In the Wild: What If I Don’t Make It Home?

Halfway up the long-deserted path, I start thinking: what if I die out here? The trees have grown up over my head on both sides and the path is just wide enough for Annie to pull me along through salal, blackberries, Scotch broom, and young pines. We usually stay on the roads, but Annie keeps finding human garbage to eat, and I’m tired of having to pry it out of her mouth. (Use trash cans, people!)

Once upon a time, the entrance to this trail was wide open, with a log to the side that I used to rest on. Now the log is half rotten and buried in Scotch broom and blackberries.

The trail is part of several acres east of Cedar Street in South Beach that were once cleared for a potential golf course resort, leaving rows of tree trunks that looked like gravestones. When that plan was delayed and dropped, the plants grew back, leaving a maze of trails that my late husband Fred, our old dog Sadie, and I explored back in the days we were all had good knees.

Annie read my mind today when I thought about trying this path again. I had my rugged shoes and old pants on. I had plenty of time. The knee that locked up early in our walk felt strong now. So here we are.

The chain at the trail entrance is not quite a foot off the ground, but Annie can’t jump it anymore. She has old knees, shored up with pins and posts. She army-crawls under and I steps over. She leads and I follow.

Soon we are far from civilization, hidden in the trees. What if my knee gives out? What if Annie’s knees give out? What if bears or cougars are lurking nearby?

We have seen deer, rabbits, squirrels, and garter snakes on past walks. I have stepped over “woolly bear” caterpillars and orange-bellied newts. Is that cougar scat over there?

Wildlife experts say making noise will let the critters know you are there and convince them to steer clear. I start to sing. Amazing Grace, Swing Low Sweet Chariot. Steal Away. Every spiritual I can think of. Blackberry thorns scrape my coat, pulling threads. My feet slip on rocks. All the while, feet and paws keep pushing along.

We’re halfway through, too far from either end to get out easily, when I think about dying. I’m 68. People my age have strokes and heart attacks. I could fall. I could get ripped up by a bear that doesn’t like spirituals.

If I die, who will know that the new book that is this close to publication is sitting in my computer? No one else knows what I do at my desk all day. Who will eat the food in my fridge before it spoils? Who will tell the church choir director I won’t be there this weekend? Who will tell my friends and family I’m dead? What if Annie survives and I don’t? She has no clue how to feed herself in the wild.

Who will find my body? I can’t die. I haven’t decided yet whether I want to be buried or cremated.

Okay. Focus on the trail. Smell the smells, see the sights, feel the duff underfoot.

Left, right, left, right. Uphill to a small clearing, steep rocky downhill, don’t slip, blackberry thorns tearing my coat. Okay, almost there. I hoped for a view of the ravine and the airport beyond, but the trees have grown too tall. I catch just a glimpse of a red and white marker on the runway.

In the summer, Annie and I ate blackberries off the vines, but now there’s nothing left but wrinkled nubs. Someone left a sofa cushion by one of the most prolific vines. How did they get it there? Why?

A few feet on, Annie suddenly drops and rolls. Mud and what else? Something dead, something disgusting. Come on, dog.

Almost there. Pines and vines rise high on both sides. It feels like walking through a canopy of garlands or crossed swords as we emerge on Cedar Street. Where are the cheering crowds?

Annie hesitates.

“Do you know where you are?” I ask. “We made it.” No bears out here, at least not in daylight. Houses, people, cars, other dogs. Safety.

She chugs on like a machine; she will need a pain pill tonight.

I wonder if I should leave a list of everything not done every time I leave the house. But how could I keep it up? It’s impossible. Something will always be left undone. Life is like a test where you can’t see the bottom of the page and you will not finish before God calls “pencils up.”

Winter is here. We’ll stay on the roads for a while, but I’m sure the trails will beckon again. I have a lot more songs to sing.

***

That was last week. Since we survived, I’m happy to report that the new book, Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both, is now available for purchase at Amazon.com and will be available by the weekend to order from your favorite bookstore. It is a compilation of posts from my Childless by Marriage blog and attempts to answer the question “What do you do if your partner can’t or won’t have children with you?” Stay tuned for information about upcoming book events.

If I don’t get eaten by a bear.

There is No Bear There

black_bear_mammal_221850I was walking the dog recently when a car pulled up beside us. Luckily Annie was neither pooping nor jumping up on the car. The young woman driver rolled down her window. “I wanted to warn you that we’ve got a bear around here.”

Oh.

She went on to tell me how something had been knocking over trash at the end of the street that crosses mine. The homeowner set up a camera one night and sure enough, there was a black bear.

A couple weeks ago, a friend who lives up Thiel Creek Road emailed me a video he had taken of a black bear eating apples off his trees. As he watched, it stood up on its back legs. It was TALL.

This weekend, my across-the-street neighbor hailed me over to tell me a bear had knocked over his garbage can. His wife had been cleaning out old spices and the bear was intrigued by the interesting smells. He didn’t touch my garbage. Apparently he prefers curry and oregano to grapefruit rinds and apple cores.

In my 17 years living here in the coastal forest, I have heard a lot about bears, but I have actually seen one only once. It crossed Thiel Creek Road in front of my car one afternoon. Since then, no bear. I have seen footprints, berry-laden droppings and flattened bushes where a bear might have slept, but no bears. So far.

Bears are definitely around. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says we have 25,000 to 30,000 black bears, the largest extant carnivores in Oregon. Despite their name, they aren’t always black. They can also be brown, blond or cinnamon. For food, they prefer berries, fruit, grasses and plants, but they will also eat small mammals, insects and amphibians. And they’ll adapt to human food if it’s offered.

Annie and I are always looking out for bears, as well as the cougars said to be in the area. I sing to let the bears know I’m there. If either one of us gets spooked, we abort our walk and go home.We stay out of the wilderness near dawn or dusk. Black bears are said to be naturally shy, but some have gotten used to finding food in people’s yards and gotten kind of pushy about it. Over the years, they have come after people and their animals. One even broke into a kitchen east of Yachats, a little south of here. So we’re not taking any chances.

Here at the house, a combination of chain link fence, barking dogs, and nothing worth eating keeps most furry animals out. We do have birds, newts, salamanders, garter snakes, mice and the occasional black rat. Moles have been actively tunneling under my lawn. But no bears. Maybe I need to put out better garbage.

Maybe not.