Saturday, October 30, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 28

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 28

The analog display on Stan’s scuffed watch read twenty minutes before six o’clock. Humidity hung in the tranquil air of Green Canyon. It wasn’t suffocatingly hot, just a mild summer’s afternoon at 4,500 feet above sea level. The big man gazed up at the obscured sky, trying to block out his intense pain with any kind of distraction. The travois lurched for what must have been the one millionth time in the last four hours. “Argh!” The big man grunted through clenched teeth.

Shadowless, but still moving at the head of the litter, Glen McPherson’s good leg swung forward the last few inches. His foot touched the dirt of the eastern edge of the woodland trail that gently snaked its way through Green Canyon. “At last!” He puffed, actually grinning for what felt like the first time in years. As Glen paused and glanced furtively up and down the trail, however, his smile quickly melted and his shiny brow creased. He gritted his teeth and surged forward once more. “Almost there big guy!” He panted.

It required another full minute of struggling for the determined Scotsman to drag the final remnants of the travois off the rough field of boulders. Glen’s muscles buzzed and ached. His lungs burned but the harried hiker was not about to stop before Stan was directly over top of the woodland trial.

The small man paused, cranking his head around and looking at his helpless passenger. “Ok Stan.” He wheezed. “We made it. I’m going to put you down now.” Glen lowered the laden litter to the flat ground that formed the fringe of the forest. Stan let out another suppressed moan. Muted moans and groans had been his predominant chant for the past four hours.

“Glen?” The big man softly whimpered. “I need… some more… Tylenol.” Still breathing hard, Glen hobbled to the rear of the litter. He unzipped a small pouch on the upper part of his pack and fished out the bottle of precious pain medication. It was nearly empty. Glen pulled out the water pouch and shambled to Stan’s side. The big man’s face was flushed. Glen placed three extra-strength Tylenol against Stan’s parched lips. Stan opened his mouth slightly so the pills could drop inside. A single gulp of water carried the white tablets into the big man’s system. Now all that remained was for the medicine to take effect. Potent painkillers they were not, but at least the Tylenol would dull the razor sharp edge of Stan’s pain.

Glen eyed the hydration pouch. It held only a half a cup of water. He looked into the big man’s eyes. “Are you thirsty?” Stan shook his head before speaking.

“You drink it.” He rasped. Obediently, Glen tipped the bottom of the clear plastic pouch skyward and the remaining water disappeared down his dry throat.

As Glen returned the Tylenol bottle and empty water pouch to his pack, he spoke. “We need some food from your backpack.” He said pointing northward to indicate the place where Stan’s pack hung in a tree. The big man’s eyes followed Glen’s outstretched finger. The pack hung motionless in the large Larch tree perhaps one hundred feet away. “Besides needing a good meal,” Glen said dropping his arm, “We have to make it to Maple Creek for more water.” He trailed off, thinking out his survival plan. “With that bear in the area, I really don’t want to split up again.” Glen paused again before continuing, still working at catching his breath. “I hope I’ll be ok going to get the food by myself.” He trailed off, still thinking out loud. “I’m definitely not interested in dragging you north to the pack and then south again to where we are now!” Stan’s chest heaved in short pulses as he continued to catch his own breath. The big man just listened while his friend spoke. Glen continued. “I think we can make it to the stream before dark. We have flashlights and it wouldn’t be the first time I put this tent up in the dark.” He indicated the orange rip-stop nylon under Stan. “I guess I’ll need the poles and pegs I put in your pack.” Glen’s thoughts were still swirling, his mind attempting to make sure he covered any contingency. Several seconds of quiet solitude passed before Stan offered his extremely concise opinion.

“Ok.” He whispered and with that, the big man resumed his meagre attempts to mentally manage his pain.

Glen nodded and pulled himself up on his crutch. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 27

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 27

Tired of waiting for the frail-looking human to drag the odd-looking contraption his way, with any kind of speed, the grizzly backed a few steps deeper into the foliage. Silver-tipped fur shimmered slightly as the 1,700-pound bruin settled his bulk onto the forest floor. Earlier, the massive bear had spent a few hours scraping in the dirt, locating succulent roots to supplement his diet. With the apparent excitement in the canyon on hiatus, it seemed to be an excellent time for a much needed nap. “Besides,” thought the bear, “My nose will jar me from sleep if that human comes close enough to smell.”

Unseen by the two dawdling hikers, the massive bruin licked its paws clean and then swiftly succumbed to sleep. The relaxed respiration of the grizzly contrasted sharply with the staccato breathing of Glen McPherson. The sweaty man struggled on.

As the hours passed, the smooth, dirt trail meandering through Green Canyon grew closer and closer. “Will we ever escape this field of jagged boulders?” Glen thought for the thousandth time as he pulled and yanked and jerked and tugged and wrenched and heaved and hauled and huffed and puffed. He felt like a zombie risen from a remote mountain tomb, but still the stubborn Scotsman would not give up!

Almost imperceptibly, Glen was, in fact, making progress. Now, finally, the inviting woodland was within rock throwing distance. Well, that would be true if Glen had felt strong enough to actually throw a rock. He didn’t. His whole world was caught up in dragging the heavy litter. Carefully constructed by his own hand, the rudimentary travois cradled his friend. Next to his sweetheart, Lillie, Stan Calderbank was his best friend in the world. Glen’s mind wandered from his burning limbs to a much more inviting prospect. The smiling face he could now see in his waking dream, belonged to that of his Lillie. “Will I ever see her again?” His wildly pounding heart longed to be in her congenial company—to hold her in his arms—to kiss her softly and tell her that he was safe.

“Glen?” Stan’s strained voice ruptured Glen’s delicate bubble of remembrance.

The winded Scotsman stopped. Turning his head he listened for the big man to finish his sentence.

“I have to… go to… the bathroom.” The big man sounded anything but laid-back and relaxed. The foot, belonging to his good leg, was pressed against the lower cross member of the travois. Stan’s big hands gripped the long poles that ran upwards past his sides and into his friends gloved hands. The big man’s face bore a thin sheen of sweat.

Glen frowned. He hung his head wearily. “I guess that was inevitable!” He muttered imperceptibly. “Ok” He conceded, this time loud enough for Stan to hear him. “I guess it’s better to take care of that on these rocks than on the trail!”

Twenty minutes later, Glen stood, once again, at the head of the travois, pulling. At his back, the big man lay on the lurching litter. The trail was less than one hundred feet ahead. The small man’s eyes focussed on a fleeting patch of smooth dirt. “Come on Glen!” He cried out within his fragmented mind. “Just a little bit more and then you can rest!”

“All that effort for one minute’s worth of relief!” Stan thought darkly, shaking his head. He was still wheezing and groaning from his restroom ordeal. Tears trickled from the tightly closed corners of the big man’s eyes. “How can I endure this pain?” The distressing dismount from the travois, the act of sitting up to relieve himself, the insufferable slide back onto the litter’s slippery surface—all the events had been excruciating. Ragged gasps attempted to quell Stan’s racing heartbeat. His head spun! He even felt nauseated! “I’m definitely ill and at the mercy of a merciless plague of pain!”

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 26

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 26

Beneath the gloomy, nimbostratus clouds a small figure travelled. The strange creature moved three of its limbs on or near the ground plus two more limbs that were higher up on its body. The distant human had a wide-brimmed hat on his head. Its movements were jerky, but then it stooped down. Next, the human hefted an odd looking contraption from the ground and began to drag it. A large, dark mound trailed behind the human, riding on the strange contraption. The cautious carnivore sniffed the air, but never took its black eyes off the unusual procession. Hidden in the fringe of foliage, the grizzly continued to stare. Scents of the human were not reaching his flaring, wet nostrils, but the big bear knew that that would change. The uncommon visitor, pulling the peculiar cargo in his direction, would soon reach a point where the wind would waft the scent his way. For now, the big bear would wait and watch. Now was not the time to approach. That covert operation would have to wait until later.

Glen McPherson struggled forward. His pathetically slow ground speed could have been measured in feet per second, but the mathematical notation would have fewer decimal points if expressed in inches per minute!

The wiry Scotsman looked ahead often. His progress was sluggish at best, but he had to formulate sound long range plans if he was to keep to the smoothest route. Putting both hands on the travois and leaning his armpit onto the top of the crutch, Glen advanced. Once his feet were level with the crutch, he dropped one hand from holding up the travois and used it to send the tip of the makeshift crutch forward a little. The cycle was labour intensive!

Behind Glen, Stan was having the ride of his life. As the tips of the travois slid over the rough rock, they bumped and jostled and shuddered and scraped. Of course, the tips didn’t just move in a synchronized fashion. The handmade travois sported the latest in off-road independent suspension, causing its distressed passenger to sway from side to side as well as to be jounced up and down. Agonizing minutes passed. If the big man were dreaming, he might have been enduring a nightmare about getting tumbled to death in a giant clothes dryer! At least he wasn’t wet.

One hour passed. Then two. “Come on Glen!” The small man muttered to himself, trying to rally his weakening will. Winded and sweating profusely, Glen would not let himself quit. He permitted himself second-long respites between lengthy pulls, but he would not quit. Not yet!

The spent Scotsman collapsed on a giant lichen-covered rock, panting. His hat was in his hand and his head was lowered nearly to his knees. Hot blood coursed through enlarged veins, pounding in his temples and at his throat. Thirst gnawed at him. He was hungry too. His closed eyes flickered open. Beneath his sweaty face grew a proliferation of lichens. Deep grey and rusty orange in colour, the lichens looked like a conglomeration of deformed brains that had taken refuge on the fragmented stone. Clustered on the rough rocks, the lichens gave the field of boulders a dappled appearance. When the small man had first laid eyes on the rugged heap of discarded mountainside, he had though the sight was beautiful. Back dropped by Ravenscrag Mountain, an enlarged photograph of the scene would have made a very challenging jigsaw puzzle. Glen smirked slightly at the thought. It was ironic. He felt like his efforts to keep himself and Stan alive were like assembling an elaborate puzzle. Alarmingly, however, the pieces of this puzzle needed to be assembled in a particular order. One miscalculation and the picture would not be pretty! Glen stared at the lichens. His brain felt like they looked; deformed and dappled and doomed to a marginal existence in the dismal, life sized diorama in which they were all trapped.

Still panting, Glen pulled off his leather gloves and then his wire-rimmed spectacles. The glasses were smeared with an unpleasant mixture of dust and sweat. He absently scanned the canyon while he polished the lenses on the underside of his shirt. “At least the inside of my shirt is a little cleaner than the outside.” He thought. Glen held up the lenses to inspect them. “Good enough.” he muttered, then put them on and prepared himself to rise anew.

“Here we go again Stan.” He announced, donning his gloves and gripping his makeshift crutch. Forging ahead once more, Glen elevated the litter and began to pull. He was definitely the designated packhorse of this expedition!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 25

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 25

Before either man noticed, the hours of their third day had slipped imperceptibly past one forty-five in the afternoon. Glen and Stan already felt tired. From his two and a half mile hike in bear territory Glen was undisputedly the more exhausted of the two men―and that was definitely a bad thing. Stan felt wiped out from just lying there, worrying and feeling useless, not to mention enduring constant pain!

Glen tucked the nearly empty hydration pouch into his pack. He had already fastened the backpack to the travois. “Almost there.” He said, double-checking the lashings. The concerned Scotsman had purposefully left the bottle of pepper spray out so it could be easily gotten to should the need arise. Everything else was inside the pack except for the hatchet. The sharp, shiny tool was cinched in one of the pack’s exterior loops, just waiting for easy use should the need arise.

Glen paused, letting his eyes linger on the hatchet for a second or two. He recalled the moment, just ninety minutes before, when he had drawn it forth. “Would the undersized blade have saved my life if that grizzly bear had attacked me?” The unbidden question resounded inside his weary head. Glen had no answer. He silently shook his head. “I hope I’ll never know.” The injured hiker had taken solace in the weapon’s potential to protect him. “Perhaps my trust was misplaced?” He wondered, staring off in the direction the grizzly had charged. “In the end,” he thought to himself, fixing his gaze back on the hatchet, “The good Lord intervened. For that I’m deeply grateful.”

“Ok Big C.” Glen said, snapping out of his mixed memories and looking up at Stan. “It’s time for you to slide a little higher on this travois.” The small man limped over to assist his large friend. “I hope you’re ready.”

Stan had been mentally preparing for the ensuing ordeal, but knew he would never be ready. “I guess.” Was all he finally said.

Stan gritted his teeth for the inevitable torture. The fact that his good leg was free of the confines of the splints helped, but the pain was still extreme! Glen tugged on Stan’s broad shoulders. Stan pushed with his uninjured leg. Slowly, but surely, the big man moved higher and higher up the travois and onto the stretched tent. The topmost sleeping mat, that carried the big man, slid smoothly over the one underneath it. Glen strained with short bursts of power. Stan attempted to stifle his own frequent outcries. Every time the big man moved his good leg, however, painful bolts of sharp lightning lanced through his quivering flesh. With each miniscule movement, the sleeping mats produced tiny zipping sounds. To Stan, they sounded like distant screams. The comfortable mats were completely oblivious to the anguish they were cradling. “Ok.” Glen finally puffed. “You’re high enough.”

“At last!” Stan sighed.

I think you’re high enough to keep from smacking your broken leg on the rocks.”

“I hope so.” Stan wheezed.

Like a sinking ship reaching the soft sea bed, the big man settled into the supple sleeping mats, panting hard. Below his tormented body lay the soft, malleable mats, the taut tent and a lot of remorseless rocks—but Stan didn’t care anything about those facts. Beads of sweat highlighted his broad forehead. His ribs felt tight and constricted. He wanted to cough, but stifled the urge. “All this laying around and shallow breathing are distressing my lungs!”

Glen pulled off his hat and waved the wide brim though the alpine air to cool the hot sweat it had adsorbed. The plucky Scotsman was overheated too. Through sweat-speckled glasses he regarded Stan compassionately. His own travails were bad enough, but Stan’s were worse than he could imagine! The small Scotsman had never enjoyed a broken bone in his life. Now, more than ever before, Glen McPherson hoped to avoid the pleasure.

After several large breaths of mountain air, Glen pressed his hat back on and scuttled towards the bottle of pepper spray. The small man glanced up at the dark clouds overhead. ”Why it hasn’t rained yet is a mystery.” Glen’s words hung in the tranquility. “But I suppose we should be grateful.” Stan silently nodded his agreement. Glen retrieved the bottle of pressurized pepper spray from its resting place among the rocks. “Here Stan.” He said. “This is just extra weight I don’t want to carry on my belt.” Stan silently pressed the bottle next to him, patting it like he might the head of a faithful dog. Glen stood and hobbled to the front of the travois and positioned himself. Stooping down, the small man gripped the front crossbar of the litter. “Hang on buddy. Here goes nothin!”

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Scuba Diving with the Record Spawning Sockeye Salmon Run - Adams River & Shuswap Lake

Since 1913, long before my birth in 1960, there have not been so many Sockeye Salmon in a spawning run than there are this year. The last count I heard was 25 million fish in the Fraser River system alone. For reference, that's nearly the human population of Canada! Last year there were 10 million fish heading up the Fraser River system, prompting a rowdy environmentalist outcry, but this year scientists and fisheries officers alike are scratching their heads and wondering, "What happened?" The Fish & Wildlife officer I spoke with, on the banks of the Adams River, told me that there were higher than normal nutrient levels in the Pacific Ocean this year, but other than that, no one really can explain the explosion in the salmon population. The officer also told me that the 2010 salmon run may in fact turn out to be the biggest in recorded history.
On October 1st, six of us journeyed to Sicamous, British Columbia and on October 2nd, four of us went scuba diving with the salmon at the place where the Adams River enters Shuswap Lake (an upper part of the Fraser River system) along the watery edge of Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park. For me, this was an event of a lifetime. I used two tanks of air in three dives, lasting about 90 minutes in all, and saw thousands of fish. What a sweet privilege it was for me to see this historic salmon run with my own eyes and from such a unique perspective. Here's my slideshow.

The following links will take you away from my blog to two nice articles - if you are interested:
Elizabeth May | September 16, 2010 - (Volume 22 Number 17 | Island Tides)
Adams River Salmon Run, Kamloops, British Columbia (their # facts are down a little from the actual salmon count, but the article is good anyway)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Big Changes at the "Hotel California"

This past Monday evening, the small trucking company I work for announced that the boss was retiring (after 51 years) and that they were selling off all their semi tractors to another company - effective Thursday night. Thursday night was last night, so I had three full days to prepare for the change over - while I continued to work my typical long hours.

Now this scenario, in our modern world of quick and comprehensive changes, may not seem very noteworthy, but the story does get a bit more interesting. It turns out that the company that bought out my truck, as well as my potential services as a professional driver, is the very same company that I used to work for five years ago. This particular company has an extremely poor reputation among its potential customers - the people I have been servicing for the past several years, not to mention the fact that I left this company for much greener pastures once already. I felt like I was trapped in the "Hotel California" - I checked out of this poor quality company years ago, but seemed destined to never leave!

Last night, however, I politely declined offering my services as a driver to this new/old company and cleaned out my truck. I felt a deep sense of loss. I have driven over half a million kilometres (over 450,000 of those kilometres in this last truck) since I began trucking in 2005 and I've enjoyed the majority of it. It has definitely been a grand adventure! I miss it already.

This morning, following my narrow escape from the "Hotel California", I find myself unexpectedly unemployed. It is a strange feeling! Things could be worse, however. I already have three tentative job offers and when I return from my weekend adventure of scuba diving with the spawning Pacific Salmon in British Columbia, I'll embrace the future - whatever it is. Life's too short to be trapped in a "Hotel" anyway!

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 24

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyrite 2010

Chapter 24

To the both men’s surprise, the bear’s entire body seemed to become fluid. Right in front of the riveted and reluctant spectators, the bear’s thick cinnamon-coloured coat began to shimmer surreal silver. The grizzly’s massive head swung back to the north and the large carnivore barrelled up the trail. In seconds, it vanished from sight.

Both men breathed a sigh of relief. “Glad I went to the bathroom recently!” Glen muttered, “Or I’d probably no longer need to!” Glen cracked a fleeting smile before looking skyward. “Thank you Heavenly Father!” Several hot tears pushed their way from the corners of the small man’s eyes and trickled down his ruddy cheeks. “It appears that I’ll survive for at least a little longer.”

“Why did the bear run?” Stan questioned in the silence of his frenzied mind. “Would the bear have actually run away from a small, limping hiker?” Stan frowned and furrowed his dirty brow. The fact that the big bear had come from the direction of Maple Creek was especially disturbing. The big man pictured Glen on the bank of the mountain creek being stalked by the mighty carnivore. “Steady Stan!” He scolded himself. “You don’t know what really happened out there.”

The helpless hiker mulled over the scanty information did knew for certain, but he couldn’t help but speculate. “Glen went to Maple Creek for water. He’s been gone for a long time. With a bear in the area, Glen might be waiting until it’s safe before he returns.” Stan nodded to himself, scratching an itch on his arm. Then a darker thought crossed his mind. “Perhaps a second, even larger bear killed Glen and just rousted this grizzly from the area so it could feed in peace?” Stan’s brow furrowed deeply at the thought. “Steady Stan! You’re being irrational!” He silently scolded once more. “But there has to be some logical explanation for what I just saw?”

Thirst gnawed at the big man. “If a grizzly had attacked Glen, he’s probably dead. Even if Glen’s just hurt, he probably wouldn’t return. That would mean a double tragedy!” Stan closed his eyes and offered a silent prayer. Then he did all that was left for him to do. The stranded adventurer stared across the field of rugged rocks and continued to consider the problem and the options. “There’s no way I could endure the pain it would generate to crawl across this jagged field of stone by myself. The splints would help, but they wouldn’t be enough.” Stan felt himself sinking into despair. The reality was unavoidable. Their remote location would probably not see another hiker for weeks. “If Glen doesn’t return, I’ll most likely die a slow and painful death.” Stan closed his eyes again and let a shallow breath escape his dry lips. “Maybe I’m already lying in my grave but just haven’t accepted it?” The big man’s jaw muscles flared. “I’m not ready to die... but is anyone? Considering the pain I’m in, perhaps death should be looked upon as a welcome friend, not a feared enemy?” In the silence of his potential mountain tomb, tears flowed freely from the big man’s eyes, tracing tiny trails of silver down his chapped cheeks and finally splashing down on the surface of the sleeping mat.

The trembling Scotsman stood on the trail for at least thirty additional seconds. Finally, his ashen face began to regain its normal colour. His view northward was the same as it had been moments before—with one notable exception. The monstrous, menacing bear had retreated! Green Canyon lay open before him. Glen took his first full breath in what seemed like hours and used it to try to calm his gyrating nerves. Finally, the hobbling man began to move once again. Stan was still waiting and he carried the big man’s ration of life-sustaining water.

Stan glanced again at the trail where the grizzly had just stood. His eyes absently wandered northward to where, only a minute before, the bear had disappeared. The event was so bizarre! “Grizzly bears aren’t famous for their fear. On the contrary, they’re famous for their keen sense of smell and their aggressive demeanour!” Stan shook his head slightly. “I’m lucky that the big bear didn’t pay me an unexpected visit!” Imagined images flashed in his mind’s eye. There he lay, sleeping, while the bear drew near. At the last moment, Stan saw the eyes on his unsuspecting face pop open. Then, he was back inside his body and looking through those bulging eyes. The salivating mug of the predatory bear filled his field of view. “Ahhhhh!” Stan shook his head again. The disturbing thoughts threatened to make him shudder, but the big man fought the urge. “Steady Stan! Steady!” Then suddenly, Stan’s eyes caught movement.

Stan shifted his gaze. The big man sighed. A reprieve from death was at hand! Seven hundred yards away, Glen McPherson broke from the cover of the forest. Red backpack swaying, Stan’s faithful rescuer limped along the trail. A polished silver hatchet glinted wickedly in the small man’s right hand. More tears slid from the big man’s eye. “Thank you… Heavenly Father!” he rasped. “I might… yet live.”

Stan watched expectantly while Glen shuffled up the woodland trail and then began to clamour back across the strewn rocks. In spite of his parched lips and arid mouth, Stan felt relived. An additional hour of waiting for water, however, was a harsh assignment for the big man. “Come on Glen.” He thought as the small man approached.

For Glen, the trek was laborious. Inch by inch, yard by yard the two men grew closer and closer. The thin crutch tip caught repeatedly in the innumerable crevasses that haphazardly pockmarked the expansive field. The red pack jostled and squirmed against the small man’s shoulders. His tender ankle protested whenever his dangling foot bumped into a protruding rock—which was often. Occasionally, Glen looked up to orient himself, but mostly he just concentrated on the next few feet of jagged obstacles he was trying to navigate across.

Soon, the two men were reunited. Stan gulped greedily at a water pouch while Glen related his epic saga. “This is definitely a story our grandchildren will want to hear over and over again!” Glen concluded.

Big C nodded and swallowed again. A wet grin was all he could afford to offer to the one sided conversation! It was a grin that betrayed his real thoughts however. The big man agreed that his grandchildren would love to hear the story repeated over and over again. He knew however, that the tale would only be sweet if they both lived to tell it.

“Here.” Glen offered, interrupting the big man’s unspoken thoughts. You’d better take some more Tylenol before we go.”