“Courage will strengthen you.” Mr. Davis had written following his previous entry in my journal.
I glanced around at the old-burned forest. “Courage, huh. I wonder how much courage these pitiful trees had as that fire roared upslope toward them. They couldn’t even….” I stopped myself in the thought. “I suppose, if trees could have courage, it sure would be courageous to stand amid a fury of fiery onslaught. And what’s even more amazing is that they did survive. Their seedlings are building a new forest.” I began to backstep in my mock pity.
Before, I saw just dead silver trees all across the barren landscape, but after learning about wildland fire, I saw a refreshed wildflower garden hosting purple lupine, red Indian paintbrush, yellow groundsels and many other high country favorites that were bursting into life beneath the fire-scarred snags. Scattered here and there seedlings were building a new forest.
I began thinking about a time in middle school when this kid was lofting fiery insults at me, I had the courage to stand up for myself. And in that case, I must have been strengthened because that brat never did it again. And I didn’t even need to toss any punches. All I did was stand up like one of these trees and then I walked away. I didn’t even say a word.
I had my last granola bar and refilled my water bottle in a seep coming out of the hillside where yellow buttercups and purple daisies were poking out from among a carpet of sedge. A ways to my south I saw a grassy chute coursing down the mountainside like a lush river of green ground cover. Patches of snow were still melting out in the upper part of the chute. It looked like it may have been where avalanches carved out the forest. The green path seemed to reach all the way to the valley bottom. “Maybe I’ll find a trail down there,” I thought as I began a long descent; eventually I did find the same trail from which I had left my group. But once again, the sun was beginning to set and my walking was still awkward and slow because of pain in my bruised and torn leg.
I found some patches of sweet, watery salmonberry and kept my eyes out for a good sleeping place. There was no way I would be down before it got dark.
“I’ve made the wilderness my home for four nights, I can do it again,” I repeated to myself. A sense of strength began to well up and drown out the weaknesses of my body. I paced myself down five hundred feet or so, using Sitka alder as safety ropes in the steep rocky areas. I was met by the whistles of marmots along this steep meadow—which were not nearly as annoying as the high pitched chirps of those pikas. The marmot sentries stood tall and proud on their entrance mounds. I even came across a bear feeding on summer berries. Staying motionless yet trembly, I watched him for a full minute before his glance, or nose, caught me. He bolted—in terror I guessed. Up the avalanche chute side he shot, straight up and into the dense forest. I never saw such raw strength. Why he was afraid of me, I could not imagine.
Once again I found a nest of fallen logs in the forest nearby, under which a soft, mossy nighttime retreat could be padded down; I practically had a routine established. My nest looked out into the chute’s clearing and I listened to water trickle down the center of the chute. I fed on some of the berries that I had collected and swatted at a few mosquitoes. Using what was left of the evening light, I started the next activity in my journal.
The black bear I encountered was of the brown phase, such as the one pictured here.