It was my first trip up to Alaska.
My husband Lance had come up the previous year and thought it would be a great place to resettle, so when I came up to scope things out for myself in 1987, I brought things with me I wouldn't be taking back. Two of those things were an 18-year-old female purebred Burmese cat and a 9-month-old male pitbull puppy.
We stayed with some friends by the river in their log cabin/sauna building out back. It was 6'x12' log cabin with no windows, just a door, if that's what you wanted to call it. It was an interior, hollow core door with the bottom spar taken out of it, so the gap under the door was about 3".
So, there I was one night, not too long after we'd gotten there, sleeping away, with the cat on the pillow next to my head and the puppy down there near my feet somewhere. The head of the bed was at the far end of the cabin, with the foot of the bed down by the door, and I did mention there were no windows?
Well, I don't know what time it was, because I didn't have a watch then. I still don't own a watch, come to think of it, but anyway, I was sleeping on that narrow little bed with those 2 critters of mine. I had my arms folded across my chest, with my hands on the opposing shoulders, all covered with a blanket. Next thing I knew I was awake, with a pitbull puppy on my chest, his muzzle covering my mouth, his teeth on my teeth and as I opened my eyes, I saw him there, wide eyed and unmoving, with his normally short hair sticking out about 2 inches more than it should have. He had his hind end straddling my torso, with his front end holding my arms down quite securely. He was trying to tell me something I wasn't quite sure of yet, but I could tell he didn't want me to make a sound. I tried to say something to him, but he really laid down his muzzle hard onto my mouth.
I thought "So, this is how a pitbull snaps", but he wasn't being mean, he was just trying to get his point across and I wasn't awake enough yet to know that.
He let me slowly pull an arm out from under him and when I say slowly, I mean slow, he had control of the situation right then and he wasn't ready to give it up to me. So I pulled my arm out from under the covers and turned my head. There was the cat, with no sense of humor, ears laid back flat to the top of her head, looking towards the thing that passed as a door, eyes as big around as saucers. She was a cat of few words, batted me between the eyes with a paw, just to wake me up the rest of the way. They let me reach under the pillow and get my glasses, then let me slowly put them on. It was then that the dog released some pressure on my mouth and everyone relaxed a tiny little bit.
A really tiny bit.
Relaxed long enough for me to focus and look down towards the door, remember the door? The one with the missing spar on the bottom?
Well, when I looked down towards that door, it had a bear's nose stuck in it, and that nose was breathing, deeply. If that wasn't enough, that nose came in pairs. Its' sibling repeated the "sniffing the door trick" and that's when it occurred to me that not only did I not have a window to jump out of, I didn't have a gun either. All I had between those two grizzly bears and me was a little Buck knife down there on the tiny table by the door, a cat and a pitbull puppy.
Well, lucky for all of us, those two grizzly bears must have decided that they could have more fun somewhere else and instead of picking their noses up and ripping the door off its' hinges to see what was on the other side, they moved on.
I never doubted that dog from then on and he lived another 14 years up here with us. He never took any crap from another animal either, but he always respected the grizzly bears that we shared our space with once we moved onto the cabin property.
Speaking of the cabin.
We were alone at the cabin one day; I was digging holes to set the posts in for the kitchen deck while my husband Lance was out cutting down trees.
So, there I was, working the gravel that passes for soil here with a steel shovel and a lot of shoulder. I'd finally gotten to the point where I was on my knees, pulling rock and clay out of the narrow hole with my hands, then chipping away a little more crap with the shovel, then down on my knees some more, and, well, you get the point
So, I'm down on my knees, up to my armpit in the hole, and right there, at my fingertips, was a rock bigger around than the hole it was in. Now, I didn't want to make the hole any wider around than it already was, so I thought if I could kind of feel around in there and locate the edge of the rock, I could pull it up without making the hole any bigger. It was just around then, when I had my head halfway in the hole with my arm and shoulder, that I realized I was smelling something pretty rank. It occurred to me I was about a week overdue for a good scrubbing so I thought what I was smelling was me. I picked my head up from my work and looked at the dog. He stood in front of me, head down, ears flat against his head and looking out, that inch long hair of his sticking out from his pelt about 2 inches like it was electrified. Now, I knew from experience that was his grizzly bear pose, so I real slowly picked my head up and looked over his shoulder to see if I could see anything.
That sow couldn't have been more than 2 feet away from us and she was looking in that hole I'd just pulled my head out of. When a male grizzly wants to attract a female to them, they play with rocks and that's just what I'd been doing.
Playing with rocks.
She was the biggest bear I've ever seen, with a head well over 2 feet wide at the ears and she laid down prints over a foot long. No exaggeration, I've seen lots of them before and after that encounter. She looked at me, then looked in that hole one more time. I put my head as far into my armpit as I could, held my breath and slowly sank back onto my feet with my torso onto my thighs. She put her wet nose on my ear and gave me a good sniff.
When I couldn't hold my breath any longer, I raised my head back up. There was the dog, lying in front of me and that sow was gone, without a sound. I saw her every year, walking her game trail that was just behind the house. Every other year she had a new batch of cubs and she made sure they never got into mischief at our house.
So, those are the two true Grizzly bear stories that I share. I hope you liked them, and that you'll think a little kinder of the great grizzly bear.
The Bears by- Susan Barrett 2005