The morning I went
to Jorstad’s for breakfast, I
rolled out of my sleeping bag in the
dark. It’s always cold then at Grizzly
Lake, but I suffered it gladly in T-shirt and
shorts. I had a long way to go and
had to travel fast.
It was dark when
I jumped the falls, dark below
the cliff nearly a thousand feet below,
in Grizzly Meadow, and darker
and warmer on the trail
through the forest.
It was dawn when
I hit the big trees 4 or 5 miles down
the trail, and quiet. Small birds were
busy at their breakfast in live oaks
beyond China Creek trail
and I was sweating.
is at the bottom of Pfeiffer
Flat in an open parkland of giant
ponderosa pine. It is a forest of light
with the north fork of the Trinity
River running through it.
Everything is beautiful.
Jorstad’s cabin. His
outdoor kitchen and picketed
garden. His donks’ corral. George
built the cabin in 1935, mined gold there
for 50 years. He spent winters in San Fran-
cisco, where he wrote articles for newspapers.
I loved to
listen to his stories!
Whenever I visited Jorstad it
was like sitting at the foot
of the master.
The first time I
saw Jorstad, between 7th
and 8th grades, was on a scout trip,
my first visit to Grizzly Lake. We went the
long way around, up through Pfeiffer’s Flat,
on up the North Fork and up Grizzly Creek
to the meadow, the waterfall, the
lake and beyond.
As always for
me with good storytellers and
good stories, and it was definitely that
way with George’s, I was mesmerized,
into it, and pretty much gone as
soon he started. And never
quite came out of it.
about Jorstad triggers
all kinds of things.
The sun had
hit just the tips of
the tallest trees at the
top of Pfeiffer Flat,
Though I couldn’t
smell it yet, Jorstad’s coffee
was on the fire, his donks were fed
and watered, and pancakes were close
behind. I would be there in
just a few minutes.
twelve miles apart in
rugged country. No electricity.
No recent hikers to let him know
I was coming. He didn’t know
anything about it and it
would be a big
The bear didn’t
know I was coming either,
evidently, though it could have and
probably should have avoided its own
surprise. It was tearing a log apart
for ants, a bit off the trail and
well ahead of me as I
came around a
it to startle but it didn’t.
It showed no sign of smelling,
hearing, or seeing me coming, and
this was puzzling to me. The bear
either didn’t get it or didn’t
It didn’t seem
right for a bear not to care
about things like that, so why in the
world hadn’t it seen, smelled, or
heard me by then?
Why hadn’t it noticed?
listened, and caught
my breath, then slowly,
very slowly, moved
feet. A hundred. Fifty.
Half of that and closing,
and still the bear
For all I
could tell, all it noticed
was the log it was tearing, the ants
and ant eggs it was finding inside, and
absolutely nothing else in
was so far into it,
it was out of it!
Flat, no trail that
hikers might hike on,
no Jorstad, no
no me. The closer I got,
the more interesting it got that
the bear hadn’t yet noticed, and
several things about that
occurred to me.
If bears were deer,
rabbits, mice, or grouse, not
to notice even slim, dim chances
of peril would have killed them
long before. Prey can’t afford
to be unaware of their
But this was a bear.
doesn’t matter so much
for bears to attend to those kinds
of things. Maybe they can attend fully to
tearing logs apart, and attend not at all
to anything else while they’re tearing
them. Maybe the bear can’t care
less about me.
But really? Really? I doubt it.
It was young,
still learning from mistakes,
like the rest of us. It’s easy to imagine
youngsters “captivated by” logs full of
ants, getting “carried away” with
them, and paying no attention
how did it let
me get so close? Why
hasn’t it reacted by now? I
couldn’t wait to see what
would happen when
We were less
than the breadth of a room
apart when the bear froze and I froze
too. It just froze, a giant jagged splinter
of log sticking from both sides of its
mouth. Nor bear, nor splinter,
nor I moving even
Unblinking. Maybe even
our hearts had stopped. We
were frozen in time.
Then, slowly, it
turned its head, toothpick
and all, slowly, slowly in my direction.
When we had good, solid, direct eye contact
and were nailed together by our eyes and not a
second sooner, I smiled said, as quietly and
respectfully to the bear as I could bear
but with the full authority
of my greater
“You weren’t paying at-TEN-tion!”
couldn’t believe its eyes! It
couldn’t believe its ears, either, I
believe, as if never in its life had it
been insulted like that. Maybe
it was embarrassed. I
would have been.
I don’t know
what the bear experienced,
but it spit that toothpick out of its
mouth and took off across the trail like
a scared rabbit, spraying sticks
and dirt like a teenager
when it hit the brush at the
edge of the flat, going
was smoking! I
couldn’t believe my eyes.
“hit the brush“,
I didn’t mean simply to say
that the bear reached the brush,
like when I hit the big trees earlier
or the sun hit the tops of them.
I meant hit. The
bear slammed into a wall twice
as tall as its body was long. Small trees
stood thick, stiff, and closely packed in its way.
For us it would be hard to squeeze through
slow, and the bear was going as fast
as it could go by then.
The bear just hit it.
No slowing. No picking
the best place. No
put, the bear ran
into the brush, through
the brush, and on up the hill,
still accelerating and still
back and forth like a half
time card trick in a
stadium, and was
I stood there,
chuckling to myself, and
wondering what it is
like to be a bear.
Before I knew it,
triggered by the bear’s explosion,
my world was flooded with
animal stories as they
I was much
younger than when I saw
the bear, and I was in wilderness,
as it existed in those times and
places, with a group
of several boys.
It took forever to
climb the ridge. Hot. No trail.
No shade. Sun at our backs.
No wind. Steep.
Thick, tall, stiff,
brush resisted all but down-
ward motion and we
were going up.
rarely touching ground,
we were locked in an uphill
battle with a brushfield
and gaining ground
reached the ridge.
Relieved. Proud. Panting.
Cooling in the breeze.
Loving the view
over the brow on
the other side and just
below us, a cougar
explosions, like those
of bears, are some-
thing to behold.
explosions are special, too.
But when they explode only their
arms and claws move and the body
goes nowhere, like jabs from a
boxer. Frogs’ tongues
bears and cougars
explode, the whole beast explodes,
all in the same direction, hopefully
in a direction away
me most about large
animal explosions is not just
speed but acceleration. How fast
big animals can accelerate never
fails to surprise me. Animals
can really scoot.
We didn’t actually
see the cougar explode,
you see, not like I saw the
bear. We heard it.
It ran down
the hill, away from us,
and first came into view at
the bottom of the
that bear was smoking?
The cougar made the bear look
like it was standing still. When it
leaped the creek and started up
the other side, we could not
believe how fast it
anything run up that brush-
field as fast as it did and clear the ridge
in seconds? It was unbelievable! But it happened
in front of our eyes and we had to believe
it. We had just taken forever to
climb one just like it!
the lion been when it
discovered us? What was it
doing at the time?
What was it like
for the lion when it sprang,
suddenly, into action? What
was its experience?
I wonder about
the lion’s, the bear’s, our
Airedale Molly’s, and my
What I mean
by experience isn’t “in”
words or language. We can
speak during experiences. We
can speak about them later,
and we can experience
experiences we speak
about are not in language. Not
the cougar’s, we probably agree,
and not mine, either,I think.
I don’t think
experience is in images
either, though I see, hear, taste,
smell, and feel things and
I experience those
What I think of
as my experience is how it is
for me: The feeling of
What was it like for the cougar?
about these things for as long as I can
remember. I spent 40 years studying them
professionally in animals, and, I
confess, human students,
and in myself.
If the lion knew
we were coming before we
reached the ridge, because our sweat,
noise, and complaints to each other
heralded our coming, then why
did it wait so long to get
out of there?
so much noise it could
have walked away and we’d
never have known any-
thing about it.
Or did it stalk us,
change its mind, change our
destiny in that moment,
and then flee?
How could a
pack of noisy boys surprise
a mountain lion? Could it have
been napping, dreaming of a deer?
Zoning out? Not keeping its
wits about it?
Don’t wild things, who live in a
wild world where it pays to pay attention,
pay attention? Don’t they have to?
Isn’t that “how it is” out there
when how things turn out
makes a difference?
Isn’t it how it is with us?
On another trip
that same summer, south of
Cuddihy Basin, north of Marble Mountain,
a doe surprised herself as she walked along
the top of a cliff at the end of a lake, where
the fishing was as fast and as furious
as ever before or since, in
hauling them in,
and knew nothing at
all about a deer.
A rock fell
from a cliff, silence,
only silence, for a while. We
stood, frozen in the motions
of fishing, wondering about
the rockfall, and scaning
the cliff at the end
of the lake,
when, on a ledge,
part way down from the
top of the cliff, there was
How could a deer
even get to such
fell, and fell again, then
dropped to the rocks by the
water and lay still.
We were horrified!
a deer fall off a cliff?
Don’t deer pay attention
to what they are doing? Had it
been watching us, when it should
have been watching where it was
going. “Watch your step,” my
Mother said, and she meant
it. Don’t deer have
to do that too?
Did it trip?
Did something scare
it? Why did it fall?
Why, why, why
did it fall?
Long after dark,
burdened by venison and trout,
we left the lake. Long after midnight,
sore, tired, and ready to sleep, we stashed
our meat with eggs and bacon from before
in a 5-gallon can in the creek, rocks
on top, and crawled into our
story began for us at the exact
moment when we awoke,
The Other Bear
Hours after sunup,
and baking in our bags asleep,
we awoke to a crash by the creek.
And another and another and
another. No one could
have slept through
“It’s a God-
damned bear!”, cried
Brunjes. “It’s got our
We were out of
our bags, on with our
boots, and off to the creek
in a flash. To rescue
our meat from a
no venison, bacon, eggs,
trout or bear at the creek.
and only the lid of
Above us on the,
other side, in a small, thick
forest of alder, steep in a seep
that fed the creek, the bear banged
its way up through the trees as
it ran up the hill with
cried Brunjes, and
We followed a
trail of broken branches, bruised
bark, broken bark, and scramblings in
the dirt. Rolled rocks. Eggshells.
But no venison, bacon,
can, or bear.
faded up the hill, then
stopped, suddenly, in an instant.
We continued, more than a little
more warily, up the
Hanging pieces of bark,
sometimes by a thread. Skinned
parts to scab over later and scar. Thirty
or forty bruises up from the eggshells
was a sad excuse for a 5-gallon
can, torn and in tatters, and
none of its contents
no venison, no bacon,
and no bear.
probably happened. The
bear smelled the meat, found the
can, popped the, round, pressure-fit lid
with a nail, reached in the can, and grabbed
a leg of venison. When it pulled on the venison
the can came too, and it stayed that way until
the bear had finishied demolishing it. It could
have let go of the meat, of course, but that
was a lot of meat. And for a bear,
tearing 5-gallon cans apart,
while a tedious bother,
just takes a
I saw that bear on the
trail to Jorstad’s, but many
years after the cougar, the deer,
and the bear that stole our venison,
a bobcat and I encountered each
other at close range in nature
and neither of us was
at all surprised.
On a quiet,
cool, early morning
in spring, mist swirled in
willows and calmness
slowly and carefully, crotch-
deep, down Little Butte Creek, looking
for newts. Willow leaves, unfurled but small,
swelled in California sunshine and just down-
stream, out of sight and hearing, Honey Run
Road crossed the covered bridge on
its way to Paradise.
way back up the creek,
the canyon was deep. Uncrossed
by roads for miles, it approximated
wilderness and I waded
at the edge of it.
earlier, as I turned a
bend, I had noticed a log
that spanned the stream before
me, noted the need to duck under
it when the time came, and
I sensed slight motion. Near,
at the level of my eyes and to my right,
a bobcat stepped up on the log to cross. Slowly.
Casually. Lost, seemingly, in a world of dreams
and strolling. I had no doubt it knew I was
there, and no doubt it knew I knew it.
But it attended to its crossing
and left me to attend
to it too.
civilization, and wilderness
beyond us, we occupied the same small
space for a while, the bobcat in its dreams
and I in my own, relaxed and content
to be sharing that space together
and in that way.
We crossed paths,
I on the underpass and
the bobcat on the
myself to be a bobcat,
I look both ways before crossing,
notice me wading in the water, dis-
count me as a threat, and continue,
at peace with the thought of
my being there.
After I raised
my eyes, the bobcat paused briefly,
glanced over at me once, and continued
its calm slow stroll across the log,
right in front of my face.
as I could tell, it
wasn’t worried about
disappeared at the other
end of the log. I stood there for a while,
then ducked under the log and
continued looking for
to the first bear.
Meanwhile, while I flashed
through all those animal stories,
the bear I surprised on Pfeiffer Flat kept
crashing up the hill. I stood on the trail,
remembering, wondering about
the bear’s experience.
finished his first cup
of coffee and poured his second,
fresh from the fire, and thought about
breakfast. I thought about coffee and
breakfast too, and joined him a
few minutes later.
We had a great
breakfast together and a
swapping of stories, then I headed
back up the trail, full of breakfast, full
of life, and ready to rejoin the
hummingbirds in the
breakfast at Jorstad’s!
His stories were
Lu and the
other Cougar (2003)
our place on Quadra Island,
Lu left this message on
“I saw a
cougar. It was amazing,
exciting, and scary.”
walking up toward
Monty’s place, just beyond
his sign, when a young cougar
stepped slowly out of the bushes
ahead of me and crossed
“I stood and
watched it walk across
the road, less than a hundred
feet away from me. Then I
walked slowly back-
wards, all the way
“I am standing
on the deck now and
wanted to tell you about it.
So there you go.”
So there you go too.
As you can
imagine, Lu’s cougar story
has more detail in it when she tells
it in person than she could leave
in a phone message.
When it first
stepped out of the forest, Lu
thought the cougar was a housecat,
closer to her and smaller than
it actually was.
As its tail emerged,
Lu’s first thought was that it
was awfully long! Then she realized
that the cat was larger and more distant
than she thought, and was a cougar
and not a house cat.
She felt a
jolt of adrenalin, breathed
deeply, kept her cool, and kept
her wits about her.
flight or fight response to the
adrenaline, she crept cautiously
backwards, first into the openness
of our meadow and then to
the safety of home.
memories can be triggered
by the explosion of a bear or a deer
or a cougar? How many thoughts
and how many experiences can
grow out of it?
Lu & I already
knew about the wolves on
Quadra by then. We listened to
them howl near our pond, just before
dawn, and I tracked them coming
and going in the snow.
other stories to tell about
those and other wolves, especially
with respect to Molly our Airedale.
And the wolves in Oregon. If
I forget and you want
to hear them, just
celebrated his 80th birthday
with my research group, together
with a gathering of friends of
his who hiked in for the
to return to Grizzly Lake
one last time but couldn’t make
it up the cliff. We brought everything
down from the lake to the edge of the
meadow below Grizzly Falls and had a
party. We called it The Great
Grizzly Lake Music
Festival of 1980.
It was a
of George’s birthday, George’s
life, and being together in the wilder-
ness. A few years after George died in 1988,
his cabin was protected as a historically signifi-
cant part of the Trinity Alps Primitive Area, and
is maintained. Parts of George’s story are at
this hiking website. Posthumously, George
Jorstad published a book in 1995:
Behind the Wild River: A
search for a better
way to live.
I described Pfeiffer
Flat as a “forest of light”.
That’s how John Muir portrayed
the west slope of the Sierra Nevada,
which Native Americans kept
“pruned” with fire.
Acceleration is the name of
the game in predation. Predators
must accelerate to catch prey and
prey must accelerate to avoid
them, and there have been
many studies of that.
Ron Ydenberg and a co-
author studied migrating sandpipers,
who fly back and forth to South America every
year. That takes more fat than sandpipers
can carry, and they stop at intervals along
the way to feed and gain fat before
moving on again.
I studied gained 40% of their
body weight several times each
trip just getting back and
forth to Mexico!)
how much fat they gained
before taking off again, and there
are several good reasons to
wonder about that.
leaner birds could
accelerate faster than fatter
ones taking off.
in those environments,
getting too fat before you leave can
get you killed by predators. Why else
would there be so many predators?
The bottom line about sandpipers
is that they leave on migration
before they get too fat.
are easier to catch AND
have more muscle and fat. To
hawks, fat birds probably look different
and move different too. They probably
learn which ones to go for. Under
that predation pressure, sand-
pipers tend to leave while
they still can.
calling the story
about the other bear “The
Other Bear” is in part a nod to
Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
My favourite poem of his
is Otro Perro, the
December 2018. The
Honey Run Covered Bridge over
Butte Creek, near Chico California, was
the last covered bridge of its type in the US.
The bridge burned in the 2018 Camp fire that
also destroyed the communities of Paradise and
Magalia. The lower end of my newt study area
was near the bridge, where I saw the bobcat.
The upper end was above Magalia, about
6 miles away in the same drainage,
near where the Camp fire
Written June 2003. Edited June 2021