, like a ghost ascending from a frozen grave. The fog thickened and lifted in layers, like milky water. Layer upon layer of fading gray, paler and paler into the distance till the mountains were only soft silhouettes of the giants.I hesitated before my last step into the woods, unable to shake the uneasy feeling that fog can give. The question when fog hangs in the air before you was always the same, what is beyond?“Nothing”, I told myself, yet felt no better. “Just step into it.” I stood still another moment anyway, scanning the woods as best I could for movement. The woods, where I had heard the something in the night. For days I had been searching for sign of bear or large cat, but had found nothing more than an occational rock or log disturbed. That had been before the big snows. And sense then the forest had been almost too quiet. There was nothing moving now and I finally stepped forward and walked to the first tapped tree.
The buckets hung heavy and nearly full with the clear sap. Pulling the first bucket free, the tap began to drip steadily down into the snow. I was surprised, the temps were only now shifting and I had not expected such a good run. But once again the trees seemed to know what was to come, before I did.
I gathered from a row of trees along a large game trail, working my way back into the forest. The thrill of a good run had made the thought of an eerie fog leave my mind. With a good run, there were more trees that needed tapped. I placed the bit to bark and began cranking. As the bit bore in, tiny flakes of dark brown fell to scatter the white snow at my feet. Then light brown and finally the cream colored flakes of live wood. The wood grew wet before and I drew the bit back. The bit pulled free and a tiny gush of sap spit from the hole then trickled down the maples dark bark, towards the ground. I laughed; it was always a good feeling when a tap ran well. I hammered a tap into the hole and with the last hammer strike the sap splashed back into my face. I had read once that the old sugar makers said “… up north the sap drips, down south it runs…” Within a minute I had a milk jug hung and the quick tap, tap of sap dropping into the plastic seemed to be the only noise in the woods.
I scanned down the foggy trail for more trees to tap and wondered why it had seemed so spooky a few minutes before. “The something in the dark night’ was like a whispered answer that came as soon as the question had formed in my brain. Suddenly the tingling feeling of caution returned. Even if nothing could be seen now, the feeling that warned could not be ignored. There had been too many troubles with bears and to dismiss them would be foolish. And then there had been the neighbor who had seen the mountain lion in the late days of fall. It had sped across the trail before her and disappeared up the side of our mountain. The local forest rangers always dismissed reports of mountain lions with a mocking laugh. A laugh that was too practiced and the same line would follow, “There are no mountain lions around here, if there were then people would see them and there would be more reports” It was a line that might have worked the first time or two, but was now just foolish. People did see them and did report them and always got the same response. Those people who then talked among themselves about what the rangers had said, and shook their heads, laughing. It must have been a bob cat or dog, was the rangers follow up answer too those they suspected of not believing their cover story. As if we, the people that spent our live in the woods, not just worked there, could not possible tell a cougar from a dog or bob cat. It was widely suspected that a cover was all it was, to protect the big cats. For if the cats were seen by the wrong people than a wave of fear was soon to follow. The animals that were just beginning to come back to the Appalachians would soon be in mortal danger by trophy hunters and those easily spooked by stories of the big cats hunting hikers and bikers.
A cat was unlikely, but the chance was there. I had heard the hiss of the big cat, as a child. It had been near darkness of night in the summer and the stallion Rawley had gone crazy in the field, casting wild, fearful eyes towards the darker woods and shaking his main and head as he ran the fence line looking to escape his paddock. The hissing went on for some time, but nothing ever came out of the woods to pounce upon the stallion. I had often thought that perhaps the cat had only been doing it to amuse himself. So wild and beautiful had been the horse, running back and forth in the twilight, I had been unable to take my eyes from him. I had been with my father then, his hand, rough as sandstone holding mine as he whistled softly under his breath in amazement.
“Look at him go, Lisa. Look at him go.” There was nothing he loved more than a wild running horse and the danger of a big cat had meant nothing.
“What happens if the cat comes out”, I had asked?
“He won’t attach the horse while I am here”, my father had said.
“But what if he comes after us”, I asked at a whisper, looking up at him. My father had turned his gaze from the horse to me.
“He… Will ...Never… Attach ...Me”, he said the words slow and steady as if making sure I understood the confidence with which he said them. I already understood though, I could see it in his face. He had been fearless. Perhaps the cat had been as mesmerized as we had been by the stallion. This had happened several times over the years, always at the same time, early evening.
“Good thing they don’t hunt sugar makers”, I said out loud, looking at the dim light of early evening. I gathered my equipment to leave the woods. It was getting too dark too tap. As I left, I thought of how fearless my father had been and how being with him, a hand so powerful holding mine, I had been fearless also. But now caution would do, I did not know what was awake in these early spring woods.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Following The Snowball

To follow the snowball, the snowball would not roll down the hill. By the time it had come to rest in its final spot the snowball was wider then it was tall, because I had not been able to rotate it from side to side to keep it even, for the last (quite a long while actually) of rolling and forming. Then the good neighbors who had come to plow, had actually plowed a huge pile of snow right up to the front of the ball and stopped. That mountain of snow froze! The snowball froze, all the way to the gravel and maybe the Earth. My father and I had put shoulders to the beast and shoved with all our might. On day three of trying to shove the ball unsuccessfully my father was beginning to be a little irritated with me! He rolled his eyes at me and stated...
"You won't do this again!" I agreed, without hesitation. By now the road where plowed was nearly free of snow. By now the road behind us where I had rolled up so much snow was nearly free of snow. If only we had, had the truck at the top of the hill we could have pushed the ball away. If only it had not been such a wide snowball the neighbors could have gotten the plow around it to push from the top. For that matter, if only I had not made a snowball...
"Yes", I assured him on the fourth day as he once again walked around the snowball, to walk all the way down to the truck at the bottom of the mountain. "I won't do that again" Two days later, we tried to shove the ball down the hill. It wobbled and stopped against the mountain of plowed snow. Then with great effort we turned the ball to the electric cut on the road's side. I was getting excited again.
"This will be good", I told my dad. "Just wait, you’ll see. It will speed down the steep cut and hurdle into the air and smash across the field at the bottom of the mountain." My pride was renewed...there was new hope for me. The neighbors would laugh at me no longer once they saw this monster rolling, smashing, and bouncing past. We balanced it on the tippy top of the electric cut and shoved. It rolled more! Three feet ... six picked up speed...
"It's going" I cried out. "Look! Look! It's rolling... it's..."
The ball rolled to a sad, soggy thudding stop, into an electric pole just ten feet away. My father and I just stood there. Perfectly still as if someone had hit the pause button on us and the ball, A long moment later the ball shuddered then crumbled into slurry of slush and mush at the bottom of the pole. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my father slowly turn to look at me.
"Well that wasn't too exciting", he stated and rolled his eyes in that way he had when telling me...
"Yeah, I won't do that again" I mumble.
February 2010.
George was walking down the mountain to the truck parked at the bottom so he could go to town for groceries. He sees the Good Neighbor Tim trying to plow out our road for us again.
"Tim, just watch out for the giant snowball at the top", he jokes. Tim looks surprised and worried.
"Oh God!" he exclaims “Don’t tell me she did it again"

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Big Snow, Cabin Fever

I was fifteen and two weeks into being stuck on the mountain. Such a deep snow had come to the hills that year. My father had gotten the truck off the mountain, but getting back up was impossible. I was so glad that school was out, but very bored. I had exhausted all forms of entertainment available to the mountain. I had tracked every animal through the woods, cut wood with my father every day and read till I could not sit any longer in one spot. I remember standing at the window looking out at the endless white with one last idea left. I could build a snow man? No, that was way to immature for a fifteen year old. There was no way that could be risked, what if someone saw? Fifteen was almost grown and one could not risk one's reputation with such childish things as snowman building! Yes, I remember thinking that! But the idea of a snow man led to a new idea. What could be uncool about building the biggest snowman in history?
I was soon in the back yard, forming a small, hard snowball. I packed snow around it till it was big enough to fill my arms. When building a giant snowman you should make sure to start with a well compacted bottom ball, I had thought. Finally it was big enough to start rolling, and I carefully planned out where to start so that I could finally end up in a good location to build when the bottom snow ball was so big I would be unable to move it.
The snow was wet and heavy and had packed on easily, just to make sure of total success I had stopped every few minutes and smacked the surface of the ball till it was hard as ice. My snowman would be like a giant, nine feet tall. I was planning on rolling the base to the edge of one of our garden walls and then shoving it over the wall. Then it would be at the perfect place for rolling the second body ball into place. After all I thought, this ball was already 3 feet across and getting pretty heavy.
Before long the ball was four feet tall and wide and very solid. I had found many slushy puddles and had used this to soak and pat down the snow. I stopped and leaned over the ice ball, trying to catch my breath as I scanned the yard where criss-cross paths now wound back and forth through the yard. Oh no! I had a problem! I was far from the drop off wall now and I feared that I would not get the ball back to it. I looked around trying to figure out how to save my day, a pole for leverage maybe? That did not work, a running start perhaps?
That did not work and was painful. I stood rubbing my sore arm and looking at the ball. Wow!, It was huge, like a giant snow ball from a cartoon, the ones that roll down mountain sides wiping out everything before them. I looked over my shoulder. Nothing but hill! Who needs a snowman, thought I. Now this was exciting, I thought. I could see it now rolling at great speeds, ripping down the mountain side that had held me captive for so long, to smash in a cloud of snow and noise at the bottom of the mountain. It would make up for all the days stuck on a mountain. Not only that it was clearing the snow from the road. I had a great plan!
I started pushing and shoving down the hill. It was not going to take off just yet. I would have to get to the crest of the hill where gravity would take control of the giant for me. The crest was a good quarter mile away. I could make it huge by then, I thought excitedly. It would take all I had for now it weighed hundreds of pounds but gravity seemed to wants this as much as I did. I pushed past the front porch. I pushed on down the lane a foot at a time. By now the ball was close to five feet tall, I knew this because I was five three and could just look over it. I now had to lean against it with my back and dig in my heels pushing till I was almost lying out on the road. The crest was within sight though and I tingled with excitement at the thought of that moment when I would shove and gravity would suddenly take it. A few more feet! And it could not come too soon; this ball was almost too big to move. It was taking everything in me to move it just a foot and it was now over five feet. The crest was three feet away. I dug in with everything and shoved. It resisted, and then suddenly I felt it, gravity taking it. I pushed harder with all I had. It was rolling! I jumped back, my heart pounding from exhaustion and excitement. Slowly it took off down the hill, it would pick up speed soon it would tear off down the mountain, rolling in an insane path of speed and freedom and terror. It was about to hurdle into...It rolled to a slow shaky plop and stopped.
I could not believe it. I shoved again. Nothing! I shoved and squirmed against the ball. It would not move, frozen in place. NO! I cried, no. I struggled and pushed till I could not move another inch. My lungs burned, my muscles burned, I was done. I sunk into a heap at the bottom of the snow ball. The snowball, now over five foot six was stuck fast into the middle of the road. In fact it almost filled the road. My dreams of a hurtling snowball were dead!
I headed back to the house, exhausted.
"What have you been up to", my mother asked?
"Making a big snowball", I sunk into the chair by the cook stove half frozen, and completely drained of hope and energy. I was still in that chair a few hours later when footsteps pounded across the front porch mixed with breathless laughter. Two neighbors stood at the door stomping snow from their feet and laughing till they nearly choked for oxygen.
"What are you all doing up here" my mother asked as she led them into the kitchen? This question made them laugh harder.
"We...we" gasp "we were...” laugh, gasp "...Trying to ..." gasp "...Plow... You out" laugh, gasp, laugh. My mother must have decided our good neighbors had been drinking, she had rolled her eyes at me.
"Well that's great!" She smiled "We need plowed out. We've been stuck for weeks and all we need is the road cleared a little and we can get out and about. Lisa would be glad of that; she's a little stir crazy right now." The two neighbors looked at each other and roared with laughter, pointing to me.
"She...she's the one", they laughed. They were bent over now laughing harder, and harder. “The ...big…Biggest...Damn…" laugh, gasp, point to Lisa, laugh harder.
"..Biggest dam snowball… we ever saw..." laugh, gasp, laugh. I sunk deeper in my chair. "I told Tim…" gasp "someone has the worst..." laugh and laugh "…The worst cabin fever…we have ever seen." They both dropped into chairs overcome with laughter. My mother looked at me confused, my father shook his head.
"I think our neighbors have been drinking' he laughed. Our neighbors shook their heads, in defense
"Honest to God Barclay, the biggest damn snowball I've ever seen", there they go again laughing and laughing.
"Can't get the plow around it…" laugh, gasp, "Can't push it out of the way. Two of us and a plow can't ...move…" laugh and laugh. "I see this thing as we're coming up the road. What is it Paul, I ask?"
"A big damn snowball, I tell him", Paul fills in. I am now sitting so low in my seat I am almost on my head. My face is so hot and red. Now my mother, father and both neighbors are laughing till they cry.
"She is a strong girl" my father gasps out.
"We can't plow you out Barclay, you'll have to wait for it to melt", says Paul. "Going to be a long wait…" and they are laughing again.
"What were you thinking?"
What was I thinking? Right then I think of walking out into the snow and not stopping. Walking till to a new place where no one nows Lisa. The neighbors finally left, still laughing, mumbling about a bad case of cabin fever and wait till they tell the other neighbors about the huge snowball, and how "we could have gotten them off if only that snowball had not been in the way."
I walk to the snowball and see the clear road now plowed right up to the giant ball. So close to freedom, I think. So close. If it had not been for the snowball I could have been free to leave the mountain. I could have been free from my Snowball embarrassment. It was another full week before the ball melted enough to be moved. It's been 30 years waiting for my neighbors to quit laughing and reminding me about "…that year you made the biggest damn…" laugh, gasp...

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Let the Forest Sleep

Quietly falling in the dark of night, the snow came down like a bobcats steps. The woods were still, so very still as blankets of white fell soft and thick.Winter whispered too the forest, sleep...sleep a while longer. Not even the deer moved from their beds beneath thick evergreens. No tracks scarred the snow for as far as could be seen.
Up to my knees in snow, I pushed through to the hen house. Nearly two feet of powder piled high, made the coop seem like night inside, but warm and dry. The hens crooned and clucked a quiet greeting as I opened the door letting the daylight spill in. They gathered around my feet watching closely as I filled their feed and pushed the snow from the collapsing hoops.Clucking the whole time as if asking me what had happened to their predictable world of bright days and long nights.. As soon as the door closed behind me they fell silent again, as if night had fallen already.When I opened the outside door to the egg nest they clucked another good morning. They would do this all day, I thought. Thinking it was day, then night, then day.. for as many times as I would open and close the door. It seemed the spell of sleep cast by Winter's big storm, fell on all creatures.
Stepping into the warmth of the house, I had to agree. It was a good day to stay close to warm fires and do little.
Bev made "Maple Wax Jack" or " Maple on Snow" for the kids. She boiled dark maple syrup till it formed a soft ball. Then pour the dark amber liquid in strips over a pan of packed snow. The thick, hot syrup instantly, melted into the snow then formed a taffy like candy that was eaten right away with bits of snow still attached. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote of making this candy in the book "Little House in the Big Woods"
She had written of how much she loved the candy, but maybe it was the making it with her parents and sister she loved most. I could not tell which our kids liked more. They had fun, was all I was sure of.
I remembered how big and quiet Laura Ingalls had said the big Wisconsin woods had been in winter. I could imagine winter had cast spells of sleep upon the forest then as now. Our forest would sleep for now, and we would wait for the warm touch of spring to waken the maples on another day.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Maple Festival coming soon!

The Highland County Maple Festival will be here soon!
This is a 2 weekend event and those dates are:
March 13-14 and the 20-21.
Check out the Highland County Chamber of Commerce site for information.
The maple fest is coming! We look forward to it like Christmas. I think it has something to do with having a sweet tooth. My sister Julia told me the other day,
"If it is dipped in sugar, people are going to eat it" and I think the folks in Highland County would agree, but they would say "If you dip it in maple syrup they will not only eat it, they will come and get it"
Head out early and be hungry. All along the twisting roads to Monterey, where the main festival is held you will find a dozen ways to fill your hunger. There will be all you can eat pancake breakfasts at firehouses, buckwheat pancakes also, maple dipped doughnuts, maple candy, vats of beans, chili and soup at some locations. Once there, if you choose to go to the town, you will see signs for trout dinners, pork & chicken dinners, pork rinds, kettle corn, country ham sandwiches. And did I mention the crafts? There are booths set up that offer fresh ground cornmeal, buckwheat, shitake mushroom plugs, handmade knives, and much more.
Of course the main attraction in town is the Mill Gap Ruritan doughnut trailer. Look for the line, it will be long on very cold years, very, very long in good weather. If you get in line to buy doughnuts, and you should, really! Then tell everyone near you that you will only be buying a dozen. This is when you will be able to pick out the "Maple Doughnutter" a hardcore, veteran of the maple fest. People who already know the magic of the Highland County Maple Doughnut. The secret, that I will tell you now is, once you take your first bite of the melt in your mouth golden ring, you to will be a "Doughnutter" in the making. You will recognize the vetern by the way they dress, layers upon layers to withstand the cold of waiting in line through any weather, and when they use the words "dozen doughnuts" it is always preceded by a large number. They come from all over, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and more. They will look at you and roll their eyes like "Yeah, right! Newbie! Just one?"
You will not be taken seriously! You will hear the talk then. The ridicule of those ahead that make a terrible mistake, not buying enough doughnuts!
"Looky there' one will nod and all serious doughnuters will glance towards the head of the line.
"One box!", and all will laugh, shaking their heads.
"Why bother showing up" the last part of this is said just loud enough for the offender to over hear. By now you are half way up the line and have seen the ill judgment you have exhibited. So you up your anti, say, maybe 3 dozen? You will get a shrug from the hard core maple doughnuters that maybe there is hope for you, but the proof to them will be in the end-of-the-line. By the time you near the end the line, the number will be somewhere between 4-5 dozen. Not only is your pride forcing the number higher, but the smell. The sent of hot oil that has just cooked fresh doughnut swirling through the cold mountain air promising sweet reward for your frigid torture.
Then finally you are there! You climb the steps and peer into the window to where the magic is made. Racks of rising doughnuts, being fussed over by flour covered volunteers. Vats of hot oil and rows of golden, just cooked doughnuts, dipped with long dowels into a pool of warm maple syrup glaze. The dowels are crusted a half inch thick with maple syrup from hundreds of dives into the syrup vat, where doughnuts take their finale swim. You have been waiting so long now that you might be tempted to bribe the cashier for a dowel to chew on like a giant lolly pop. But now there are more important matters. One, you can almost taste the doughnut that are just moments from being in your grasp. Two,the Doughnutters behind you have fallen silent, waiting to see what you will do next. You glance back and consider all at stake.
" I was going to get 5 dozen", you tell the man behind the window loudly, then pause for effect. "Give me 6"
"Now that's what I am talking about!", you hear from behind you. Soon you will leave the trailer with a stack of white pastry boxes so high you can't see around them, but the respect that you have earned from fellow maple doughnuters will be eminence. As you leave the line, peering around your still warm tower of boxes, throw them a nod and glance, say...
"See ya next year, same time, same place". You will leave proud, head high or at least bent to the side so that you can see. The other doughnuters will nod back their approval as they speak words of praise for the newest to join the club.
"Now that's a stack! Good job! Only serious doughnut eater need apply"
Do not despair if you do not want to go into town and be bruised by crowds, or maybe are intimidated by becoming a "Doughnuter" in your rookie year,there is always the "sugar tour". Pick up a map that marks the sugar camps that like visitors and start driving. And if you missed the doughnuts, Puffenbargers has fantastic doughnuts, as well as a state of the art new sugar house. Keep going and visit as many as you can, for all the sugar camps have something a little different to see. Eagle Camp is a sight to see. Tucked away in the woods with it's red board buildings. Firewood piled high to feed a wood fired arch. A great little store to feed your sweet tooth with syrup, maple creme, candy,... maple this, maple that, maple of any form! "Southern Most" in Bolar has pit cooked BBQ and their own BBQ sauce plus, again maple of every kind.
Go from camp to camp, or till you can not stomach the sweet smell of maple and smoke or frying doughnuts. Keep going till when you look in the back seat the kids are covered in crumbs and half eaten maple lolly pops stuck to their cheeks, whispering "No more! No more sugar"
Then you can go back home and dream of next years Maple Festival.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Standing Guard Along The Shady Trail

It had once been an incredible tree, a huge Virginia Pine that stood guard along a shady trail on the south side of the mountain. I had played under it so many times, sitting at it's base gathering the stone-like bits of layered bark of rich chocolate brown. I would look up at the emerald crown far above and swear that nothing so strong and beautiful could be anything ordinary.
"You are a king! A Knightly King", I had told it once as a child. "You can be the Knight King of my forest and guard it from the enemy". The crown had swayed against the turquoise sky as if in agreement of his new royal posting. A position it had held for so many years as I grew up. But the Knight King had not lived long enough to see my own kids play beneath it. It had fallen after the first onslaught of the pine bore beetle. I had been so sad that spring, as I looked up into the stiff golden brown crown that no longer swayed or danced in the wind. I had felt like I had lost a friend. Then the wind had come and taken it down. It's once powerful trunk now busted into sections. Now, after falling to earth, my kids came to know this tree. A huge log to climb and play on. To practice balance and flight from. Ageing slowly and beautifully into a new form of life for the forest. A home to others.
Now it was sliced open, like a huge baked yam. Carefully though, just the top skin ripped off to reveal the soft orange of the rotted pine log. The pulpy inside had been pilfered, a careful search for bugs that left it fluffy and slightly piled. Not a bug was left.
I stood over it, my sap buckets still in hand, looking for claw marks or or foot prints. There were none, but I did not need them to tell me what had done this precise surgery on the fallen tree. I had not gathered sap on this side of the mountain since yesterday afternoon and the log had been, as it had been for many years, A large piece of trunk. It lay along the shaded trail, it's thick layered bark long gone and replaced by a beautiful blanket of moss and lichen of a dozen shades of green. The sun was often dappled and dancing on the colors and tiny insects could be seen crawling quickly along it in the summer, like busy little people in a small world. Fresh bits of bright chewed wood dust dotted the log's darker skin, giving hint to the hidden universe within. A universe that had been destroyed over night by the long ebony claws and hungry tongue of a black bear. The layer of dead leaves on the ground stole any chance of bear prints. The work of this damage might be easily credited to a coon, but for the size of it and nearby, a large stone had also been carefully over turned, leaving a perfect "fit the shape" hole beside it. I glanced around the nearby forest, looking for more of what might be out of place. Nothing. Nothing but quiet trees and sun dancing on the forest floor.
I headed back the trail towards home with my full buckets of sap sloshing and wondered at the very careful, almost delicate work of the bear. Maybe it had been one of the she-bears we had seen with cubs the summer before. They had been near the front porch, eating from the blackberry patch.
We surprised them. My mother and I were driving up the hill coming home from town. Their black coats had glistened, shining and shimmering in the sun like something liquid. The small female mother had swung around from the thicket of berry brambles and green leaves, looking right at us in her surprise, then loped quickly off into the woods, a cub chasing after her. The windows had been down in the truck and yet no sound had been heard of their fast retreat. Every movement had been a motion of grace and soft flowing black that shimmered with every step. We had stopped the truck, leaning forward in our seats, our mouths open as we took in this rare and special sight. We sat like that for a few long moments as if hoping they would come back. Then we had been so excited, chattering to each other about what we had just seen and how wonderful it was. How beautiful they had been and how lucky to see a cub as well. My words had suddenly stuck in my throat, but my mother's said what I could not.
"Oh My God", she whispered." There is Gab". We had both looked over towards the house at the same time. There, on the bottom step of the porch, just feet away from where the bear had been, was my daughter. She was singing softly to herself and playing with flower petals in the sunlight. She loved to play there and to walk the small loop of a path that went down the porch steps, up against the blackberry patch and back to the porch. She would walk that loop, singing her favorite songs and picking flowers, unaware of anything else around. Just as she was on this day, unaware of the danger that had been just a short lope away. Now as I walked out of the shadowed winter woods, into the sunlight of the open yard I remembered how I had felt suddenly cold on that hot August day many months ago. I, who had never been afraid of bears, had been chilled to the very bone by the thought of my young daughter having been so close to a mother bear and her cub. That had been only the first of three more bears seen in the area just in the next week, like a flood gate had been opened. One was a huge boar bear that had tried to get into the hog pen. That bear had not been afraid at all, even when we had fired a shot over his head, he had turned toward us and began walking our way. Another shot had sent him off, but very slowly as if not bothered by us or our danger to him. He had moved on though and had not been seen again by us or neighbors. The bears had been all of different sizes, so we knew that there were at least four bears on our mountain.
Our policy for how and when the kids played in the yard changed that day. No more playing just out in the side yard by themselves, where I could watch them from the window or playing on the porch alone. An adult was always with them. But then winter had come and we had let our guard down, the kids had played alone in the yard many times. The bears were suppose to have quieted down or gone to sleep for winter, so the bear biologist I had talked to during the summer, had told me. They would be no problem in the winter months, "Unless' he had added "they are very hungry or showed unnatural behavior, such as coming towards a human instead of fleeing" If that was the case then the bears' most likely been "ruined' as he worded it, and then they could be very dangerous. Most likely cause, he had told me, was baiting by "Bear Clubs"
I set my buckets down next to the others I had carried from the mountain that morning and looked back into the woods that surrounded our yard. Splattering sunlight and shadows on the forest floor, dark straight trunks and curving trails, dotted with sap buckets. No animals moving other then small song birds flitting from oak to pine looking for food. I had recently been told of a neighbor that was baiting bear on the mountain beside us.
A sudden clawing at my leg made me look down. Gracie the dachshund leaped and clawed at my shin to say hello.
"Great! Ruined Bears, Gracie!", I told her. "Time to put the kids on lock down again" I asked? No! Just be careful and I would keep an eye out for sign and watch closely for more bear talk along the trail