Saturday, August 21, 2010
Davis L. Bigelow
An hour later found Stan lying alone under the monotone sky. Several of the mountain peaks were shrouded in clouds. Unlike the day before, not one shadow littered the field of rocks in Green Canyon. No brilliant sunlight threatened to bake him. Beneath the grey, the big man felt the unhealthy effects of cabin fever. In spite of the gravity of the situation, though, he smiled to himself. At least he still had a little of his good humour left. Suspiciously, Stan eyed the lowering sky. “A comfortable, cosy cabin would be a wonderful improvement over the exposed rocks that I’m lying helplessly on top of!” He pulled his sleeping bag a bit tighter around him. “If Glen doesn’t hurry, I’m going to get rained on.”
The resident marmot whistled somewhere nearby. Stan gazed in the direction of the sound, but too many large boulders blocked his view. A few seconds later, a second woolly marmot sounded off. Then, as if clumsily choreographed, the marmots began so call back and forth to each other. A captive audience, the big man closed his eyes and did the only thing he could think of to do: He tried to enjoy the concert. “I am most definitely in the cheap seats and walking out, in the middle of the performance, is not one of my available options!” A bitter laugh tried to surface, but the big man stifled it. His ribs hurt too much, even for a snitcher. Instead, he just smiled grimly. The whistling performance, put on by the intrepid woolly marmots, was incompetently composed at best and miserably monotone at worst! “I wish I had brought some earplugs!”
Glen McPherson picked his way across the remaining rocks strewn randomly across his chosen path. He and his trusty crutch had been working their way across the rugged landscape for over an hour now. Red pack perched on his back, Glen’s movements made him look more like a hunchback with a severely inflamed hump than a normal man. In spite of his bizarre appearance, he was making better time using his crutch than he had using his hands, foot and knees the day before.
Stalwart, but staggering, the panting Scotsman felt thirsty. In fact, he was downright parched! His dry, granola bar breakfast had been welcome but without a tall glass of cold milk to wash it down, the food was not as blissful as it might have been. Glen hadn’t eaten much since blacking out two days ago. His body was probably starving, but all his injuries were suppressing his appetite so he didn’t really notice. “Of course, I’m not under any stress.” The hobbling man thought. “I just need some water to keep me going and then I’ll be able to eat!”
With every passing minute, Glen McPherson felt himself weakening. “Can I really endure all that this survival situation will yet demand of my worn-out body?” He continued to plod forward. “What else is there for me to do?” He thought. “After all, no other option but pushing onward carries the sweet promise of remaining alive.”
Two hobbling steps from the level dirt trail Glen halted abruptly. The exhaustion temporarily forgotten, he quickly looked up from the ground at his feet and glanced furtively to his right and then to his left. Up and down the woodland trail, the tense Scotsman saw nothing unusual. That fact mattered little now. His day had just gotten worse!
Glen held his head perfectly still. Ridged, the small man might have been a stone statue. His ears were pricked for danger. Not a breeze puffed against his face. Within the nearby scrub and trees, not one leaf rustled. No twig snapped. No animal grunted. No bird sung. No sound, audible to him, betrayed the presence of any living thing. Glen’s heartbeat began to pound through the veins at his throat. He could hear that! Precious seconds passed. Nothing!
The terrified Scotsman again focussed his eyes on the patch of soft dirt that lay right in front of him. There, pressed in the soft soil was a perfectly formed foot print - and it was not human. Well over a foot in length, five claw marks punctuated one end of the massive print. Glen drew in a deep breath. His heart pounded in his throat and ears.
The lame man staggered onto the dirt trail. He paused again for several silent seconds before stooping awkwardly. Glen McPherson examined the impression, touching the deep contours with a dirty finger. The characteristic claw marks were curved towards the centreline of the print. Five distinct toe pad marks punctuated the space between the claw grooves and the deep dent of the heel pad. The alert Scotsman blew out a breath of frustration.
Glen had seen photographs of perfectly formed tracks like this. In all his trekking, however, this impression was the first one he had ever seen that matched the perfection of the photographs! He observed the distance between the claw marks and the rest of the track. Glen shook his head. The deep indentation pointed towards the south. That was the same direction he had to go to get water!
Glen swallowed hard. A mix of despair, powerlessness and terror engulfed him. He gawked down the trail in disbelief, shaking his weary head again. There was no mistake. Shortly before their hiking adventure Glen had read about the powerful carnivore that had obviously passed this way sometime in the last several hours. The perfectly formed print had most certainly been created by the right hind paw of a rather large grizzly bear!
Glen’s thoughts settled on the pressurized bottle of pepper spray they had brought on the hike. To save weight, he had left it with Stan! “What and idiot!” He muttered. A deep furrow ravaged the balding brow of the sweating Scotsman. The only weapon Glen possessed was the three-inch blade of his Leatherman multi-tool. He patted his right hip for comfort and found the tool resting peacefully in its leather sheath and securely hanging from his belt. Glen began to scold himself for his poor planning. “My baby knife won’t save me from a bear attack!” Then suddenly, his thoughts were interrupted.
Unexpectedly, a squirrel sounded the alarm. Glen rose quickly from his examination of the disturbing track. He glanced in all directions. His feelings of terror were reaching new heights. His throat tightened and his respiration rate increased.
The small, injured man felt like a wounded deer during hunting season! He glanced furtively around some more. “Where are you?” He whispered his staccato demand into the still mountain air. Glen’s unblinking eyes scanned. His gaze was as intense as a laser beam from a spy satellite. Nothing moved.
Glen tried to relax his tense shoulders but they refused. “Perhaps the squirrel sounded the alarm because of me?” He looked and listened some more but the only movement Glen could detect was his own chest - heaving in panicked breath. Thirst gnawed at him. Glen swallowed again. “I cannot go back for the pepper spray. I have to go on to Maple Creek. I have to have water.”
Finally, Glen dropped his eyes back to the dirt near his feet. Methodically, he scanned the ground in all directions. If the big bear had a cub in tow, he should know about it now!