It's a half-mile walk from the family cabin along the town road to the main logging road, which we just called 'The Main Road,' then another half-mile to 'Tommy's Shack.' If Tommy was home there was sure to be coffee on the wood-burning barrel stove in a giant pot that literally held gallons. If he wasn't home you could help yourself to an icy drink of the best water you ever tasted from the spring house in back. Years ago, someone dug out the spring, made a wooden box about two-feet deep and three-feet square, and put it in the hole. The sand bubbled up where the water entered the box. A copper mug that held a lot of water hung from a nail, and an even bigger tin dipper hung on another nail if you wanted to fill a container.
The Main Road travels north-by-northeast as you walk past Tommy's. Keep going a short distance and it veers a little left to travel straight north a short ways before it forks. The left fork goes roughly northwest, and the right fork goes north-by-northeast. At this junction is a wide clearing known as "The Meadow." The Meadow is part of another landmark called "The Triangle."
The left fork is a continuation of the Main Road. Take either fork and after about a quarter-mile you will come to an east-west road. The three roads form a triangle, and thus the name of the landmark. We will leave the north by northeast fork, which leads to the hardwood ridges, the Loop Road, Shay's Logging Camp and other interesting places for another day. Today, we are headed for a neat little place called "The Merry-Go-Round," and to get there, you follow The Main Road by staying left at the fork, passing the east-west road by and taking another road just beyond it.
On this particular fall morning, this particular 14-year-old boy woke his father up early and said he wanted to go partridge hunting. Dad granted the boys wish, gave permission and shortly thereafter the boy and the family dog, who was really his younger brother's dog, headed down the gravel town road and took the Main Road to Tommy's Shack. Tommy was not in the shack, but a wisp of blue smoke trailed from the chimney pipe that the exited the roof.
We helped ourselves to a cold drink of water since Tommy wasn't home. I took mine from the copper mug, Zsa Zsa (the dog) took hers from the small rill of a stream that leads away from the spring house and also provides limited drainage from a large pond called 'The Beaver Pond' which lies across the Main Road from Tommy's. Thus refreshed, we continued our hike in the beautiful fall trees and life could not have been any more idyllic than it was that morning. A boy, a dog, spectacular fall colors and a shotgun over his shoulder. Yep. It was just about perfect.
We stayed left at the fork and followed The Main Road along until we came to the east-west road. For a moment, we considered heading east, but Zsa Zsa had her nose in the air and kept on the main road, so we went that way. Just fifty feet or so past the east-west road is another logging road that goes almost straight southwest off the main road. Zsa Zsa's nose pointed us that way on that morning.
Down that road is a fun place to teach greenhorns a lesson about paying attention and knowing and trusting your compass. A quarter-mile down this road you will come to a fork. At the "Y" is a tall balsam tree that would make an excellent Christmas Tree for a town square or any home with a fifty-foot ceiling.
It is fun to point that tree out to a greenhorn."Now that'd make a decent Christmas Tree."
Most will acknowledge that statement and then you veer right and follow the road.
The road is overgrown with small balsam trees, maple saplings and brush. These days, unless you knew it was there, you probably would not even recognize it as a road. Yet, if you know it, you can follow it. It travels around the base of a small knob hill, and the entire course of travel is probably a half-mile or maybe a little less than that. It's kind of hard to tell by walking it, being as overgrown as it is.
Eventually, you come back to the fork and there you turn to the greenhorn and say, "This looks familiar." Inevitably, they won't recognize the place. At that point you ask them which way they'd go to get out and few, if any (since they trust you to know the way) have a clue which way to go. A few will point back the way you came, most others won't. You give them a moment and then make a casual comment such as, "Say, that'd make a nice Christmas Tree." It usually startles them because they suddenly realize they have traveled in a circle. You continue on nonchalantly back to the Main Road with small, self-satisfied smile on your face.
Yep. Just one way to teach a greenhorn to pay attention.
That particular morning, that beautiful, crisp fall morning under an azure blue sky bereft of clouds, there were no greenhorns. Just me, Zsa Zsa and the day. Walking along, hunting partridge. Oh and by the way, there are no partridge in that neck of the woods. For some strange and bizarre reason, we called the ruffed grouse, partridge, and still do to this very day.
We came to an alder patch. A tangle of nasty, twisted, entangled, thick as your arm, brush-type trees straight out of a horror movie that might have fog and zombies or swamp monsters roaming around in them. Undeterred and unworried about zombies or swamp monsters, we worked our way through the patch and by the time we emerged on the other side, I was sweating. Working through an alder patch is work, even for 14-year-old boys in top physical condition.
I was so glad to be through the alders, I didn't pay much attention to the wild raspberries that pulled at my jeans. It was right about then that Zsa Zsa went stiff. She was right next to me (trust that dog to let me break the trail) and since it seemed an odd place to find a partridge (grouse), I didn't pay much attention to her.
For a moment, I thought she was going on point, something pointing dogs do when they smell a game bird. We call it get getting birdy. She went all stiff sort of, and her nose was up in the air. But if she wasn't going on point, I wasn't waiting. I took another step forward away from the alder patch and deeper into the raspberry patch. It was still early enough in the autumn that you could find quite a few berries if you looked, but I was looking for partridge.
If you've never seen one up close, in the wild, it is kind of shocking the first time it happens. In fact, it's pretty shocking every time it happens. Scary even.
About ten feet away from me, the biggest bear I've ever seen (did you know bears get bigger the closer they are to you?) stood up on his hind legs and looked down at me. Yes down. And yes, he was a male. Not that I cared that he was a male, but being close enough to identify his gender by his anatomy made our proximity to each other much too close.
For a moment, we kind eyed each other up. Me in a sort of stunned, shocked stupor. Him in a so-it-was-you-making-all-that-racket, sort-of-a-annoyed-at-being-disturbed type of way.
You greenhorns reading this will probably wonder why, being so well armed with a shotgun, I would even worry. Well, a shotgun loaded with bird shot will only make such a critter angry and he'll wander over and eat you out of spite, carry what he didn't eat off somewhere, and come back to snack on you for the following three or four days. He will do that only after he finishes torturing you just for fun by biting off various appendages.
This was not the neighborhood foraging, easy-going bear that sits at Mac Pikes picnic table and chomps turnips from his garden. Nor was this the basket stealing Yogi or his friend Boo Boo. This was a genuine, honest to goodness, scary-to-look-at, up-close, bear.
"Woof!" he said, and I could hear his nose working overtime.
"Zsa Zsa come," I said, not exactly in reply.
I backed up a step and the dog backed up with me. A rather amazing turn of events, her listening to me. Probably fortuitous for her that she did. Another step and I was back at the alders. I kept backing up and you know, that alder patch wasn't so darn thick after all. We were well out of sight of Mr. Bear when I finally turned around and actually went forward through the patch.
We made it back to the Christmas Tree, back to the main road and then to Tommy's shack where I had another long drink of ice cold water and a few of my mom's homemade molasses cookies from Tommy's cookie jar. I told him about the bear and then he showed me the claw marks on the tree outside. After that, I went back to the family cabin and told the story three more times.
Bears are wild critters and they just want to live and eat and get fat and make baby bears. If you let them do that, they won't bother you much. Especially black bears which is the kind of bear I ran into that crisp, fall morning. If you ever have a chance to identify a bear's gender by its anatomy, I suggest standing tall, backing up slowly and keeping your eyes on him, but not on his eyes. Above all else, don't show fear or run because frightened, running critters look like food to a bear.
A true story by MJ Logan
- Logging Road in Fall by M. Golden at Flickr.com
- Map of Tommy's Shack copyright MJ Logan 2012
- Ruffed Grouse by Tim Seabamirum at Flickr.com
- Hungarian Vizla by Opalset at Flickr.com.
- Black Bear by Peupleloup at Flickr.com