Bears a-huffing and a-climbing

Three little cubsThe mystery of the bear poo was solved on Tuesday! I was coming back from a run, along the road by the outhouses, heading toward the barn to get some mouse bait. As the clearing by the barn came into view, I saw four shapes on the grass. It took a few moments for my brain to process what they were. I’d just seen some cows outside my gate, so at first my mind compared the shapes to cows and said No, Not Cows. Then I thought of sheep, because the shape was kind of sheep-like and my mind was still thinking domesticated animals. The biggest creature was a light brown, with a black snout, and looked kind of sheep-like! Then finally I realized it was a mama bear with three black cubs! Wow! I said Wow a couple times, and by then the four of them ran up the hill into the woods.

The cubs are in the tall trees in this pictureIt must have been a repeat of what my friend Munro saw near here earlier in the summer, because I could hear and see some of the cubs scrabbling up a tree. The mama bear made a lot of huffing noises, telling me to clear out! I watched for a few more seconds, then got the bait from the barn. I peeked out the barn window, trying to see the bears up the hill, but I could only see trees. When I went back outside into the clearing where I’d first seen the bears, I could still hear mama bear huffing at me. So I retreated back to the house. I could even hear her huffing from the back deck outside my bedroom while I was doing my post-run yoga, and now and then the sound of a cub climbing around in the tree as dusk came down the hill.

It was such a wonderful surprise, and I’ve been This fir has lots of branches to make climbing easylooking forward to writing and sharing it with you, dear blog readers. The next day I went over there and I found a lot of disturbed earth under the tree I think the cubs went up. I’d seen one climb up to the very top of a tall fir (maybe 60 feet tall?). I couldn’t see any scratch marks, probably because there were so many branches that they could use for climbing. But I did find a big pile of bear poo in front of the barn, as well as the several piles I’d seen before on the road! So this solved the mystery of the big poo and the little poo. Clearly there was a big mama bear and some little baby bears pooping on my road!

Disturbed earth at base of treeAs I’ve mentioned before, bears are associated with the west part of the wheel, and a sign of the fall. The fall equinox is next Tuesday, so this visit might be a precursor to the coming of fall. But it was also the 9th anniversary of the death of my father, and I think that he might have sent these bears as a treat for me. I just completed the final installation of my cell phone power booster the day before, and received four wonderful phone calls this day too. What a magical day. A lot of love and support from the universe, from family, friends, bears, and hot guys! Thanks, Dad. May your spirit be at peace.

Q: Does a bear poop in the woods?

Big pile of bear poo (beside size 9 flip-flop from gas station in Big Pine, CA)A: Yes, and so can you!

Okay, you’re probably thinking I’ve totally flipped out, if you didn’t already think this after some of my previous entries about mouse turds, including “The mystery of the dead animal in my living room,” and the moving song “Blue turd on my window sill.”

But the fact is, being close to nature means being close to the full cycle of natural processes, which mostly involve birth, eating, eliminating, reproduction, and death. And when you spend time in nature, the signs of the elimination process are all around. Yesterday, when I was out for a run at Monkey Valley, I came across some magnificent signs of bear elimination. Call me crazy if you want, but I love finding bear scat. I found two piles, and one was a lot larger than the other, which might indicate that two bears of different sizes have been in the vicinity. Or maybe it was the same bear, having a big poop and then a little poop after. I noticed that both piles had undigested rose hips in them, which indicates the furry creature has been attracted to the bright red seed pods, which seem remarkably red and vibrant this year.

Smaller bear pooBut what does this have to do with you, and specifically, with you pooping in the woods? One of the questions people who have never been on a vision fast ask is how to handle this basic biological function. Obviously, when you’re out in the wild on your solo, there won’t be a flush toilet, and not even an outhouse. This means you have the wonderful opportunity to experience what your ancestors did. Poop in the woods! Or in the desert, as the case may be…

We like to practice no-trace camping as part of our honouring of the land during the vision fast. This means packing out your TP, and covering the signs of any biological waste you might be leaving behind. So dig a shallow hole, and when you’re finished your elimination process, cover the hole with leaves and dirt. If there are rocks in the area where you are fasting, you can put a rock over the little pile to mark it, so that you know not to dig in that same spot again.

There is an ancient familiarity about squatting outside to perform this everyday function. The One of my favorite books, Everyone Poops, by Taro Gomiposition is actually more comfortable for our body than a toilet, though if you’re out of shape it can be a strain on the quadriceps at first. Women out on a fast will get a lot more practice with this than men, learning to squat and pee too, without peeing on clothing or shoes. That’s a practice you will have a chance to master during your fasting time, especially if you drink the recommended amount of water!

A final note about biological processes for women out on a fast. It often happens that women’s cycles shift when out in nature, and your moon time might come while you are on your fast. We recommend bringing the supplies you’ll need in case this does happen. Pack the used supplies out with you, along with your TP. If you’re in bear country, you might want to keep your used supplies in a plastic bag some distance from your sleeping place, and use water and a bandanna or disposable wipes to keep clean. Or moss, if you’re in the woods.

Having your moon time while on a fast can deepen your connection with the sacred in nature, and help you feel part of the natural cycles of nature. Perhaps you will be inspired to create a ceremony to honour your moon time, bleeding directly onto the earth or making an offering of your blood in a ceremonial way.

Being out on the land during the vision fast, attending to our natural biological processes in ways that are more like the way our ancestors did, connects us to the 120,000+ life times of the human race, and helps us know that we are not alone. While our single life is finite, we are connected to a powerful, enduring life force through our human and pre-human gene pool. This is something that pooping in the woods can teach us.

What, more cows!?

Wyoming wild horsesIt’s been a while since I wrote about some mysterious winter visitors that I thought could be wild horses. A friend had recently told me about encountering wild horses near Merritt in the 60s, and the idea of wild horses is very romantic, so I guess I wanted the creatures at Monkey Valley to be wild horses. I’d seen a herd of these beautiful creatures after my first vision fast in southern Wyoming, and loved the idea that they might have been wintering on my ranch.

What happened was my mom, sister, and I were at the ranch for the first time since winter, celebrating my mom’s birthday. I noticed some droppings near the house that looked like horse apples. Round, dry droppings, all around the outhouse and near the steps to my back deck. So we tracked the droppings, following them south down the valley. There were lots of droppings, making it seem that a small herd spent the winter here.

Finally, near the south end of the valley we came upon the herd. It was cows. What, cows again!? The poor things had gotten locked in when I left Monkey Valley in December. They had managed to survive the winter by eating dried grass under trees, where the snow didn’t fall. UnlikeCow by logging road horses, cows don’t know how to paw at the snow to get to the grass underneath. So it was very lucky that there wasn’t too much snow this winter, and the cows could find some grass to eat. And it was the dryness of their diet that made their droppings look like horse apples instead of cow pies. Yum, apple pie, anyone?

I called the Douglas Lake ranch, and my cowboy friend Steve came out with another cowboy the next day. They were rigged up on horseback, and they herded the four cows out the gate and up to a small pen they had erected on Dillard Road, where they gave the cows some hay. Once they were fed, they loaded three of the cows into a trailer. One cow, which my mom thought was the leader of the small herd, collapsed after she was fed, as if now that she’d led the herd to safety, she couldn’t take another step. It was fascinating to watch the cowboys use their horses and ropes to drag the last cow into the trailer. Even though all the cows were skinny from their sparse winter diet, that’s still a lot of weight!

I later learned from Steve that the downed cow gave birth within the next few days, and another cow did too. How lucky that they were rescued just in time! How lucky that my mom and sister and I went to Monkey Valley for my mom’s birthday!

Live entertainment from the Monkey Valley porch

Young male moose

Moose in the meadow

Last Saturday morning I was sitting on the porch having tea and brekkie, looking out over the creek now and then but mostly reading a good mystery novel. I heard some splashing sounds to my left, and looked up. Lo and behold, a young male moose emerged from the willows by the creek. He had fuzzy antlers, with about two prongs on each. What a wonderful surprise!

I watched him for about 10 minutes, as he meandered, chomping on willows, and slowly made his way to the other side of the valley. Now that’s a breakfast show! I had recently commented to a friend that the valley is perfect for moose, with a lot of water and willows, and I was surprised I didn’t see them more often. Now here one was!

Deer and chipmunks entertain more often

ChipmunkThe next day a deer was browsing through the meadow while I ate my breakfast on the porch. Nice! And then Donald and I were entertained by a little chipmunk eating flowers for breakfast, tail twitching, at the other end of the porch.

Power booster woes

The day after that was a Monday, and I needed to go to Kamloops yet again, for some more cable. I was still troubleshooting the power booster for the cell phone, working out the glitches. It turned out last time the connector in one end of the cable that connected to the indoor dome antenna got gibbled, and the copper wire wasn’t meeting the part where it is supposed to pass the signal into the power booster. It took a trip to Kamloops to figure this one out, and get a new connecter put on. Then I realized the connector on the cable from the roof antenna was also gibbled, and not meeting with the power antenna. I stripped the wire and inserted the bare copper into the power booster, just to see if it would work. This is when I finally discovered that the distance from the inside antenna to the outside antenna wasn’t long enough. Previously, the lights on the power booster always showed green (even when they weren’t getting a signal, which is not how it is supposed to work according to the manual). Now that I had both antennas firmly connected to the power booster, both lights were red. This meant another trip to Kamloops to get a longer length of cable.

I tried three places in Merritt, but none of them carry this type of cable. So on Monday, I went to Kamloops (for about the fifth or sixth time, at a four hour round trip each time). I got 30 feet of RG58 cable. The kind people at Walco Radio put new connectors on, and also gave me some connectors for the cable from the outside antenna. Steve even showed me how to put the connector on, step by step, and sold me a tool to use to do it. I have learned more than I would have though possible from this odyssey into power booster installation. Most people just take it home, plug the ends together, and it works! Those poor saps never get to learn a thing…

Lightning and thunder and forest fires, oh my!

So anyway, I drove home Monday, arriving home in a rain storm at about 7:30 PM. As I was driving down the last hill before my house I noticed puffs of white on the hillside across the creek. Streaming smoke was coming out of the forest. I’d seen a few flashes of lightning as I was driving home, and figured one must have struck here and started a fire. Yikes!

My first thought was to grab Donald and my laptop and get out of there. But even before that, I stopped right there on the road and called 911 to report the fire. They gave me the number to call, but I couldn’t get through. The message said there were high call volumes due to the large number of forest fires, and to call back later.

So I called my sister Kim to let her know I might be in imminent danger, drove to the house, and got Donald and the laptop, all the Power boosterwhile checking on the fire. It didn’t seem to be getting bigger but it wasn’t getting smaller either. It was between 500 and 1000 metres from the house, at the north end of the valley, and if it spread it would cut off the road access to the house, trapping me there. So I figured I’d better spend the night in a motel in Merritt, just to be on the safe side. I decided I had a bit of time, since the fire wasn’t moving towards the house. So I went through the house, gathering up more stuff that I would want if the house burned to the ground. My camping gear. Some family photos. My favourite knife from Cutco, which my sister Kirsten sold me years ago. My grandma’s silverware. And yes, the power booster and all its related parts. If the house burned down I was going to get my money back!

So about an hour later Donald and I left Monkey Valley. As we drove past the fire in the darkness I saw flames amidst the trees, which I had been unable to see earlier. I stopped at the Kentucky-Alleyne campground to let the attendant there know about the fire. Once I got out to Highway 5A I was able to get through to the forest fire line (*5555) and reported the fire. A little while later someone from the Merritt fire fighting department called me back, and said he would send a crew out first thing in the morning.

The next morning at about 8:30 he called me at the motel and said they’d sent out a helicopter with two guys and some firefighting equipment. Another two guys drove in by truck. They were using a bucket to get water from a nearby lake (via the chopper) and would probably finish by noon. So it was safe to go home.

I got home that afternoon, and another storm was underway, sending down buckets of water, with lots of thunder and lightning. Donald and I sat on the porch under cover, enjoying the storm. And once the rain stopped, I ate dinner on the porch and watched another two helicopters haul buckets of water south of Monkey Valley, near Missezula Lake. They went back and forth for about an hour, fighting another fire nearby. What a dinner show!

Ugliest cat ladderTwo days later, after another storm, I drove out of Monkey Valley to return to Vancouver. And what did I see but another forest fire on the hill south of Missezula Lake! Another call to *5555. Whew! I wonder what will happen next time at Monkey Valley!

Bizarre cat ladders

P.S. I just have to mention a blog I came across, devoted entirely to cat ladders! According to a related interview in the LA Weekly Art Blog, the Germans, Swiss, and Swedish folks are the most crazy about freedom for cats via architectural deformation in the form of bizarre cat ladders.