Sunday, February 23, 2014

Mostly, Mom didn't know

By 1973, Dad had saved up almost 3 months of vacation time and we set off on the trip of our lifetime: from Buffalo to Alaska via Canada.

The cake the gals in the office baked for Dad

We pulled off to use the outhouses in a Yukon roadside campground.  They were about 30' apart.  I was just getting ready to leave when Dad yelled "Linda, I can't open the door!"  I peered out and saw a large brown bear standing against it with its paws on the door, looking like it was trying to tip the outhouse over.  I think I yelled back that he'd better wait until the bear left on its own.  I kept peeking out and it wasn't too long before I was able to declare it safe to come out.  Mom and my brother had been busy in the trailer, so they missed the excitement and we never told them.

Mom refused to look at the grizzly that was shaking the trailer while she and I were getting dinner ready a few days later.  It was scratching its back on the corner.  Dad and Dennis were off fishing.  We did tell them.

My only other close encounter with a bear occurred while camping with Dad on Turcott Lake in Ontario.  I was awakened by something pushing my side of the pup tent against my face.  I heard cans rattling.  I swear I heard grunting.  Dad told me not to worry, it was just raccoons.  Raccoons, my eye!  Morning light showed bear prints all around the tent, plus a torn garbage bag and empty food cans strewn about, some with sharp toothy punctures in them.  Dad had thought that since we burned the food residue completely from the cans, (not to mention that we got to this spot via an abandoned logging trail so the bears weren't likely to be attuned to garbage), leaving the bag of cans near the tent was safe.  That was the last time we did that, and we sure never told Mom.

Whenever we camped some 7 miles from the truck at Spy Lake in the Adirondacks, Dad stored all the food in metal garbage cans bungee-corded shut.  When we heard an outrageous racket one night, we grabbed our flashlights and found a raccoon, biggest we'd ever seen, rolling the can down toward the water.

Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta

The first moose I ever saw was on my 18th birthday in Banff.  The closest I came to a non-zoo one was when I made a fast turn around a corner in the narrow waterway joining Turcott Lake with Canonto Lake.  The very frightened Mr Moose left a dent in the aluminum bow before it charged off.  My hands hit the mud on the shore, but the channel was too narrow for the canoe to flip over.

Matanuska Glacier, Alaska

While in Alaska, I somehow wound up hiking the Horseshoe Lake trail in Denali Park alone.  Dad and Dennis must have been fishing, Mom was probably in the trailer cooking or doing her hair or something.  I was happy to see the bench at the top.  I admired the view and then took out my sketch book and got very engrossed in drawing caribous I'd seen rolling in the snow earlier that day.  I was startled by a spitting/hissing sort of sound punctuated with hacking.  Ugly sound.  A lynx stood maybe 15' from me.  And it was coming towards me!  I could see its slitty little pupils.  I could probably have counted the hairs in its ear tufts.  I started talking to it. I recall whispering "nice kitty" a lot.  After several hours of this, or so it seemed, I noticed a rabbit or hare sitting at my foot.  I stomped my foot, the rabbit ran off with the lynx in hot pursuit, and I ran off back down the trail.  On the way down, I told some hikers that I'd seen a lynx up there.  "Oh, that's just Willy.  He's always up there." 

I didn't tell Mom, but I did tell Dennis.  He bought a lynx tail for 50 cents a few days later and spent the rest of the trip chasing me with it.

Dad had bobcats at his 72 acre weekend farm in Alleghany county, NY.  He made us swear that we'd never tell Mom.  When Joe and I took a friend from New York City, along with her boyfriend, camping for the very first time, we stayed at Little Sand Point, a state campground on Piseco Lake.  A bobcat walked between our pup tents the first night, howling quite loudly, and Joe and I both hoped our friends were hearing it, and maybe getting scared.  Nope, they even slept through the sound of our neighbor hitching up their camper and leaving in the dark.  We later learned from Ranger Bill that our neighbor had brought her pet cat camping with her and that the cat was in heat and that had attracted the bobcat.  Hey, people: spay and neuter! 

And please don't leave tangled wads of fishing line all over the shores.  I was canoeing on the Piseco River when I spotted a Merganser acting a little strange on shore.  Pulling up next to it revealed that the poor duck was all entangled in monofilament.  I was an evil smoker back then and used a lighter to melt through the line in enough spots that I could unwrap the duck.

Somewhere during the Alaska trip, I recall canoeing up to a beaver lodge and hearing babies whining quite cutely inside.  Because of the extreme clarity of Muncho Lake in BC,  I was able to watch a beaver, and numerous squaw fish, swim under my canoe.  The only thing Dennis caught there was a freshwater eel.  But the blue green water of the 7½ mile long lake is what we remember most    I think it was in Manitoba where we came upon a lake about 2 miles long that had steel gray water and an utterly black shore.  Closer inspection revealed the lake was so overpopulated with tadpoles, small waves were beaching them.  We gave up trying to rescue them when the wind started picking up.  There was no way to stop the tadpoles from being washed onto land.

Echo Cliff overlooking Piseco Lake (upper left is Oxbow Lake)

Joe and I witnessed another apparent overpopulation when we canoed among millions of one inch round freshwater jellyfish, Craspedacusta sowerbii, in the brackish water of Oxbow Lake in the Adirondacks one September.  I've since learned that the majority of the population of these jellyfish in the US are usually all male or all female so sexual reproduction is rare.  I did tell Mom about these guys, pointing it out as a case where not having sex is pretty kinky.

I won't be seeing moose or bears or lynx now that I'm tied by the roots of daylilies to my home in western NY.  But there's lots of critters here.  My only startling close encounter, however, was with deer.  I was walking on the crest of the cliff overlooking Eighteen Mile Creek, 150' below me, when I was almost knocked down by first one, then another whitetail leaping up over the side.  Missed me by mere inches.  I did not tell Mom.