It’s the Bear’s Knees

Couches in coffee shops; fresh, cold wind on a bike ride; random flakes of snow and miniature balls of hail; rambling chats with sisters and mother; window-shopping; lack of schedule or constraints – these are the lovely things about today.

(pictures probably to come, if I decide to actually go through the rigamarole that using my laptop to download photos from my camera has become.)

Less lovely is the stiffness in my knee which has been more or less constant for the past couple of weeks and has effectively curtailed my training runs. I was hoping that biking would not aggravate it, but it’s hard to tell if that hope will be fulfilled. The current twinges could still be results from Monday’s nine mile hike. Of course, on Monday, I blamed the twinges on Thursday’s four hour hike and on Thursday, I thought they might just be soreness from the previous week’s six mile run. It can be hard to pin these things down.

Even if the hiking did aggravate an injury, I can’t regret it. After a fairly dismal and grey August, the first week of September here was all crisp air, blue skies, and sunshine. Thursday, I hiked up into a meadow hidden within Paintbrush Canyon and despite trying to exercise some restraint, managed to snap 77 photos. I tried to get some panoramas to show the atmosphere created by the splashes of green and waterfalls in the center of the huge rocky points that are the ‘little’ mountains of the Tetons, but as always, nothing can quite compare to the actual experience. Standing on a rock in a clearing right after the forest falls away and spinning with head craned backward to see the sharp edges of grey against the bright skies can’t be replicated in any photo.

The wildlife highlight of that excursion was the moose, who placidly grazed in the bushes as a bunch of us hikers gathered on the wooden bridge and repeatedly tried to time our pushing of the shutter button with when it lifted its head.

Monday’s wildlife was a bit more stimulating. First, on the way up the hill, which we were still sweat free and relaxed, two young buck were casually walking along a few yards to the side of the trail and obligingly posed for photos without spooking off into the woods. As we continued the ‘STRENUOUS’ rated jaunt, I think our panting and low oxygen levels prevented any additional sightings on the upwards journey. Down was another mattter, though.

As my Russian co-worker and I began our descent from the mountain lake that we had climbed about 3,000 feet to admire, I noticed an odd animal in the bushes to the side of the trail. I stopped moving to process what I was seeing and then managed to call out, “Anastasia! Bear!”

Still processing what we were seeing, we backed up the trail until there was a more significant distance between us and the animal. Although we were excited to see a bear, we were also both relieved that the animal was clearly a fairly small black bear. Apparently, bears are one of those things that I’ve seen so many times in pictures that it was surreal to actually see one in person in the woods. Anxiety level wise, it was very different from watching the ZooBoise bear in its concrete pit. Then my companion noticed another, smaller bear, hanging out behind the first one and we began hearing an odd crying noise from the woods to our right. Nature videos paid off again and I said, “There must be another cub, hear him calling his mother?”

It was difficult to determine where the second cub was, so we hovered on the bend in the trail where we could be as far as possible from Mama Bear, while still being able to keep an eye on her movements. Since remaining stuck in that spot seemed like the wisest choice and noise is recommended during bear encounters, we kept up a stream of excited, nervous, adrenaline driven chatter and snapped photos of the unconcerned wildlife. Mama backtracked slightly toward her crying cub and then the three bears slowly meandered across the trail. Proving that she considered us insignificant, the mother bear then lay down in the middle of the meadow next to the trail, while the cubs scampered across the hillside fringes of forest.

Once we felt the cubs were far enough off the trail, we continued down the mountain, with a final friendly reminder to the family that picnicking on humans would be bad behavior. Moving slowly and staying alert until we had safely rounded a couple of switchbacks, we soon began passing a steady stream of uphill traffic. We let out some additional adrenaline by warning them about the imminent nature encounter and by the time we were another fifteen minutes down the trail, I no longer felt quite as panicky about the whole thing. Of course, this was when we encountered a pair of hikers who told us they had just seen a bear just a little bit further down the mountain. I guess they were all out enjoying the nice September weather as well? There was no additional bear sighting, although the warning certainly kept us alert during the remainder of our hike.

So now, having managed to wrack my mother with anxiety by telling her of the incident after the fact, and received properly silly advice on bear cub hugging from siblings, I can check another experience off my list and count down the last days of this second Teton summer secure in the knowledge that there are indeed bears in these mountains.


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