The Threads Are Identified
Love at first sight! We dream about it and sigh. Doug felt it when he first saw Susan. But it was a hellish circumstance when they met, and it only got worse; a race against time, and a Grizzly.
August 20th. Thread one: Clark National Park.
On the climb up into the mountains after that old bear, they would have made love twice by now… but for Hal being with them.
The frustrated rangers with Fish and Wildlife, radio-tracked the old bear to the park boundary, but no farther. They'd set out earlier that same morning to find out what the problem might be, before the battery in its radio-collar died.
Sod’s Law, dictated that this particular bear would choose the thickest brush and the most remote and inaccessible mountainous area of the whole damned park to drag them to. They silently cursed the bear, and yet admired its ability to evade them at every turn over the last month. It was as though the bear had learned as much about them and their habits, as they had learned about it, with each new encounter.
It had not moved for two days; unusual for this bear, so they needed to investigate. It was either dead, or was on a kill. Dead, would be better, though that was a private thought held by only one of those looking for it.
They had hiked steadily for three hours from the nearest road and were close to its indicated position.
Melissa counted off another hundred steps on the hard climb up the forty-five-degree slope of sheep-track, that zigzagged around as it extended above her, crossing screes, skirting large boulders and heading up through trees leaning over at an unnatural angle because of the steady, relentless downhill creep under the force of gravity. She stopped for ten seconds, stretched, looked around, checking where Hal was behind her, and then continued for another hundred steps.
She’d done it this way for the last two hours, feeling sorry for the young summer student foisted on her and Scott just that morning, and bringing up the rear. He was exhausted, but they couldn’t slow down and wait for him. They should have refused to take him. She could hear his wheezing as he fought to drag air into his tortured body, unused to this kind of exercise, and she knew how much he needed to stop and rest, but there would be no stopping. Without Hal slowing them down, she and Scott would have been close to the bear’s last position an hour ago if not more, and they couldn’t leave him behind.
She felt hot and irritable the way the day was progressing, as well as nervous and frustrated. She was also overdressed, with a tight bra and irritating panties that she would not have bothered with on such a strenuous walk. In fact, most of their clothes; hers and Scott’s would have gone by now. Her bra-- she rarely wore one despite the size of her breasts-- was definitely too tight. Her breasts had changed again. Could she be pregnant? She hoped so.
But for Hal, she would have taken off her shirt at the last small dribble of water some few hundred feet below them, and wet it before putting it back on loosely, leaving it open if she put it back on at all, so that Scott could admire and touch her breasts, as he often did, and Scott would have done the same with his shirt. Their shorts would have soon followed, and they would both have climbed with only boots and socks on, letting the wind flow over their bodies.
Without any covering to hide those stimulative signs from each other, it would be obvious from Scott’s response to her, when it was time to make love again, and those times came with impressive regularity out here. There was something about being outdoors, alone, miles from everywhere, naked or nearly so, and letting the wind blow one’s cares and inhibitions away.
But they weren’t alone.
Scott stood in the trail fifty feet above her, waiting for them as he looked around. He looked fresh. He was also horny, as well as frustrated. She could see that about him, poor guy. He felt deprived, just as she did.
The bear’s tag number was CP023. Its Latin name was Ursus arctos horribilis: a northern brown bear, or more colloquially: a grizzly. They knew it as, ‘Houdini’, or 'that damned bear', because of its propensity to wander off and escape all of their efforts to corner it and change its collar. It kept out of open areas during the day. They could have darted it from the helicopter except for that. It was six hundred pounds, or more, of meanness, bad temper, and unpredictability. All of that was true of most bears, but doubly so for this one.
Where any other bear was curious, and chose to advance, this one melted away. It had an instinct for avoiding well-baited traps, as well as for taking you by surprise.
It was almost as though the bear knew that it was time to replace its collar again, which they tried to do about every three years, especially on a difficult bear that needed close watching, as this one did.
Their usual method of radio-tracking any collared animal in the park, was by helicopter, or even by road, and then triangulating its position. This bear had not moved for a long time, and was on high ground far from any road, either near a kill; some dead animal he had come across; or was injured, or dead itself.
It was at least twenty-years old, one of the first bears tagged, close to the end of its life in the wild and it probably knew it, yet was hanging on. It had become crafty with age and experience and knew enough to avoid others of its kind as well as humans.
The last time ‘Houdini’ had wandered off, they’d recovered him from twenty miles outside of the park after he’d killed a pet sheep in plain view of the family that had raised it, and he'd eaten much of it.
The family, and their nearly hysterical children, traumatized for the rest of their lives, had been devastated to watch him do that. The father, in desperation, had tried to drive him from the body, hammering on a bucket, but had seen the bear stand its ground and drive him off, while striking out at the dog dancing around, barking.
The bear had lost his wariness of approaching human habitations after that, seeing an easy source of captive food, but had become more dangerous, knowing that they would be looking for him. He took refuge in deep brush at the sound of a helicopter or of a vehicle. He had become a rogue; unpredictable in his responses.
Scott would have shot him after the incident with the sheep, but Melissa held him back. She was the boss. She had decided that rather than shoot him, they would keep a closer watch on him. That bear was an integral part of the constantly changing imbalance of the ecosystem.
Melissa signaled that they would stop and rest when she saw Scott looking back on her progress and had moved his head in that way that he had. He often looked back at her and watched her for a time. She knew why, and was glad of it. They kept a close eye on each other, and always smiled at those moments when their glances met, which was often, each knowing what the other was feeling and thinking, and watching each other’s progress. They would have made love twice already but for Hal being with them.
They both resumed their observation of the brush around them, listening to what the Jays or other birds could tell them from their carefree singing, or their alarm calls. Or their silence. Scott had seen bear scat at least two days old on the track they were climbing. He had pointed to it, and then pointed two fingers back at his own eyes in a common signal, so that she knew to take note of it when she got to where he had then been.
She needed to pause, no matter how briefly. They all did. It had been a hard climb, and the sweat poured off her, trickling down her back like a trail of insects, pausing every so often at some minor obstruction, a hair follicle, a skin tag, her bra strap, or the fabric of her shirt, before continuing its intimate journey on her bare skin down the fine blonde hairs on her back, and into her panties, or between her cheeks if it were not gobbled up first by the thirsty cotton of her shirt, or shorts.