It was a pretty grand anniversary dinner, I won’t lie about that.
But then there was a great deal to celebrate. Thirty-two years for them, fifteen for us, and our wedding days butting right up next to each other. That’s what brought us for this long weekend together high in the Appalachians where we knew time would move slow and the air would be sweet.
We were right.
And so we made a feast. All four of us contributed to the prepping and the roasting and the grilling. Amos Lee played loud above our laughter. And because there was steak and salmon and garlic scape butter potatoes, and yummy smells floating out from the porch, we kept a keen eye for bears.
Sure enough one came to join our party.
He was a little guy, interested but timid, and he stopped short in the driveway the minute he noticed us gathering for a look. Then he turned and walked away, no doubt concerned he’d brought the wrong vintage or worn the wrong sweats to fit in with this rather distinguished group.
We felt sad for him, Leslie and I. But Tim and Scott even more. And so without so much as a word they set out after him.
That bear was nowhere in sight.
And so the boys returned, and we dished up the feast, and we toasted to love, and marriage, and life. And to friendship, the very best kind: ancient, and easy, and deep.
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THERE IS ANOTHER MOUNTAIN STORY I’ve yet to share, and one that deserves quite a crescendo. It happened the first day of our last trip, our climb to the top of that ridge one that is always filled with excitement as I scan the dirt road, the shadowy forest, the meadows ahead for bear. We’ve been rewarded with sightings two or three times from the safety of our car, my camera never able to get a good enough shot to share here. The best was the time the Mama and her babies crossed in front of us, then–I’m not kidding you–shimmied right up the trunk of a tree just a few yards into the woods. What a delight!
But on this arrival there were no such episodes as we made our way up the mountain and down the long drive to the house. We unloaded groceries, put our suitcases away, then poured ice cold beers into ice cold glasses and headed to the deck for our customary “we just got here” happy hour and sunset watch.
No bears that day, but a gorgeous, gorgeous view.
WE WERE EXPECTING FRIENDS for the weekend so the next morning I got up and before the day got away commenced to cooking. There were three giant packages of chicken to be dealt with–thighs and breasts, bones and not–and so it was an exercise that took me quite a bit of time. The windows were open, the skillets were smoking and sweet Tim had just come in, his morning having been filled with work on the roof rather than the meadow. He made a sandwich, stepped onto the screen porch then stuck his head back into the kitchen offering, ever-so-calmly, “Bear.”
I looked up. I was elbow-deep in chicken, so it took me a minute to wash up, grab my camera and join Tim on the deck where he pointed to the vines below and whispered, There. Eating the grapes.
Below us on the concrete walk was his bulky shadow, the leaves of the vine rustling. After a minute he heard us and glanced up, a little surprised, perhaps, but not very interested.
After a while he got up, ambled around to the bear path, and continued–we guessed–up toward the driveway.
I darted to the front door where I knew I could stand in the mudroom to watch. He came around the corner and good heavens continued walking right toward me.
There was plenty of glass between us, nevertheless I ducked inside, my heart beating fast.
The bear turned left and climbed the steps to the driveway. Tim alongside me now, we moved back to the front and I snap snap snapped with my camera.
What did he do? Lo and behold that bear came back down the embankment and returned to the grapes, shaking them this time with some significant intention. Then he stepped out from the shadows, looked up at us and–after a moment of careful consideration–raised up on his hind legs.
It occurs to me as I write this it sounds as if the bear was getting frustrated, or being aggressive, something that really wasn’t the case. He was more curious, that’s how it felt, rising up to get a little better view. (We can hardly blame him, focused as we were on chasing him around.) Nevertheless, I grabbed the bird feeders and ran back in the house, quick as a wink.
The bear? He came on around the other side of the house, up the steps, and according to Tim–who got a quick glimpse through the bedroom door while I cowered in the den–climbed right over the railing and on to our safe, sacred, happy-hour-viewing-spot deck.
At this point we were inside and he was outside, I should be clear about that. Still our hearts were racing like wildfire. The bear took his time, wandering about, looking around, smelling a bit. And then he lumbered back off, again climbing over the railing and heading in the direction of Tim’s workshop at the edge of the driveway. He made his way around the building’s back side and disappeared from our view. Then after a few minutes Tim ventured out and surmised the friendly fella had headed on up the mountain toward the Landl’s place.
IT WAS QUITE AN EXPERIENCE, I will give you that, one filled with so much excitement and fear the thrill hung on for days. We stayed on high alert and discussed, ad nauseam, what had prompted that bear to come so close, where we should keep the air horn (it was in the garage or we would have blown it simply to dissuade him from coming onto the deck), what would have happened had Tim been out clearing the meadow when the bear came to call. It was the smell of chicken that drew him, that’s what we believe, along with a genuine curiosity about the new folks in this pretty house with the big, berry-filled meadow.
I SHOULD ALSO SAY THIS. We have a great respect for these creatures, Tim and I both. We understand these are their mountains first and foremost. We also know black bears are not likely to become aggressive, although they do take food–and the promising smells thereof–very, very seriously.
We shall remain ever mindful.
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We decided to go on a hunt*, Tim and I, now that we’ve had our appetites whetted with two confirmed Black Bear sightings on this, our work/play mountain vacation. It’s become a bit of an obsession, if I’m telling the truth, our need to see more. They come and go quietly is the thing, at least according to our limited experience, no movie-style snapping twigs, no shaking branches. Just big, silent, gorgeous black bears moving across the meadow.
So we gathered the gear required–two cold beers, one pair of binoculars, and most important of all, my camera with the big zoom lens–and we climbed the slanting walk to the roof deck.
There was a better view.
But alas, there were no bears.
No worries. Tomorrow is another day!
*To be clear, no guns were involved!
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But it didn’t taken long to come to the realization this is a wild kind of country for which I am not prepared. I am a child of the mountains, yes. But I grew up “in town,” even if that town had a population less than 3,000.
Not so here.
There are 18 homes in our mile-high neighborhood, exactly none of which are in sight and two-thirds of which are uninhabited at any given time. It is glorious–mountains roll on for miles and miles and I promise you, you hear nothing but wind and birds. How we love it!
How blessed we are.
And still I have a healthy respect for the natural world here on this mountaintop. Snakes, yes of course. And Black Bears that roam with such freedom it doesn’t take long to understand why they’re a part of the decor of every WNC mountain home. Tim and I have been a little obsessed; we’ve caught bear glimpses from the safety of our car as we’ve moved around the mountain during these, our first summer weekends here. And we watch for them every time we step outside (particularly when our sweet dog, Little Bit, is in tow). With the wild blueberries in season–and the currently overgrown meadow that lies just below our back deck housing so many bushes–we know we’re likely to have regular bear visits.
It didn’t take long.
We’d just been in the meadow, out there making a quick check of the blueberry crop. And two minutes later–maybe?–we’d come back to the deck when I looked out to see this guy.
He seemed to have a healthy respect for us, too, as he watched us watch him for a while, then he turned to go.
We’ll be here a few more days.
We’ll all be keeping an eye out!
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