THE NIGHT WE ALMOST DIED
It was still an hour before daylight when my son Flint and I climbed into “Old Blue”, our indestructible, unstoppable pick-up truck, and set out for Bear Mountain. On arriving there we found that the narrow trail (barely wide enough to accommodate one vehicle) was covered for the first fifty yards with a threatening stretch of water and deep mud. One glimpse of that evil looking bog made me realize that our intended hunting trip might very well be on the verge of ending within five minutes. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained, so backing up Old Blue, and mashing the gas pedal way down we shot into that soggy mess as fast and hard as our old Chevy would go! She squirmed, wiggled, twisted, fish-tailed and slid from one side to the other so badly that I thought seriously of renaming our truck “Madonna”, but by grit and by the grace of God we made it all the way through! And from that point on we never again got out of first gear until we were back on the paved road that we'd come in on.
In just a very short time it became absolutely necessary to stop and remove the truck's side-view mirrors. Had we not done so we would never have been able to squeeze between the trees growing on either side of this wilderness highway. In a place or two, I thought of smearing some grease on the outside door panels to help us get through. Nevertheless we continued on our way, squeezing, twisting and wiggling down the trail an inch at a time and as we did so one thing became more and more obvious: there would be no turning around to go back until trail's end was reached.
We'd come to the mountain for two reasons. One, we'd heard that a rogue grizzly was believed to be in the area. He'd already pulled down some cattle at a nearby ranch; we were hoping that we might come across his trail.
Our second reason and our main one, was because it was late autumn, and when fall arrives we always hunt for our winter's supply of meat. One good moose would supply us with enough meat to last until late spring, and a black bear would provide us with additional meat as well as an ample amount of lard for cooking and baking. By rendering the fat from one bear we would get about 25 pounds of lard. It was whiter than Crisco and my wife Kay found it to be especially great for baking. (Normally she would bake fourteen loaves of bread for us every week.) Of course in addition to moose and bear we also tried to see that our meat supply was kept well stocked with salmon, grayling, and trout.
Usually, after bringing down a moose or bear, we would hang the meat from a tree outside our log cabin, knowing that the winter weather would keep it well preserved. Of course when doing so we always made sure that it was suspended high enough to keep the wolves and certain other critters from getting to it (and some were certain to try if it wasn't hung high enough).
Food sources such as those just mentioned kept us well provided with mooseburger, delicious steaks, roasts, and stew meat. Some of the meat, Kay and the girls would can, some of it we'd smoke, and some we'd use to make jerky. As for the salmon, there's just no finer table fare than freshly smoked salmon. It's a real northern delicacy, and when you approach almost any cabin in the fall you can smell its delicious aroma arising from their smoke house.
After creeping on in Old Blue for quite a while , it finally became necessary to leave the truck behind and proceed on foot. Heading deeper into the bush it soon became very apparent why the area was named "Bear" Mountain. Again and again we saw Bear sign on every hand: old logs ripped apart, numerous piles of bear scat, and a number of trees with deep claw marks which are a bear's signature warning one and all to beware, because they're trespassing on his private domain.
As we continued to move ahead, we kept scouting for some recently made sign that would tell us a moose was in the area and fortunately we didn't have long to wait. After going only a relatively short distance we discovered a clear, freshly made moose trail. It led downhill about 150 yards toward a large pond that was encircled by trees and thick brush. Checking the wind again, we quickly began looking for the most likely spot to set up our ambush. Once that was decided, we quickly and quietly sat down and began our motionless, silent vigil waiting for the animal to appear.
How long we waited I'm not sure, but finally we heard the unmistakable sound of an approaching moose. We both knew, however, that if the breeze were to shift even slightly and cause a faint wisp of scent to reach the animal, it would suddenly vanish into the surrounding bush. And so, we waited breathlessly, as the minutes dragged slowly by. At long last, the dark, bulky form of an enormous bull began to emerge from the dark shadows of the brush.
Prior to this I'd used a bow, and we'd found that one well placed arrow was more than enough to vanquish a moose, in spite of his size. But on this hunt we both were carrying a rifle. Consequently, it took only a moment to squeeze off one shot, and the huge beast dropped in his tracks! Quickly, we both approached the downed animal and immediately saw that it would require one more shot to finish him.
It's always sad to see such a regal giant brought down, but what's even sadder is to see the undeniable look of intelligent understanding and resignation in the animal's eyes. It's as if there is no question in the animal's mind; it knows what's about to take place. That's exactly the look that was in the eyes of the moose we'd just shot. It wasn't a look of fear. Simply an acceptance of what was about to happen, and perhaps a certain tinge of sadness. Flint slowly stepped up, fired the finishing shot, and it was all over.
To tell the truth, I was really glad he'd taken the initiative. Now I know that some will say that's all just sentimental drivel, but we've both seen that look in an animal's eyes too many times to casually brush it aside. Anyway, believe what you will, and we will do the same. It's a matter of record that various Indian tribes felt much the same way, and often spoke to their quarry in those final moments of the animal's life, half apologizing, but also thanking it for providing them with the sustenance they needed for their family.
Wanting to dress out the kill while we still had daylight, we immediately tied the hind legs apart and began working on the carcass. We worked swiftly, and both of us felt sure that we'd be able to finish the task before nightfall. But we were wrong … dead wrong.
It came unexpectedly.
Perhaps when the wind began to pick up, growing stronger and colder, we should have realized that was a sudden ice-cold rainstorm was setting in. Still, at first, that really didn't disturb us. A little rain would just help cool us off as we worked; but in no way were we prepared for what was to follow.
Swiftly the sky began to grow prematurely dark … no … not dark. Black! Absolutely black! And in the meantime a freezing cold rain started to forcefully come pelting down, and too late we both realized that we should have thrown together a hasty shelter. But any hope of looking for a shelter now had to be totally abandoned due to the sudden enveloping darkness. There was no way that we could see to build a shelter nor could we hunt for some natural shelter to make use of.
Up until a short time before, the day had been pleasantly warm. The Levi's that we wore, the wool shirts, our light Levi jackets, and our Stetsons had been more than adequate. Now, however, the strong wind combined with the freezing rain had rapidly soaked us to the skin, and we were beginning to shiver. To start a fire at this time was out of the question, and though only four or five yards away lay the carcass of the moose, it had become so pitch black that we could no longer even tell that it was there. When I placed the palm of my hand against my nose it was impossible for me to see my own fingers.
If only we'd had some kind of warning we could have thrown up a small lean-to, built a reflector fire, and a protective cover of birch bark as a roof to protect the fire, and sat it out. Admittedly, it wouldn't have been much, but in our present circumstances it could have made a huge difference. However … as Kermit the Frog would say, "If a frog had wings, he wouldn't bump his belly when he jumped." Hindsight is always better than foresight.
Meanwhile, an inch of cold water had already accumulated on the ground and we both knew there would be no lying down and curling up there until the storm was over. Then, almost simultaneously, we both remembered that only a few yards away there'd been a sapling lying about a foot off the ground. It was only about as big around as a man's calf, but if it would hold our weight, we might be able to sit on it to avoid having to come in contact with the cold, wet ground.
In order to find the sapling Flint and I both separated, but soon discovered that within minutes due to the howling wind and driving rain we couldn't see or hear one another. For several minutes we blindly stumbled around in the darkness before we managed to finally locate one another, and then it required a few more minutes to find the sapling. Though we didn't know it at the time, that beautiful, wonderful, matchless sapling was to be our perch, and our home away from home for the next eight hours.
All night long we sat side by side, arms wrapped around each other in an effort to make the most of our body heat. Our teeth were chattering, our bodies shivering, and from time-to-time one or the other of us would give an involuntary convulsive jerk, and then shake almost uncontrollably. I'm amazed to this day that we did not collapse with a serious case of hypothermia. I personally believe there was only one reason. It has long been said that whenever there's an accident or some other emergency, the Lord seems to nearly always protect drunks and preachers. Well Flint and I couldn't qualify for the first category, but the we did fall within the second category and I'm sure it was the Almighty's intervention that kept us from coming down with a severe case of hypothermia.
There are no adequate words to describe what it was like to finally see the darkness first begin to slowly, and very gradually fade. And when the eastern sky at last started to barely glow with the faintest tinge of light, we each felt like shouting, but instead we prayed, and gave thanks to God that we were both alive. We were still shivering, teeth chattering, and shaking with the cold, but we'd made it through the long freezing night and we knew that the worst was over! We also knew that soon we'd start regaining some of our body heat and be able to find our way back to the main trail.
All around us the woods were soaked, and we didn't have an ax with which to split out enough dry wood to get a decent blaze going. Consequently, we decided that the best way to get warm would be to go to work as quickly as possible in order to get our blood rapidly circulating. So, as best we could, we immediately went back to finishing the job of dressing out our kill, and quartering the meat.
During the process, we cut off the moose's head and placed it on a nearby stump. It was plain to see that its broad heavy antlers, by themselves, would weigh over a hundred pounds. Each of us then began to strap a large haunch of meat to our pack-board. Flint finished loading his pack-board first, and quickly prepared to head toward the main trail, but due to the heaviness of his load, he found that his pack straps were pressing deeply and painfully into his shoulders. So … in order to lessen the biting pressure … he decided it would be best to use both hands to grip the straps and thereby ease some of the discomfort. But, in order to do that, it would be necessary to leave his rifle with me, so leaning it against a spruce tree he began trudging toward the trail.
As he headed down the trail with his very first load of freshly killed, bloody, moose meat … (yep … you guessed it!) he rounded a bend in the trail and there, came face to face with a big, old, boogedy bear! So what happened? Ahhh … that is another story which we'll save for another time, but, obviously, he survived his encounter. Then, for the next few hours we made trip after trip back to the truck, each time carrying over a hundred pounds of meat. One thing that helped keep us going was by reminding ourselves that as soon as we'd gone back for the last load we'd be free to head for home, enjoy a hot bath, a home cooked meal, and the feeling of a soft, cozy, warm bed! That would be about as close as we could imagine to dying and going to Heaven! Sufficeth to say that we both brought home the rest of the meat for our winter supply, and all winter long we enjoyed every bite of it!
Still, there is one small detail I left out that I probably ought to mention. When we had finished packing out our last load of meat, we returned to clean up around the site and to pick up the moose head and antlers that we'd left sitting behind on the stump. To our complete surprise, when we went to the stump where we'd left the huge head and antlers, it was completely bare! Nothing remained! Zilch! Nada! There was not one single trace of the large, heavy head and its broad antlers? It had completely vanished!
There could be only one possible explanation. A mighty big bear had been there ahead of us, and decided that he wanted a nice trophy to put up over his own mantle! But there's one question that I have about the whole thing. Where was that big boogedy bear and what was he doing during the night when we couldn't see and were oblivious to everything going on around us? We were as helpless as two sitting ducks and only a few yards in front of us lay the bloody carcass of a fresh moose kill? A bear's sensitive nose can easily smell something like that from well over a mile away storm or no storm.
I do think that whichever of our guardian angels that were on duty that day should definitely have been given Heavenly credit for time and a half and overtime for their services on that memorable occasion.
There's one lesson in this whole thing that should not be overlooked. Both my son and I were well acquainted with what it takes to survive in wild country. We knew how to build a quick lean-to, how to start a fire with or without matches, how to build a fire in the wettest of weather, where to find dry wood when the woods are soaking wet. how to make a firebed and sleep warm on a cold night, how to build a fire that reflects heat back into a shelter (to mention just a few). In addition to all of that we were used to being out in weather (45 degrees below zero and colder) On more than one occasion we waded hip deep in icy water with snow on the ground and ice in the river (not wearing rubber waders but only our Levis) in order to get salmon with a fire hardened spear. And always we carried with us a small survival kit with the basics for outdoor survival.
YET NONE OF OUR KNOW-HOW OR EXPERIENCE DID US ANY GOOD AT ALL. WHY? BECAUSE SOMETIMES THERE'S NO WAY OF TELLING OR PREPARING FOR WHAT'S GOING TO OCCUR IN OUR LIFETIME IN THE NEXT 24 HOURS. LIFE AND DEATH HAPPEN WITH OR WITHOUT OUR CONSENT. LIFE ON THIS EARTH IS UNCERTAIN AT BEST. SO WHAT'S MY POINT? I'm reminded of a verse from the Bible that warns: ”Some of you say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to some city. ‘we will stay there a year, do business, and make money.' But you do not know what will happen tomorrow? Your life is like a mist. You can see it for a short time, but then it goes away. So you should say, ‘If the Lord wants, we will live and do this or that.'”
But every one of us needs to realize that our life's circumstances can change in a moment of time.
Life carries with it no guarantees of how much time you or I have here on earth. Many a person got up this very morning with not the slightest thought that before sunset today he or she would be lying on a slab at the morgue before midnight, yet their body is lying there now. The fact is that Statisticians tell us that this very day 250,000 people will die.
He who treats the Almighty like He doesn't matter is ignoring seven of the most important issues and questions in the Universe:
What if there truly is a God that I must someday answer to for my life?
What if the Bible really is true?
What if there really is life after death?
What if Jesus Christ truly was more than a just a man?
What if there really is a paradise world called Heaven?
What if there really is a horrible world called Hell?
What if I you end up lost forever and ever and ever?
You may be healthy today and be in a wheelchair tomorrow, and none of your skills, your connections, your conquests, your diplomas, your accumulated worldly goods can change anything. Life comes to us with no guarantees and its vicissitudes are unpredictable. We are all living on the knife edge of eternity.
Your time to seek out the truth about life and death, and to make preparation for eternity can end at any time, unannounced.
Don't wait for that moment when you suddenly feel the biting cold winds of eternity blowing, and the icy raindrops of death begin striking your body and soul. Don't wait until a darkness blacker than night, engulfs you, a darkness that will blot out the spark of your life forever.
Posted by cdrnorth at 3:55 PM