Published on June 10, 2011 by Amy
by Waynonaha Two Worlds
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Gray clouds hung heavy in the mountains as we packed up the horses. My horse Smoky did not like the sudden cold after two days of hot weather. He kept rolling his eyes and looking in that wild-eyed way he had of saying, “I don’t like this at all.” Each movement I made, Smoky would jerk back his ears and stomp his front hoof, just a little too close to my toes for comfort.
I finally managed to get all the tack on and tied down my blanket to the back of the saddle. I put the gun in easy reach, right by my knee; it was a gun my Dad had given to me several years ago. The lever action 30-30 was not fancy but was reliable and easy to shoot. I seldom failed to bring home what I shot at even when up against other fancy rifles. This sometimes caused some stretches of silence, all directed at me, on long hunts. The boys did not like to have a girl out-shoot them, even if I could out-ride them. I had always been with my brothers since were no other girls in the family my age. My only sister was thirteen years older and we did not see eye to eye on many issues. She likes to dress up and wear make up; I liked my blue jeans and clean face.
This morning we had to ride for more than half a day to where a bear was reported to have been killing cattle. My Dad was already in that area with some of the hands, setting up the bait. My brother Curt and I had brought one pack horse with food and ammo. The hunters may have to be there for several days, to wait for the bear to return. We were to bring in the supplies and then return home.
We rode until noon and stopped to get a sandwich out of the pack and drink some coffee we had in a thermos. The chill did not leave the air even if it was nearly May. In the high desert, it can be very cold at night and hot in the daytime. I put my gloves back on to remount Smoky; he was still skittish and not in the mood to ride. After a few of his spins and failed attempts, I managed to get my leg over his back.
All the time this was happening, Curt was sitting on his horse laughing at me, of course. After I was in the saddle, Smoky was always good to go; it was when he had to allow you to mount would he show his stubborn streak. We rode in silence as is our way. We did not need to speak—it seem like our minds could just talk without words. I never realized that we were so silent until I had to go into the outside world. When I had to go to the outside school, I found the noise too loud that it gave me headaches.
We arrived in the area where the hunters had been, about three in the afternoon. We started to track the hoof prints they had left a day earlier. We did not see a sign of life or even a camp fire; it was like nothing was out there. After a little climb up the steep hill, we saw the two dead steers, half-eaten and rotting. As we passed by, the vultures flew up and sat on a boulder only to return and attack the carcass.
We could see the prints of the bear in the soft sand near the kill. It was one big grizzly for sure and I felt a little uneasy out in the open like this. You hardly ever saw a bear of that size come down into the clear area unless they were really hungry.
This winter had been long and cold so they must just be waking up to eat. From the size of the paw span and the length of the stride, I would say it was as big as my horse. This did not help the feeling of being exposed as we rode higher into the mountains.
Soon we came to the timberline and Smoky was starting to really make me nervous. He twitched and side-stepped, seeing his own personal ghosts at every movement. I handed the lead rope to Curt and took my rifle out of the scabbard. I checked to see if it was ready to go and set the safety.
I put the saddle tie that was attached to the ring on the gun to my wrist. This would assure me if I was thrown that I would not lose my gun, a plus if a huge Grizzly was about to make you dinner. We lost a lot of the trail as we climbed into the hard rock area of the low hills. The marks on the stones made by the shoes on the horses ahead of us were sometimes the only thing we could go by.
At one point we had to get off the horses and lead them through some narrow rocks into a more open trail. I had my gun in one hand and the reins in the other, when out of nowhere, there appeared a huge bear. He was so close we could hear him breathing as he ran. He did not see us at first—he was running down hill at a fast lope, right toward us.
When something like this happens, it seems to all be in slow motion. Smoky took that moment to bolt past me, right into the path of the bear. There was no way the bear coming down the hill could stop. Smoky seemed to be suspended in air when he jumped and the bear flew under Smoky and kept on coming. By this time Curt had his hands full with two horses going crazy. He could not reach his rifle and it was only me left to do something. I slid back against the stone wall that bordered the narrow path, flipped off the safety and prayed for good aim.
After that I do not remember a thing—it all was like a blur to me. I remember flipping the lever of the rifle several times and just shooting in the direction of the bear. The next thing I knew I was yelling to Curt and was hit by something that pushed me all the way out of the passage. I felt a rush of wind like I was being taken up in a storm; my hair flew in all directions. Something very warm was all around me and I felt like I was held in a very tight place.
When I hit the ground, I could not breathe—all the wind was pushed out of my lungs by the impact. I lay for what seemed like hours. All I could hear was screaming. It sounded like the high pitch a horse makes when it is screaming in pain or fright. I must have only been there a minute, then my breath came back into me and the pain was intense.
I looked up into the eyes of that bear that had me pinned under his paw. He was drooling right into my ear and still panting from his run. I lay very still and just looked into the bear’s eyes. It was like he was telling me something. I did not feel or think at that time; I was just numb.
Finally I felt his paw let go of me and I pulled my legs and arm out from under him. My gun was smashed; what was left of it still hung on my arm. I rolled over and tried to sit up but found no strength in my legs or arms. Finally I could hear someone laughing and it was Dad looking down at me from the top of the pass. He said, “If you’re through playing with that bear you can get up and come here.” I pulled myself up and looked at the huge bear that a few minutes ago had me in its hold. My legs felt like water and I shook all over from the fall.
I only felt sorry for the bear that I had shot—it was sad for me to see that beautiful animal dead. I went over to the bear and spoke into its ear. I ask the bear to come and be with me as I finish my journey on this earth. I said a prayer for the spirit of the bear. Later Curt told me he watched me and the bear fly down the hill in a kind of hug or dance. Curt said it was like the bear was carrying me or holding me to keep me safe. The slope was steep and I would have never fallen that far without many injuries if the bear had not protected me with his body.
To this day I carry the claw of that bear and feel his spirit around me. When I need strength and courage, the bear is with me. I can feel his huge body wrapped around me to shield me from the world of pain and suffering. Bear has come to me in times of sickness and helped me to survive.
That was a long time ago. I know the bear did not mean to attack us. He was running from my Dad and the other men and had no way to go but through the pass.
Smoky made it almost all the way home before we found him. I had to ride the pack horse home and was constantly reminded of my bear dancing by the men. Needless to say, my pride hurt along with my body. I caught my Dad at times looking at me from the side of his eye; I knew he was glad I made it out alive.
Many times I have had to go through hard times and tough spaces and the bear is always with me as a protector. Sometimes in life, we have no place to go or no choices in the way things are. We have to follow the path and trust that Creator will protect us in all ways.