Thursday, August 21, 2008

Close encounters

Here's a conversation I had the other day near the end of a 20-mile day hike in the Smokies:

Me: Where the hell have you been? I've easily walked over 200 miles of the trails in this park alone over the past couple of years, not to mention the decade before that spent traipsing all over the rest of the southern Appalachians, and we're just now meeting for the first time?

The second bear I've ever seen east of the Rockies: I dunno, dude. Just hangin' out I guess.

Me: Well shit, man. I mean, I go all those years without so much as a single track in the mud from you and then all of a sudden today I get not only a track in the mud but two bears close enough to me that I can hear them (although the trees were too dense to actually spot them) and just a few hours ago up on the ridge I actually laid eyes on one of your cousins, the first bear I've ever seen on this half of the continent, in a patch of blackberries.

Bear: I don't know what you've been doing, but I've been right here turning over rocks and logs looking for bugs and shit.

Me: See that's the thing! I've been told all along that there are hundreds of you guys in these mountains and I was beginning to think it was all a lie! How many nights have I spent camping out around here wrapped up in a sleeping bag all by my delicious self with not so much as a tent between me and any hungry Ursus americanus that might wander along? And I got nothing!

Bear: Sorry, dude. What do you want from me?

Me: It's just that the other weekend some kid from Florida got mauled by one of your buddies (not cool, by the way) and it was only his first time here. Now, I'm all for mauling and possibly eating people from the Sunshine State, god knows they deserve it, but why does some punk kid who doesn't even have all his teeth yet get to have all the fun, and only a few steps from a trailhead at that?! It just doesn't seem fair.

Bear: Leave me alone, asshole. [goes about his business of trying to roll rocks over in the streambed and ignores me entirely]

Ed. note: The whole conversation except that last part in brackets happened completely in the author's imagination.

This was the best shot I could manage of self-absorbed bear #2. It's really difficult to take pictures in the woods late in the day. Not enough light, but you can tell it's a bear and not a sasquatch. The first bear I saw, which completely made my day if not my whole week, was stripping berries next to the Appalachian Trail and took off like his ass was on fire as soon as I made some noise so he'd know I was there. These two bears typify every experience I've had with bears except for one: In 2006 in the Tetons I had a bear come into camp while we were fixing dinner and simply would not take the small rocks I was pelting him with as a hint. I finally chased him up a tree and he got the idea and eventually wandered off. That was a desperate, pitiful bear, though.

This is completely unrelated, but I accompanied the lady to Asheville today where she had a job interview. At least one of us isn't completely useless, and I suppose that's a good thing. Neither one of us is cool enough for Asheville, though. I don't have a single dreadlock and my disdain for patchouli is well documented. In most company I generally feel like the dirtbag of the bunch, but I couldn't help but wish that I hadn't shaved this morning so I might feel a little less out of place on the sidewalks of the hippie-freak capital of western North Carolina. Then again, how many of those shower-averse hippies have treed a bear?


Stefanie said...

"I'm all for mauling and possibly eating people from the Sunshine State"... Ha. Particularly after they put W. in the White House for us. That deserves a few more maulings, right?

The Modern Gal said...

Those bears are such punks. They act like they own the place or something.

My feelings on the Asheville hippies are thus: they are greatly concerned with thinking for themselves yet they're all alike. So in not being as dirty as they are you're beating them at their own game.

nancypearlwannabe said...

And they didn't even share their blackberries with you? Jerks.

The Dutchess of Kickball said...

Aw, he's cute!

Allie said...

Real or imagined, that was a great conversation. :)

"Then again, how many of those shower-averse hippies have treed a bear?"

Is this a trick question? I mean, I can't even begin to answer a question like that until you tell me how stoned the shower-averse hippies were.

em said...

Man, I've never seen a bear in the Smokies! I am jealous.

Asheville's not cool enough for you guys, not the other way around.

Meaghan said...

I agree, Asheville's not cool enough for YOU! That would be a really cool place to live.

As for the bears, I am impressed that you treed a bear. I'm also impressed by the conversation and that you imagine the bear to use profanity. It was a nice touch.

Aaron said...

I wouldn't have bothered with the ed. note. Maybe you talked to a bear, maybe you didn't.

ck said...

i think you need to head further north up the mountain chain to see more bears. in west virginia, where i'm from, you have to look out for hitting them on the road there's so many. maybe tennessee is heading that way.
what i'd like to see is one of the elk they're reintroducing to the appalachians! or even better, a black bear attacking an elk!! that would be cool.

Noelle said...

Those bears really are quite cagey. And I think that you're dead on that most self-proclaimed "hippies" have never once had a fake conversation with a real bear. With a Grateful Dead bear, sure, but a real bear, no way.

surviving myself said...

Damn dude - that's awesome.

And patchouli is fucking nasty, I'm with you on that.

Jacob said...

Great post. I hope Courtney gets the job. Asheville is perfect for you too and it'd give me another reason to visit more often. You and Courtney is one reason and gets one visit out of two attempts during the 3 or 4 years you've been in Knoxville. Beer is a reason to visit and earned two visits to Asheville in about five years. If Asheville gets beer, Courtney, and Mickey, well, damn, I may have to visit at least once a year.

And you seemed to have forgotten the mother and cub poop we found in the Cohutta Wilderness back in June. It was even pretty fresh. We just didn't see the bears that laid the poop.

Julie said...

When I worked for the paper, I did an assignment at the 'zoo' and learned that bears love beer. Perhaps, if you bring along a can of the stuff and spray it around the trees near your campsite, you would see more of them. You might also get attacked for more beer and die, but greatness takes guts. Perhaps it is worth it if you truly feel slighted by the bears.

Courtney said...

I'm all for seeing bears as long as they don't maul you like that one kid. That bear was whacked out, though. It ate the kid's shoe.

I was going to hold off on writing about the interview until I knew something more definite, but it seems you've spilled the beans already. Oh well, at least we have some people sending good vibes our way. Yeah, Asheville would be nice.

Chris said...

You definitely should have reported that as a sasquatch sighting. I hear they're paying good money for ridiculous Big Foot stories these days.

More importantly, you once treed a bear?! Shit. When the revolution starts and we all have to flee to the wilderness of South Dakota, I am tagging along with you. I can filet fish and stuff. I promise I won't be a total mooch.

Anonymous said...

when you treed the bear, was it like one of those scenes where you chased it up the tree where when the bear got to the top, the tree flexed to the ground where the bear jumped off sending you flying and yelling "i can see my house from here" and then smacking into the side of a mountain or into a wagon full of manure?


TravelingEm said...

Dude, I agree with Jacob. I already visit Asheville every other time that I come home and having y'all there would just make it that much sweeter. I'm actually considering moving there myself after Moscow... And for the record, even though I'm tattooed, we both know I shower regularly and don't have dreads.

As for bear sightings, I've seen the poop a lot in Northern California, but never once an actual sighting. Right on!


Sarah said...

I spent a week in Yosemite once, reading sign after sign that warned me to look out for bears (because they're EVERYWHERE!), and that I should not leave so much as a bottle of regular unflavored water in my car, because the bears can smell it. We went the whole week without seeing a single one, until my dad allegedly spotted one from the car as we were leaving the park to go home. I think he made it up though.

sid said...

You saw a bear? Lucky you. Well, that and the fact that he didn't maul you.

J-Money said...

I would totally come hang out with you guys in Asheville. I go to the Warren Haynes Xmas Jam every year and have been known to eat burritos cooked in the parking lot by a man named Unicorn.