Boxer Briefs, a Pineapple Top, a Growling Black Bear, and a Machete
Machete check, pineapple top, check...what could go wrong?
True story of a couple nearly eaten by a black bear...
A few years ago my wife and I headed to Wisconsin's great north woods for some r&r camping in the raw at my family's abandoned farm. The place we camp is sadly unique for the Midwest in that it is still very wild, with around 50 acres of mostly undisturbed tamaracks, beaver dams, sweet fern and cranberry bogs bordering the northernmost meanders of the ancient Wisconsin River. You quickly learn how much wilderness is in someone's heart by the way they react as they stay there. City mice are usually terrified at first, some of them grow to love it. Even some self-described country mice find out they're not as country as they thought they were, when it comes to sleeping among the howling wolves and hiking through tall grass.
The first time I brought my wife there it had been awhile since anyone had trimmed around the entrance gate. It was late at night when we arrived, you have to go down a county road, to an asphalt road named after the original homesteaders until that turns into a dirt road. As we bumped down the last pits and holes in the road my wife saw all the bushes, trees and tall grasses everywhere and with a look of horror turned to me and said, "We're camping...in there!"
"Yes, it's great." I replied. The first night was great. My darling wife held onto me close after we set up the tent and built a small fire. We opened a bottle of red wine, had a glass then went to sleep.
It was an impressive bite mark, indelible in my mind anyway.
The following day we hiked around the property, I showed her how to rub the sweetfern leaves between her fingers and smell the intense aroma. We walked through the woods and I pointed out the poplars, birch and the mayapples. We worked our way down to the river and dipped in for a bit taking some cool relief on what was a very warm autumn day. Before the sun went down we cooked some shish-ka-bobs over our firepit, the delicious steak, shrimp, bell pepper, tomato and onion that my wife puts together with seasonings is tasty and divine. Her smile is as beautiful as her kitchen skills, I am one lucky man.
After dinner we opened a couple of Point Special Lagers, a locally made brew from a town just south of Eagle River called Stevens Point. Great place, wonderful people, interesting sculpture park, I highly recommended a visit! Anyway we continued drinking our beers and started listening to the Green Bay Packers on the radio. The sun was setting it's own amber fire reflecting on our eyes as we basked in a quintessential Wisconsin night. Listening to sports on the radio is great, you can pay attention and do other things. We played Scrabble by lantern light, I'm pretty sure I won that night though my wife would dispute this I'm sure.
As the hours went by we heard the usual yelps from coyotes and the occasional unusual sound off in the distance. On this property I've seen ghosts, UFO's and bite marks taken out of a deer salt lick among other wild and strange things. A deer salt lick, for those of you that don't know, is a little larger than a shoe box and is salt used for softening water, and for attracting deer. They like to lick the salt to get minerals. Apparently a bear, or perhaps a Bigfoot, took large bites out of one that I saw when I was there with my Uncle Greg when I was a kid. It was an impressive bite mark, indelible in my mind anyway.
My wife asked, "Have you ever seen any bear up here?"
"Not me." I replied truthfully. "Not here anyway, I saw a mama bear and two cubs one time up at my friend Mike's cabin near Ely, Minnesota, they were HUGE! Later at night I opened a can of sardines and didn't notice I accidentally bought cayenne sardines. I was so disgusted I threw them out of the cabin we were staying in. A few hours later we heard a bear and it spooked me so I grabbed Mike's double bladed axe and looked outside the door."
"What were you going to do with the axe?" She asked.
"That's exactly what Mike and Bill asked. We all started laughing thinking about me trying to take down a black bear with an axe. It was pretty funny. They really had a set up there, multiple cabins, a sauna that we stoked then jumped into the lake, great memory."
With some trepidation in her voice she asked, "It sounds like fun. But no bears here? Are there grizzlies here?"
"No grizzlies in Wisconsin, only black bears. My cousin Johnny hunts them, I don't think he's ever shot one here, he got a spotted one in Canada. I've heard black bears are really shy. We just have to put all the food away, when we were in the boundary waters we tied it up in trees, here we can just put the cooler in the car."
"Sounds good." She said as we opened another beer and wrapped them in coozis.
Now I wish I could say I was being completely honest about everything but I had bent the truth just a little. My cousin Johnny had just told me recently, that he had found a bear den, right behind where we camped! Worse still, on the way up my father in law Russ showed us a picture of a record weight black bear shot near the Menominee Indian reservation, over 600 lbs!!! Shy or outgoing, that was a bear I would never like to meet up close. Russ showed us both the picture, so the image of that giant bear was in the back of our minds throughout the trip.
Beware der bear den!
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I often like to stay up late while camping, keeping an eye out for shooting stars, Bigfoot, albino deer, etc.
Then a strange thing happened, we got into an argument. I've since tried to recollect with my wife what it was about because we rarely fight. The Packers lost the game so that may have soured the mood but neither of us are big sports fans so I doubt it was that. She thinks it may have been that I didn't go to bed with her. I often like to stay up late while camping, keeping an eye out for shooting stars, Bigfoot, albino deer, etc. Regardless of what we argued about, my wife went to bed and I stayed up and drank a few more beers.
Earlier in the day, before we made our kabobs, I took my machete and cut off the top of a pineapple for us to have for lunch. Knowing the smell would attract pests I took the top and walked it about 50 yards from our tent, seemed sufficient enough. As I sat in my chair half dazed by fruit of the hops, I remember thinking, I hope I dragged that pineapple top far enough. Just then a beautiful, midnight drizzling rain began to fall on my shoulders and I decided I better hit the hay. I walked over towards my tent and on the way, thoughts of a 600 pound bear still in my mind, I thought I better grab my machete and take it in the tent, just in case. I'm not a fire arm kind of man, though I do enjoy throwing a sharp knife on occasion.
As I entered the tent, I noticed my wife had left the boom box on with the soothing sounds of Enya playing in delightful compliment to the ambient sound of light water droplets dripping onto our tent. We had just bought a small magnet fan to put on our screen door and it surprisingly kicked in a light breeze and that great smell of sweetfern and pine. I crawled into our downy sleeping bag and fell fast asleep.
Who can say why your heart cries, when your love lies?
The drizzly rain which had so hauntingly quelled me to sleep, now mocked and betrayed me in eery drip drops like some cheap slasher horror movie.
I awoke to my wife punching my shoulder and whispering maniacally, "Honey, wake up, I hear something!"
I remember thinking, she's just pissed about our fight and is trying to get back at me by waking up early. "I'm sure it's nothing, " I said, "go back to sleep."
I rolled over and tried to fall back asleep. Not a minute went by when I heard a loud THUMP, THUMP, THUMP! Then, as clear as a thunder clap, I heard an incredibly loud ROOOOOAARRRRRR!!!
I have told this story a hundred times and when I tell it out loud I roar as loud as I can, then follow that by saying it was louder and deeper then anything I could produce as a human. It was absolutely, bone-grindlingly, terrifying. Immediately I felt the hair on my arms stand up, adrenalin coursed through my veins as my body revved up it's fight or flight mode. We were sleeping on a double-thick air mattress, I jumped out of the sleeping bag and wobbled then fell to the floor of the tent making a prey-like racket.
"Quick!" I whisper-shouted, "turn on the radio loud!".
We both fumbled for the boom box, Allison reached it first as I scrambled for the machete, wobbling in my boxer shorts atop the air mattress like some clumsy, half-naked apeman. She pressed play just as another THUMP, THUMP, THUMP sound came closer to the tent. Out came Enya, singing in her operatic, multi-layered velvety mezzo-soprano:
Who can say
where the road goes
where the day flows
And who can say
if your love grows
as your heart chose
Later on we would laugh recalling this part of the night, picturing the quarter-ton black bear rearing on it's hind legs, beginning to pirouette around our tent like a ballet circus bear. But in the moment, we weren't laughing. Why couldn't we have had the Native American band the Red Hot Chili Peppers in there ready to belt out Naked In The Rain? Or perhaps The Uplift Mofo Party Plan? Alas, we had the sweet soothing sounds of Eithne Ní Bhraonáin aka Enya Brennan the delicate Irish singer songwriter serenading a presumably hungry Ursus americanus americanus. The drizzly rain which had so hauntingly quelled me to sleep, now mocked and betrayed me in eery drip drops like some cheap slasher horror movie. At this we argued in more hushed tones.
"Turn on the radio!"
"Turn up the volume!"
Again the bear growled RRROOOAAARRRRR!!!!
My wife suggested, "Let's grab the keys!"
In my haste at the end of the night I Ieft out some kabob, some beer and some s'more supplies, chocolate, graham crackers, marshmallows and the like. A veritable bear buffet. Also, I didn't put my keys anywhere accessible. The intensity grew as we shuffled around in the tent, again making sounds like panicked prey inside a nylon nest. To the bear we must have appeared a giant blue nylon sandwich, smelling of steak and pineapples, wriggling on the edge of the woods a smorgasbord of culinary aromas wafting in the air.
Finally my wife found the keys. "Hit the fob hit the fob!" I shouted, this time at full volume, hoping to drown out the Irish ballet music in the background.
With a BEEPWEEP! Our Toyota Rav4 loyally called back to us. I unzipped the tent, half expecting my head to get swiped off, looking both ways, I leaped out and called to my wife, "I don't see it, come on!"
We both hurried in our underwear over to the RAV. Just as we reached the car, off in the distance precisely where I left the pineapple top, trumpeted a sound like an elephant, the bear let out with a loud WOO! WOO! WOO!
We jumped inside and began to shiver on the upholstery. I looked at my wife, "Wish we would have grabbed a blanket."
For the first time in my life, I actually felt scared of camping. Me, the guy who boasts about shitting in the woods, and eating mudbugs and snails was now cowering inside the shell of the combustion engine I road in on. Ah it was a weak moment for me as a man, but I am happy to share it with you because I prefer my humorous nature to my proud side.
After about a half an hour the sun rescued us, laughing at me on the eastern horizon above the golden tamaracks. We got out of the car and humbly went back to sleep in the tent. My wife has never been back. I still go once in awhile with my brother and friends. It's a place where the phrase "stir your soul" means something.
I am no longer afraid of black bears and have had a few other encounters since. I agree with tribal American Indians, a bear is just a man without fire (and a healthy appetite for pineapple) I added that last part. I have heard over and again that black bears are actually very timid, gentle and shy creatures. Sadly I have heard that hunters with dogs will sometimes let their dogs slowly kill the black bear, effectively torturing the animal. In researching this article I have also heard that black bears rarely roar or growl if at all! Perhaps it was a Bigfoot we encountered that early morning. I find black bears to be absolutely amazing creatures that add invaluable mystery and value to our land. I will never forget that fateful camping trip nor will I ever discard a pineapple top near my tent again.
I never met an animal that I didn't like You can come to me I won't bite
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