It was a normal July day. I woke up, stretched and rolled out of my sleep, yawning. There was a little frost on the grasses, but the sun was bright and the sky was blue. Chilly air shocked my nose, but it would warm up soon, as it always did at this high altitude in summer. Leaving home, I slowly walked down to the lake to get some fresh water. I had the trail all to myself at this early hour, although I could hear the buzzing of mosquitoes as I approached the shore. They never really bother me, but I find their sound annoying. The pebble beach was covered in tiny blue butterflies who seemed to be enjoying a drink of shallow water among the rocks. The lake reflected the tall, gray-blue, rocky mountains. They still had a lot of snow at their glacial tops. This was good news for someone like me. In the last few years, the snow had melted too early, so the rivers ran dry and the lake shores became crowded by everyone forced to come to my lake to get water. I’d rather not be in that kind of crowd. I bent down and took a long sip. The water was icy cool, so I stopped before completely quenching my thirst. I thought I’d eat and then come back for more when the sun had warmed it a bit. I noticed a moose at the far end of the lake. I sat down and watched him drink for a few minutes. Silly moose like to drink their water while bathing in it! That morning, I found it puzzling. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good swim, but it seemed too cold. I considered taking a dip, but not until later in the day when the air was warmer. Ah well, to each his own.
Breakfast called me to the hills. I wandered back up the trail and found some huckleberry bushes hidden among the tall pine trees. The berries were tiny, black and sweet. Delicious, but not very filling. I ate quite a few, but I really wanted something more substantial. I thought I should head up and over the hill to the stream on the other side. It has shallow water and a rocky bottom. Sometimes I can catch a fish there. On the way up the hill, a strong breeze started blowing. It parted my hair and let the cold air get to my skin, giving me a chill. I began to wonder if I should expect a storm today, but the blue sky seemed to say no. When I got to the stream, the water was rushing over the rocks. I must have slept through quite a bit of rain last night, I thought. Whitewater made it harder to see the fish than usual. I stood there for a while but had no luck fishing. I did observe several large birds flying by, including a bald eagle who seemed to have better luck with the fishing than I did. I was a little jealous, but I can’t fly, so I guess the eagle gets to eat the meal I wanted.
Since the fishing was no good, I decided a meal of some less-traditional forage would work. I followed the stream downhill for a little while and found the area that had the forest fire last summer. Not much was growing there, except beargrass. It’s funny. Despite the name, bears don’t eat beargrass, and it’s not even a grass, but a lily! I could smell them from quite a way upstream. Their smell was soft and sweet but smelled more like perfume than food to me. I have often used this burned pine patch for a quick meal this summer. No one else seems to have found it. That’s OK with me. I’d rather not share the rich supply of grubs that are slowly breaking down the dead trees. They may look squishy and slimy, but they taste really good. I stayed in the fallen forest until I was nearly full, then decided on a quick nap among the beargrass.
When I awoke, I noticed the sun was starting to go down behind the tallest peaks. I stood tall to look around and sniff the air. No new bears in the area today. I decided it was time to head back home. I would take the long way there. There was a nice path that led down to the lake where I had stopped this morning, and from there, I could take another little spur that went back to my place. I needed to stop for some water before going home anyway. As I approached the trail, a mule deer came running at me. She took one look at me and darted off into the pines. I wondered what she was running from, but I didn’t see or smell anything that concerned me in the area. I shrugged and sauntered toward the path to home.
Just before I got to the trail, I noticed the smell that must have come from whatever the deer was running from! It smelled terribly strong and acrid, like nothing I had encountered before. I stopped to sniff the air and try to figure out how to avoid whatever smelled that bad. At that moment, a man rounded the corner. He was a large man in his fifties, with a backpack and two walking poles. Briefly, I questioned his intent with those poles. Would he try to hurt me with them? When he noticed me, he gasped and began walking faster. At first, I assumed he smelled the foul odor too, but as he went past me, I realized HE was the one who smelled so bad! I backed up a bit to let him pass before I joined the narrow trail. It took me a second to catch my breath, but I walked far enough behind him that we didn’t feel pressured to interact, and I didn’t have to deal with his scent. I’d rather be alone on the trail, but at least he seemed to want to let me be.
When I got to the spur to go down to the lake, I heard some commotion and realized the spur trail had quite a few people on it. I was thirsty and wanted to remain alone, so I cut the corner a bit and stayed in the underbrush until I got close to the lake. As I crossed back onto the trail, I saw two more men. These two were younger and looked stronger. They didn’t carry walking poles or smell the way the first man did, but I questioned their intent as well. They stopped and looked at me, but didn’t seem to want to engage me. Thankfully, they let me pass to follow my own path. A few seconds later, I was back on my beach enjoying a deep drink of cool, refreshing water. I decided now would be a nice time for a swim. As I eased myself into the shallow water, I noticed the silly moose was standing in the lake again!
Silly Moose, Part 2
It was an exciting July day! I woke up near Glacier National Park. The RV was warm, but there was frost on the ground when I went out for a short walk. When I returned, I woke up the three generations of my family who traveled there with us, and we made breakfast. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, and best of all, coffee. When everyone was ready, we drove Going-to-the-Sun Road. It was unbelievably beautiful. We stopped many times to take pictures and even had a snowball fight on Independence Day! My family is from Indiana, and this is never a possibility in July at 700 feet above sea level and 39 degrees North latitude. But at nearly 7,000 feet and nearly 49 degrees North latitude, snow in summer is common! After some rock skipping at Lake McDonald and a stop for lunch, we headed back to camp.
My sister is a professional photographer, and she had offered to take my family’s pictures while we were on this trip. Today was the day! Back inside the RV, we got dressed in some clean clothes, and I tried to do my hair as well as can be done while camping. My parents, sister’s family, and brother were planning to stay at camp while the rest of us went to the Many Glacier part of the park for some pictures. Then we would meet up at the Cattle Baron in Babb, MT for a nice dinner to celebrate my youngest son’s fifth birthday and the end of our trip to Montana. We were looking forward to a nice, relaxing hike.
When we arrived at Many Glacier, we parked and trotted down the trail. It was such a lovely place the adults were all snapping pictures, while the two boys climbed trees along the path. We saw almost no one on the trail, which was a nice change from the very populated Going-to-the-Sun-Road. There were mountains, streams, waterfalls, beargrass, and pine trees everywhere we looked. We posed for many pictures. It was late afternoon and the light was creating beautiful alpenglow on the mountains. Photographers dream of locations like this.
As we got further into the forest, we found a spur trail with a sign that said it went down to a lake. Just before we got to the still sunlit lake, the quiet of the forest was broken by a hum that sounded like either a very small helicopter, or a huge number of mosquitoes! We had completely forgotten our bug spray. We decided to snap a few pictures on the little beach at the lake then head out before we got eaten alive by those critters! My youngest son noticed tons of little blue butterflies all over the smooth colorful stones, and we all tried not to step on any. My sister took a few pictures then we turned to head up to the main route back to camp since the oldest was starting to get bug bites.
When we approached the main trail, my sister decided to take a few individual pictures of me. I put my camera down to pose and sat on a log to smile. She straightened my hair and I positioned herself to get the lighting right. The boys were patiently watching, but wanted to explore some more. Suddenly, I noticed my husband must have stayed back at the lake. He does that a lot. He must have seen something he really wanted to take a picture of. We decided we’d wait for him there. Surely, he’d be coming along soon, and it was a comfortable, picturesque spot to wait, anyway.
After about a minute of waiting on my husband, a large man with a backpack and hiking poles suddenly appeared at the intersection of the main trail and the spur trail we were on. He looked frantic! “There’s a grizzly bear coming your way, get out of here now!”
“We’re waiting on someone. We’ll head out in just a minute.”
“No, you need to leave NOW!”
He hurried off, clearly too startled to stick around and help us. It quickly occurred to me that our five-year-old would be the most likely victim of a bear attack, so I threw him on my back, hoping the bear wouldn’t notice his small size. “Go down the trail and warn your father.” I said to the sixteen-year-old with my heart pounding, “but don’t run or it will chase you!” My sister and I headed up the trail and saw fur and rustling leaves at about eye level next to us, as a large grizzly bear lumbered past, just out of our view. I was so terrified, my feet moved faster than they ever have before, despite the fifty-pound child on my back. All the while, I tried to turn back to make sure my oldest boy was OK. But he was quickly out of my sight. When we got a little way down the main trail, we anxiously stopped to wait for the other two.
Not a minute later (but the longest minute of my life), my husband and oldest son came jogging up the trail. After giving them both big hugs, I said, “let’s get out of here”! We hiked quietly and quickly for a while, but soon the fear subsided a little and I regained my curiosity and composure. I asked the men what had happened. It turns out, after the bear lumbered past us, it crossed their path, nearly fifteen feet away. They froze, not daring to make a sound or take a picture. I asked what the bear had done. They said that it paused and looked at them, then went on toward the lake. Then I asked why my husband had not stayed with our group, he said…
He stayed back to take a picture of a silly moose standing in the lake.
Part 1 of the story above is fictional. Part 2 is entirely true, and it occurred in 2012. People encounter grizzly bears very rarely, and grizzly bear attacks are incredibly rare. Most occur when people approach a bear and catch it off guard, or get between a mother and her cubs. Being “bear aware” on the trails is incredibly important. This means making noise while you hike to alert bears to your presence. Bear spray can also be carried and sprayed at a bear as a deterrent in the case of an attack. The encounter we had gave me a much deeper respect for bears and made me consider the grizzly’s perspective. In most of their range, they are constrained by encroaching human activity. When bear/human interactions become problematic, bears are relocated at best and shot at worst. Protecting large wilderness areas is vital to the survival of bears.
If you are looking for a photographer in the Indianapolis area, I highly recommend contacting my talented sister at ArdeaPhoto.com
Playing at the beach where we heard mosquitoes and found tiny butterflies. The moose is in the background along the treeline in the shade, but you can’t really see him.
Beargrass flowers in the foreground
My boys, then ages 16 and 5
Another picture on moose/mosquito/grizzly beach.
This picture was taken about ten seconds before we were told we needed to leave the area immediately.