Lee’s Stories

Lee’s Stories

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posted on August 8, 2016 | Science and Nature
Jorstad’s for breakfast: animal stories

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.

Jorstad’s cabin
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. 

The forest.
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.

Even thinking
about Jorstad triggers
all kinds of things.

 

 

The Bear

The sun had
hit just the tips
of
the tallest trees at the
top of Pfeiffer Flat,
and though

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.

We were
twelve miles apart  
in
rugged country.  N
o electricity.
No recent hikers to let him know
I was coming. He didn’t know
anything about it and i
t
would be a big
surprise.

 

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
bend. 

I expected
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
care.

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? 

 

I
watched,
listened, and caught
my breath,
 then slowly,
very slowly, moved
closer.

Two hundred
feet. 
A hundred. Fifty.
Half of that and closing,
and  still  the  bear
didn’t notice
me. 

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
the universe.

The bear
was so far into it,
it was out of it!


No
Pfeiffer’s
Flat, no trail that
hikers might hike on,
no Jorstad, no
nothing. 

Specifically,
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
surroundings.

But this was a bear.

Maybe it
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
to whatever.

But
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
it discovered
me.

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
a micron. 

Unbreathing.
U
nblinking.  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.
W
hen 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
years,

“You weren’t paying at-TEN-tion!”

 

That bear
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
peeling rubber.

It was
still accelerating
when it hit the brush at the
edge of the flat, going
like crazy.

 

That bear
was smoking!  
I
couldn’t believe my eyes.

 

By
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 i
t 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 swerving.
No slowing.  
No picking
the best
place.  No
nothing.        

Simply,
put, the bear ran
into the brush, through
the brush, and on up the hill,
still accelerating and still
running through
the brush
.

The whole
brushfield waved
back and forth
like a half
time card trick in a
stadium, and was
as noisy.

I stood there,
watching, listening,
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
flashed through
my mind.

 

 

The Cougar

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.  H
ot.  No trail.
No shade.  S
un at our backs.
No wind.  Steep. 

Thick, tall, stiff,
sturdy, outward-pointing
brush
resisted all but down-
ward motion and we
were going up. 

Sweating
slowly upward,
rarely touching ground,
we were locked 
in an uphill
battle with a brushfield
and gaining ground
only slowly.

Then we
reached the ridge.
Relieved. P
roud. Panting.
C
ooling in the breeze.
Loving the view
and silent,

Suddenly,
over the brow on
the other side and just
below us,
a cougar
exploded.

 

Cougar
explosions, like those
of bears,
are some-
thing to behold. 

Preying mantis
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
explode, snakes
strike,

but when
bears and cougars
explode, the whole beast explodes,
all in the same direction, hopefully
in a direction away
from me.

 

What amazes
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, n
ot 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
canyon. 

You think
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
was going!

How could
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!

Where had
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
own experience. 

What I mean
by e
xperience isn’t “in”
words or
language.  We can
speak during experiences. We
can speak about them later,
and we can experience
our speaking.

But the
experiences we speak
about are not in language. Not
the cougar’s, we probably agree,
and not mine, either,I think.
Not fundamentally.

I don’t think
experience is in images
either, though I see, hear, taste,
smell, and feel things and
I experience those
sensations. 

What I think of
as my experience is how it is
for me:
The feeling of
what happens
.

What was it like for the cougar? 

I’ve wondered
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?

We made
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?  

But wait!  

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?

 

 

The Deer

On another trip
t
hat 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
my experience.

We were
hauling them in,
and knew nothing at
all about a deer.

Then, suddenly,

A rock fell
from a cliff, silence,
o
nly 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
a scrambling.

 

A deer!
How could a deer
even get to such
a place?

 

It scrambled,
fell, a
nd fell again, then
dropped to the rocks by the
water and lay still.

We were horrified!

How could
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, 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
sleeping bags.


The next
story began for us at the exact
moment when we awoke,
simultaneously, in
the morning.

 

 

 

The Other Bear

Hours after sunup,
and
baking in our bags asleep,
we awoke to a crash by the creek.
A
nd another and another and
another.  No one could
have slept through
that.

It’s a God-
damned bear!”, cried
Brunjes. “It’s got our
meat!  Come
on!”

We were out of
our bags, on with our
boots, 
and off to the creek
in a flash.   T
o rescue
our meat from a
bear?

 

There were
no venison, bacon, eggs,
trout or bear at the creek.
and o
nly the lid of
the can.

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
our can.

“Come on!”,
cried Brunjes,
and
we went.

We followed a
trail of broken branches, 
bruised
bark, broken bark, and scramblings in
the dirt.  Rolled rocks.  Eggshells.
But n
o venison, bacon,
can, or bear.

The sound
faded up the hill, 
then
stopped, suddenly, in an instant.
We continued, more than a little
more warily, up the
hill. 

Bruises.
Hanging pieces of bark
,
sometimes by a thread.  S
kinned
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
were anywhere
in sight.

No eggs,
no venison, no bacon,
and no bear.

 

Here’s what
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 f
or a bear,
tearing 5-gallon cans apart,
while a tedious bother,
just takes a
while.

 

 

The Bobcat

A few
years before
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
enveloped the
world.

I waded
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. 

Behind me,
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.

Minutes
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
promptly forgot
about it.

Minutes later,
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.

Stream, mist,
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
over.

 

Imagining
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 far
as I could tell, it
wasn’t worried about
anything.

 

The bobcat
disappeared at the other
end of the log.  
I stood there for a while,
then ducked under the log and
continued looking for
newts.

 

 

Back
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. 

Jorstad
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
meadows.

 

I loved
breakfast at Jorstad’s!
His stories were
amazing.

 

 

Lu and the
other Cougar (2003)

Calling from
our place on Quadra Island,
Lu left this message on
our Vancouver
phone
.

“I saw a
cougar.
It was  amazing,
exciting, and scary.”

“I was
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
the road.”

“I stood and
w
atched it walk across
the road,
less than a hundred
feet away from me.  Then I
walked    slowly    back-
wards, 
all the way
home.”  

“I am standing
on the deck now a
nd
wanted to tell you about it.
S
o 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.

Controlling 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.

 

How many
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. 

There are
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
remind me.


George Jorstad
celebrated his 80th birthday
with my research group, together
with a gathering of friends of
his who hiked in for the
occasion. 

George wanted
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
joyous celebration

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.

In The Mountains
of California, and maybe
The Yosemite as well, he captured
how it feels to walk through
Pfeiffer Flat.


Note about
animal explosions.
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.

(The hummingbirds
I studied gained 40% of their
body weight several times each
trip just getting back and
forth to Mexico!)


Ron wondered
how much fat they gained
before taking off again, and there
are several good reasons to
wonder about that.

In tests,
leaner birds could
accelerate faster than fatter
ones taking off.

Foraging
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.

Fat sandpipers
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.

 


My
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
Other Dog.


Note added
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
started.


Written June 2003.  Edited June 2021

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