THE silence of nature was broken by someone or some thing galumphing through the woods.
Rustle. Rustle, rustle, rustle. Rustle, rustle, rustle, rustle.
I paid it no mind.
I was enjoying a tranquil hike through Sawpit Canyon along the Ben Overturff Trail in Monrovia. I had reached the end of the trail, a place called Deer Park, a place where former Monrovian and Los Angeles County deputy sheriff Ben Overturff had built his lodge back in 1911.
It fascinates me how the pioneers of the Great Hiking Era (1900-1920s) picked their sites out of thousands of acres of wilderness to build their cabins or mountain hideaways. This one was in a clearing, a kind of oak woods nirvana, where the sun broke free from the lower canopy of alders and bay laurels and where the winds and Im told, the waters of the great flood of 1938 can converge freely.
Often, these wood or stone structures became resorts, attracting thousands of visitors who would trek in by foot or mule on a Sunday afternoon for a meal.Sometimes hikers could smell the homebaked pies or see the smoke winding from the stone chimney before theyd reached their destination.A few feet down the path from the Deer Park cabin site was the mother lode of ruins. The original stone foundation and walls built by Overturff about 100 years ago. I climbed in and snapped away with my digital camera, filling up the memory card.
Rustle, rustle, rustle, rustle.
I heard it again. This time the sound was much closer.
The sweat rolled down my back and a cool breeze raised goose bumps on my skin. Normally, a delicious feeling after a rigorous hike in summer.
I couldnt ignore the sound anymore of the forest visitor. I yelled out Whos the but stopped myself. It wasnt another person. I had seen no humans in the 2-plus hours on the trail.
And theres no other way in.I did see a deer, a full-grown doe at the junction of the trail and fire road a while back, who stared me down like a bull facing a matador. But it finally moved quietly into the camouflaged brush like a soldier in a guerrilla war.
Mountain lion? Nah, they dont make that much noise. Theyre sleek and stealth and usually come out at night.
Coyote. Again, this would have to be some large coyote to make that much noise. It was like the sound of a drunk stumbling through the bar, bouncing off tables and toppling glasses. There was nothing delicate about that noise.There was only one critter left on my list of possibilities. Bear. North American Black Bear. Ursus americanus.
I started back down the trail with a new determination in my step. Then I saw him. He was a big, black bear, about 50 yards up slope, foraging for food. I could see his tan fur, sleek but matted at the belly. His brown nose canvassed the leave-strewn carpet for food. No cubs, so I assumed it was a male.
He didnt see me and I froze. I fumbled for my camera but the memory card was full.My mind raced. It started playing tricks.
It went to Tony Sopranos last TV moment, and my world abruptly faded to black.
I nearly shouted out Mom! Mom! Mom! Its not right, but stopped myself after realizing that not my mother, nor Sheriff Lee Baca, would be coming to my rescue.
Then I tried to remember what I was supposed to do. I tried to make myself appear big. Not easy for a guy whos 5-feet 8. Dont run, I thought. Dont let the bear see fear. Again, not easy for someone who was still waiting for his life to flash before his eyes.
You are supposed to make a lot of noise, was the advice of co-worker and former Boy Scout leader, Ron Berry.
The movie that played in my mind was that documentary of the guy who fell in love with the bears up in the Aleutian wilderness, Timothy Treadwell. He went back one too many times and ended up as lunch.
I decided not to befriend the bears, as Treadwell, but instead, to high tail it out of there. I walked, albeit briskly, past the large mammal, and took advantage of the trails sharp descent. I didnt run, but didnt stop until I reached Twin Springs.
There, I ate the apple that was in my backpack, the one I worried Mr. Bear would smell and jump me for. The sweat rolled down my back and this time, it felt good. As the kids would say, no fear.