Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Big Bad Bears of Trout Creek Road

Ancient Cabinets
The Blue Goose
Man with a Holster on His Hip
Adding to the Excitement--Garbage
Thick Enough to Cloak Bears
Not Huckleberries
Not a Huckleberry
Release the Banshee Hounds!
Someone Picking Huckleberries Before
Picking Huckleberries
Worth Life and Limb?
Where There is Bear Hair...
Not a Big Bad Bear
Hanging a Peace Offering
Frightened to Death by Banshees
Trout Creek Road cuts across the backside of the Cabinet Mountains which cradles the northern edge of the Clark Fork River like an ancient mother stooped over her flowing water-baby. Old enough for whiskers, the mountains are a bearded lady, hiding her face of metamorphic granite. She must be made of stone as the mountains shed boulders and pocket-rocks that tumble down gorges and creeks.

Our truck, Blue Goose, rumbles deep into the crags of the Cabinet Mountains and we wind around the gravel road as if lost in her wrinkles. The name of the road is promising to my husband who has packed his fishing rods along with dogs. Yet, higher and higher we climb with out seeing an actual Trout Creek.

What we do see early on is an ominous sign declaring that we are in grizzly bear country. We've seen these signs before on other forest service roads in the Kanisku Forest, but this one remains legible. In other words, it hasn't been shot to scrap metal as if it were a practice target for wanna-be-bear-hunters

The sign warns, "Hunters know your bears!" Thus don't shoot a black bear, mistaking it for a grizzly unless of course that black bear is attacking you at which point I don't really think it matters that you properly identify your toothy, drooling, clawed attacker. Either bear is likely to outweigh, outrun and outwit you. But no bear can outgun my husband, and I plan to stick close to his .45 magnum hitched to his hip. He will think I'm an adoring wife when really, I'm twittering scared of big bad bears.

Next the sign warns, "Campers keep a clean camp!" What this means, is don't eat. Best to camp without food to attract a bear that can open up your vehicle like a can a tuna. Hoist food up a tree? Not likely--bears taught squirrels to climb and their claws are what inspired Stihl chainsaws. So what do we do? Todd and I bring our garbage along for the ride into grizzly bear country. I know, crazy, but we forgot to stop at the dump along the way, which is becoming an annoying habit of ours--let's go fishing; honey grab the garbage!

The final warning on the sign is, "Hikers be alert on trails!" Are you kidding me?  I'm in grizzly bear country and that bit of knowledge is like downing a bottle of No-Doze. My eyes won't even blink. How all three of these warnings are meant to preserve the bears for future generations, I'm not sure. I want to live another day, and that's as far into the future as my mind is going.

With garbage in tow and no visible signs of Trout Creek we instead stop because Todd "sees something." After much debate within the cab of the the Blue Goose, we finally understand what huckleberry plants look like. Todd gets out, eats one and declares that he has indeed discovered huckleberries.This initiates us as almost-northern-Idahoans.

We have found huckleberries, and my husband grabs the bucket to pick. In known grizzly bear country. Great idea.

Huckleberries in Tillamook ice cream, and huckleberry milkshakes for sale in every little town to dot the map in northern Idaho and western Montana (including lil' ol' Elmira country store) is sweet and dear. Summer tourists headed to Glacier National Park or driving the great Selkirk Loop into British Columbia love huckleberries. So do bears.

As if our garbage isn't beacon enough, Todd lets loose the hounds. With boundless energy and curiosity, the two German Short-haired Pointers (GSPs) run fearless up and down the steep forested slopes. Through ferns and underbrush--you know, bear beds--the dogs run. If we don't stumble upon a bear, certainly they will. Todd is already hiking up the slope, and I reluctantly follow the holster on his hip.

To me, huckleberries resemble blueberries, just smaller and less blue. You have to pick a lot to get any kind of yield, and each plant has about five berries. Sharing the bucket between us, we manage to pick about a full cup of huckleberries, which means we are half way to a batch of jam. Okay, this is fun, my mind decides until it then says, hey what's that?

"Todd, is that bear hair?" I ask, standing up as if it might still be attached. Todd comes over to the clump of hair matted among the huckleberry plants and affirms my find.

Now my eyes are like super-sonic scanners as I scope every tree, fern and boulder for the bear missing a clump of fur. Is he full or did he leave these berries for a snack, or worse yet, a snare? Torn between fleeing the scene and not being able to move, I then hear a horrible cry.

The Irish believe that a banshee wails moments before death and it sounds as if death is rampaging down the mountain slope. Bursting out of ferns and brush, Grendel, our male GSP, is galloping and baying like a banshee. He runs past us and I cringe, waiting to hear the crash-boom-bang of an angry grizzly.

Crazy Banshee Dog
With the kind of calm that first-responders possess at the scene of a horrific accident, I ask Todd, "Do you have your gun?"

"Yep." His answer is tight and he's swearing in mumbled tones at the dogs who have brought death upon us all. The crying continues down the slope and now our second dog has issued the banshee's cry.

That's it for me. My legs begin to move and my feet barely brush the tops of huckleberry plants as I nearly make it all the way to the truck, writing a eulogy for both my dogs in my head. Then I see the garbage. What am I doing? I was supposed to stay with the gun, not the garbage!

Behind me, Todd is yelling, "Drop!" Drop? Does he really think a bear will heed his command? If it's devouring one of the dogs, well, that's just one less dog for us to feed. Maybe we'll still have one GSP after today. Hesitating, I turn toward the man with the gun.

Todd steps out of the brush and trees, onto the road, followed by two GSPs eagerly jumping at something my husband is holding aloft in one hand. It's a dead bunny, run down by two banshee-screaming GSPs. My legs become jello-shots, and I crave a whiskey. If the Irish truly do hear banshees wailing in the night, no wonder Jameson is so popular.

Throughout it all, Todd managed to keep the bucket from spilling and our dogs are alive. He never drew his gun once. What a man with nerves of steel. "Okay, time to go," I call to him, as he places the bunny high in the fork of a tree.

Maybe it's a peace offering to the big bad bears of Trout Creek Road. Or just a late afternoon snack.


  1. Oh, my goodness, I must tell you I beat you to the truck! Fabulous storytelling, Charli. You had me on the edge of my seat the whole time reading!

    1. That's my biggest problem with bears...I'm always the slowest one in the group! Thanks for reading. This was a fun one to write. Because I survived!

  2. Seeing the sign would have done it for me. I would have been a goner. Very exciting from where I was sitting (in my Home Safety Zone).

    1. The signs (yes, I literally live within the bear triangle of three such signs) always make my heart pound. Our local sporting goods store has an entire aisle dedicated to bear pepper spray. My marketing suggestion to them is to also sell Depends on that aisle. Because if I'm going to be close enough to spritz cayenne on a grizzly's snout, I'm going to need an adult diaper!