Spirit Deer 15

In the evening of the fifth day, Tim sat in the mouth of his shelter, grinding more of the pine nuts for another meal. He had set the deadfall, but he didn’t have any real faith in it. He felt stronger now, and his ankle hurt less than it had. He had reworked his crutch, padding the crosspiece with lichen and wrapping it with willow bark.

He was trying to think through his situation. Unless someone found his bicycle at the campground – and he had hidden it with great care so that it would not be stolen – no one would know that he was lost in the forest. There would be no rescue parties.

He could try to walk out, but he did not know which way to go. He did not know where he was because of the time he had wandered after hitting his head in the stream. He did not know east from west. Heavy clouds had covered the sun for days, and it is a myth that moss only grows on the north side of trees.

If he had been uninjured and well fed, he could simply have followed the dry wash to a creek, and that creek to a river, and that river to a road. But he did not know how many twisting miles that might take. He might walk to a road within an hour, or it might take more days than his weakened condition would allow.

He couldn’t take his shelter with him, and another night of exposure in the rain might kill him. It seemed best to stay with his shelter and live on pine nuts until his ankle had another day or two to get better.

It was a sensible plan, but events were taking place in another part of the forest that would change everything.

* * *

Wherever Man moves in, the wild creatures move back. In California, the grizzly bear, the state animal, has been extinct for nearly a century. The foothill towns rarely see even a relatively mild mannered black bear.

Nevertheless, three days after Tim went hunting, a black bear came down from the forest. It was an old male, shaggy with years, and hungry. He wandered around the outskirts of town, remembering vaguely that he had found plentiful food here in his youth. He could not know that that food source had been a garbage dump, nor could he know that garbage was now stored in bear-proof steel containers.

In his wanderings at the edge of the town, the bear found the sweet smell of rotting grain and followed it to a pig pen. Perhaps he would have eaten the mash, or perhaps the pigs. Or both, for he was very hungry. Instead, the farmer heard the squealing of his pigs when the bear attacked and came running out of the house with a shotgun in his hands. He fired at the bear and hit him in the face, then fired the other barrel at the bear as he ran toward the forest and safety.

The buckshot lodged in the black bear’s face and right hind leg. One shot split his muzzle and traveled four inches under the hide to lodge beneath his right eye. The most serious damage was done by a single pellet which ripped away a section of the bear’s fleshy nose, and cost him most of his sense of smell.

Sight is not very important to a black bear; a pellet in the eye would have done less damage. This old male had been finding it increasingly hard to catch his prey. Without his sense of smell, he was truly crippled.

He ran for several miles before going to earth. He growled and rolled and ripped down saplings in his fury, but the pain persisted. more tomorrow

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