Firelight dances off the walls of my shelter, the roof of the shelter is made of pine boughs tied together with willow bark and lashed to lodge pole pine logs. The back of the shelter consists of a small cave of sorts, about five feet deep and ten feet long. A small spring bubbles from the ground nearby and the surrounding forest is teeming with wildlife. I have been coming here for years to hunt the elk who inhabit these forests, and have used this exact location as my shelter for years.
Something is moving around in the darkness just outside the firelight. My faithful friend Little Brother lays close in the shelter, a deep growl coming from his chest. I have been watching the darkness for the past fifteen minutes trying to catch a glimpse of the creature moving around out there. After a while the woods return to their normal night sounds, as the fire dies down I somehow find myself drifting away into the dream world and lose myself to dreams of bugling bulls and quiet stalks through the wilderness.
Daybreak comes with the chill only the high lands can bring, even through my elk skin shirt I feel the cold trying to rob me of body heat. I walk into the meadow and whistle for Tiger my trusty steed, through the morning mist he answers in horse talk and I see his black coat materialize twenty feet away. We greet one another I with a stroke of my hand upon his neck and he with a rough nuzzle from his big head. The bulls are bugling at the upper end of this long meadow today and their calls echo down through the pines. We are traveling light today , I shoulder my quiver and war bag, brace my bow and leap upon Tigers back, usually I always ride bareback in the high lands, this way if something were to happen to me, my horse would not be burdened with the task of surviving with the saddle stuck to his back. We have traveled literally thousands of miles together over the years, building a bond and trust with one another that few would understand. Near the end of a long meadow about two miles from our shelter Tiger suddenly stops in his tracks, his ears come up and he stands completely still. From the tree line several elk emerge from the forest and begin feeding away from us. Tiger was not interested in the elk his attention was focused on the tree line to our left, Little Brother ran out in front of Tiger and began staring in the same direction, a deep growl reverberating across this chill morning. I dismount and draw an arrow from my mountain lion skin quiver, and circle in the direction of the hidden danger. Just inside the timber I come across fresh Grizzly bear tracks the rear track is nearly thirteen inches long and as wide as my foot plus half again as wide. the tracks are going deeper into the woods, so I return to my horse and now quivering with excitement dog , and leave the area. For the next week I have several encounters with the bear, but never once do I actually see the bear.
Snow falls from the sky in large slow moving flakes, already the landscape is covered with a foot of the white stuff and looks to be no end in sight. I am riding Tiger through this storm nearly a month after my last encounter with the ghost bear. In this winter wonderland I am certain that all bears have gone into the big sleep. Near the end of the long meadow I dismount and begin making a cold camp at the tree line, Little Brother has stayed home on this trip, age has caught up with my old friend and the cold renders him virtually unable to walk the deep snow. I release Tiger to feed in the meadow and clear the snow from the ground for my bedrole and meager supplies.
Sleep found me easily in the darkness and I slept as one only can while in the quiet solitude of the wilderness. Near daybreak I have a great need to empty my bladder and leave the comfort of my bedrole for the below zero morning chill. After relieving myself I dive back into my wilderness bed and fall back into quiet slumber. I am not sure how long I slept but it could not have been more than a few minutes. I awoke to the still grey dawn of morning but the landscape had changed. The snow still fell slowly from the sky but now the tracks of the ghost bear were literally a foot from my bed! The claw marks on top of my tracks from my early morning bathroom break, the bear had walked up to my bed and stood over me, then turned and walked away through the deep snow. I was literally shaking uncontrollably after it dawned on me how close I had been to North America’s largest carnivore. I told myself at the time that the bear was really a spirit bear sent to me for some reason I still haven’t been able to comprehend. Now so many years later I still feel the hair stand on my neck at the remembrance of the encounter, but the fear is replaced with a humility and respect for the spirit bear, I am glad to have met with him and felt the power on that cold November morning of our meeting. Sometimes the wild places offer up subtle hints in the hopes we will be able to read the sign, other times mother nature is not so subtle with her messages and still we somehow fail to read the massages sent. Some have said that it was just a bear walking through the snow, I say to them, until a bear has touched you while sleeping and your spirits have intertwined on some cold mountain you could not possibly understand the connection we shared. Hawk a/ho