Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Chapter 26

Bear Bait

"It is just like man's vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions." – Mark Twain

My conclusion?  By the skin of my teeth and only if I started preparing right away and was willing to do without the variety that I’d had the winter before.  

The problem first on the roster was what would I prepare with.  More out of habit than need I had continued to collect wild foods … some to eat and some to save.  But I hadn’t really put sufficient thought into it as my appetite was no longer what it was.  Now I was faced with a quickly shrinking set of resources to pull from.  The snow had gotten a lot of the plants at the cave’s elevation so I prayed hard that it hadn’t at the lower elevations I could safely reach.

Unlike the previous season I decided to take all the wild rice, what there was of it.  There was no water for it to propogate in so I didn’t feel guilty.  I also didn’t feel guilty about taking all of the cattails from around the no longer existing shorelines.  I did transplant a few cattails in some of the shallow water ways that remained but I wasn’t sure whether they would prosper or not.

I didn’t hesitate to take the deer and hogs I needed either.  I worked from before sun up and often until well into the night.  It didn’t bother me, it filled the hours and kept me from noticing I was only prepping for one; kept me from thinking about just how lonely those long winter days stuck in the cave were going to be and how stir crazy I just might get.

Time sped by.  September turned to October and October to a bitterly cold November.  The only reason I stopped hunting was that I couldn’t get the animals bled out before they froze.

Eventually I recognized that it was a good thing they froze because my salt supply was low and I held back what I thought was wise though not nearly what I knew that I needed and thoughts of how to get more worried the edges of my consciousness.  I saved what salt I could for curing the pork or I canned the pork the best I could.  I would grind the meat, season it, fry it up, and then layer them in jars covered with fresh lard that came from the same pig.  I canned the fresh loin only lightly seasoned.  I also tried to make the salt go further by honey curing the hams, shoulders, jowls, and bacon.  

Eventually I stuck to venison as much as I could as it can be preserved by smoking alone, the same as the fish I sometimes netted out of the newly shallow lakes.  Unfortunately fishing brought up painful memories and I usually had to give it up or fall into depression despite the need to create as much variety in my diet as possible.

When I wasn’t foraging, hunting, preserving, or messing around in the greenhouse I was chopping wood.  In fact it seemed I did more of that than all the others combined.  I didn’t have anyone to help me but the job wasn’t as hard as it could have been because I wasn’t having to fell trees to get to the wood.  All those trees that had been under the lakes for so many months were finally dried out or getting there due to the horrible wind that seemed to blow so much of the day.  It was like collecting driftwood.  I had my pick of branches.  The one danger I was running into is that the trees were shifting and falling as the ground dried up around them.  The windstorms battered the giant toothpicks and knocked them over as well.  I stayed out of the former lake basins for that reason.

But then there came a day …

Isn’t there always a “but” right before you catch yourself doing something that winds up being a double helping of stupid?

I’d been tracking a bear to make sure that it left what I considered “my” territory.  But then suddenly I realized I wasn’t tracking it anymore but that it was tracking me.  And what was worse I recognized the bear as a cranky male that had moved into the area after apparently losing its former territory when the lakes shifted.  He’d been fighting and marking the trees up hard all summer.  And he was hungry and apparently unafraid of humans.  It put me on the run.

I cut across some still muddy lake bed and even crossed small streams as I tried to get Beau and I away from the large bear.  But dang my luck; not only was the bear cranky, he was persistent.  I was in an area I didn’t know real well, down in the basin lands, when the bear spotted us and started moving at a trot.  There was no help for it as I only had a .22lr with me since I had run out of the ammo for anything bigger.

I’d been forced to do it before to get Beau and I away from a couple of particularly ornery hogs.  First time was a nightmare so I devised a dog sling.  What I did was train a reluctant Beau to get in a homemade sling and I’d climb a tree.  Lucky for me Beau was a mixed breed and not as large as your average hound dog could get.

Beau wasn’t real happy with the way things were going.  He knew what he smelled and he knew it was dangerous but he was also a different animal from the scaredy cat pup that he used to be.  He sensed the threat and acted like he wasn’t averse to protecting me.  It made him wiggly.  At least he was trained to be quiet.  These days he only called when he treed something.  Problem for his sensibilities was this time it was use that was treed.

The tree I’d picked to go up was large and sturdy.  It was more ladder than tree though as the only thing left of its gray structure were the huge trunk and broken limbs that I used as hand and foot holds.  The bear was at the base of the tree before I was as high as I wanted to get.  He prowled a couple of circles before trying to follow me.

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