We trudged knee deep in wet snow, then on bare, soggy high ground before another bout of snow. Branches clawed at our clothing and annoyingly swatted our faces. Progress was slow and zig zagged. We knew where we were going but not exactly sure where we were. We were bushwacking - traveling sans the convenience of a trail, boldly stepping where no human had stepped before, playing wilderness pioneer, discovering the private lives of exotic North Shore wildlife, expecting the unexpected. But we never expected what was about to occur that mid-May afternoon of 2009.
Wet, chilly, and tired, Lek and I half walked, half slid down yet another ravine. The sun was sinking fast. Our focus had shifted from observing our surroundings to the comfy warmth of Cascade Lodge, hopefully not far away now.
While climbing up the opposite side of the ravine, I suddenly found myself standing in front of a large hillside hole. “Bear den! Come quickly!” I called to my wife. Then I dropped to my knees for a peek inside. Not very deep, I noted. Then I saw the glint of eyes, a definite snout, lots of fur.
“It’s occupied!” I shouted as I jumped backward into Lek. We scrambled up the ravine, me looking over my shoulder to make sure we weren’t being pursued.
“Did you see the bear?” I gasped when we’d reached the top. She had. “We’ve gotta mark this spot!”
As luck would have it, we didn’t need to. There was a CASCADE STATE PARK boundary sign almost directly above where the den with the bear was, and a vague ridge-top deer trail led us from there to the park trail that would take us directly to the lodge.
What was a bear doing in a den in mid-May? A quick google yielded two plausible explanations: A) It had been a long, brutal winter. Bears were keeping to their dens longer than usual; B) Females with cubs sometimes occupy dens longer than other bears.�
We voted option “B”. It had to me a mamma with cubs.
Next morning we were back, armed with binoculars, hoping to see the mamma and her young one(s) coming or going. No luck. As the sun slowly climbed high and our parience waned, we decided to approach the den again. Amazingly, it wasn’t there! We walked every foot of that ravine without finding a trace of the den. It had completely and mysteriously disappeared.
“It’s like the movie Blair Witch Project,” Lek said. “The forest is haunted and playing tricks on us.” Perhaps.
We never found that den again, but we did encounter the “Blair Witch Bear” on an evening hike a week later on a park trail near where that amazing, mysterious den had definitely been. She was as big and handsome as Minnesota bears get, and without cubs. Clearly, she was a he.
We would encounter Blair Witch Bear once more that summer, but we followed his tracks, noted where he foraged for food, where he slept, and couldn’t miss his big, black piles of excretement all over the place. It was like reading a journal he had written for us on the forest floor.
By August, Blair Witch Bear was at the perimiters of Cascade Resort property, and we discovered that his territory had been overlapped by that of a smaller, undoubtedly female bear. While no normal male bear would tolerate another male in his stomping gounds, what male wouldn’t welcome sharing his woods with a cute female?
We read the signs that these two Cascade forest bears left for us to read until the colors and chill of autumn had arrived and our departure for our other life on the other side of the planet was at hand.
We were thrilled to be back at Cascade, to renew friendships of the finest quality and get back into our click of lodge and restaurant co-workers. We were also anxious to get back into the forest and see Blair Witch Bear, or at least read again what he had left for us to read.
Alas, just like his den, Blair Witch Bear had disappeardd without a trace. Did he decide to haunt another part of the forest? Did he not survive the winter? Was he victim of a hunter’s bullet? Will we ever know?
On a muddy trail just north of Cascade Park the other day, Lek and I found the tracks of the smaller female bear, and like decorations around her tracks were the dainty prints of a tiny cub. As I looked at them, I suddenly had a feeling that ol’ Blair Witch Bear had a part in those tiny tracks. and with a smile on my heart I felt sure that someday another Blair Witch Bear was going to haunt Cascade Forest again.
Uffda and sawasdee!
David Eklof and Lek Tongchan