as the final hot arcs of sun stretched over the hills, after the tent was up and the sleeping bags unrolled, when the hum of ten million tiny wings grew to a roar,
I walked along the dirt path neatly separating the redwood forest from the open fields. Sancho and I took our time, he busy sniffing out the trails of wild turkeys, me stuffing pockets with blue Jay feathers and plump rose hips. Regularly I squinted into the sun, scanning the meadow; past the blackberries and thistles, around the scattered wild apple trees, keeping the pup close just in case.
And then, against the far tree line, two black ears rose above the fescue. Standing perfectly still, pale brown muzzle, sloped shaggy shoulders.
I would be lying if I did not say my heart was beating a wild waltz.
I walked a few steps, shielded my eyes against the watery glare, and looked again. The shape had changed, moved, but that profile was distinctive. Was it a coy trick my retinas and my subconscious had paired up to play? The sun was boring into my face, fading color to nothing but hot outlined shapes.
We retreated calmly but with quick feet, climbing back up the short path to our site, glancing back at the now obscured meadow, adrenaline rushing in my ears.
When we entered the park, the ranger told us black bears had been sighted recently - and when it comes to caution I'm not a gal who needs to be told twice. Before we tucked in for the night, every last stitch and crumb was locked away tight. With the pup snuggled close at our feet, bellies full of flame-cooked food, and filtered moonlight on my face, we fell asleep to the sound of crickets.
When I awoke the first time the moon had set. The black branches of the redwoods above us were barely perceptible against the midnight sky. The pup was growling low and something large was rustling nearby. SNAP a twig would break. CRACK a branch would give way. I tried to breathe silently in the futile way of humans; slow, open mouthed breaths so as to not compromise my hearing. I poked BC's shoulder until he stirred with grunt. The thwacking and crackling continued on, but no nearer the tent, until eventually we fell back into fitful sleep.
When I awoke the second time, the stars were out, winking merrily through the needles. Something walked across the tarp on the far side of the site.
When I awoke the third time, I needed desperately to pee, but a loud crunching sound was all I needed to convince my bladder back to sleep.
When I awoke the fourth time, the woods were blissfully silent. Clear light was beginning to pool in the eastern sky and for the first time that night, I shivered.
When the first light of dawn brought color back to the forest, we pulled on layers and piled out of the tent. Our little site was untouched, but the wild apple at the base of the hill, the one not more than fifty yards from us, looked worse for wear. The ground below was scattered with broken limbs, healthy green leaves, and the largest pile of bear scat I had ever seen (composed primarily of apples, for interested parties). The trunk held several sets of fresh gashes, deep marks from claws on their way up and one long stripe from what must have been a slip of the foot.
All of this to say,
I love the wild.
But I think I'll sleep sound in my cozy bed tonight.