STORIES FROM THE WOODS XXVIII ~ Bear Encounter ~ Today’s Stunewslaguna.com

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Story and photos by FITZ MAURICE
This is a story about my intense encounter with a bear in the woods. I was alone,
and I had to decide what to do as I stared nervously at a black bear only 12 feet away from me. He was watching my every move and obviously trying to decide what to do about me (just as I was wondering what to do about him).
This happened in Redwoods National Park, in the dense woods near the ocean. I was traveling with friends. At the Visitor Center, we were shocked to see all the photos of cars wrecked by bears. We learned that if bears smell any food or candy or anything sweet, they stop at nothing to find and eat it.
A bear is strong enough to pull the entire rear trunk door off if that’s what it needs to do to get at the food. With these frightening photos in our minds, we arrived at our cabin in the darkening woods.
A fairytale experience, including the danger to be found in the woods
Among the redwoods there are endless magical trails that invitingly call you further and further into their embrace. To walk among the tallest trees in the world is to feel instantly like a child. You are literally dwarfed by their magnificent grandeur.
Then you remember being a child, and start chanting the little stories about children in the woods. The scenery creates a fantasy world with lush ferns and red velvety paths that wind and weave you through old groves and new.
This Alice-in-Wonderland experience starts happening inside you and before you realize it you are wiggling your body inside a natural opening in one of these massive trees. It is so much fun to play in these enchanted woods and all ages can easily enjoy its leisurely trails.
Did I mention that I was there when the rhododendrons were in full bloom? That’s when your eyes can delight at lavish lavender flowers standing out against the rusty-red bark of the redwood trees.
Next day, after hiking strenuously on several of the magical mystery trails, we all felt like going for a swim in the ocean. The trail started right from our cabin site heading to the sea, and we enjoyed how cool it was once in the dense woods. The ocean is volatile and cold this far north in California. I am always willing to swim if the sun is shining hot – so in I went through the crashing waves. I felt renewed after my plunge in the salty sea.
While I was drying off, my friends said they wanted to head back and get dinner started. I wanted to warm myself in the sun a little longer before stepping back into the cool woods.
Heading back to our cabin, I was shocked to see how dark it already was once inside the ever-deepening woods. It was even a little hard to see as night was quickly closing in. I had to watch each step. Eventually I saw the footbridge that I had to cross coming into sight.
Stepping on the wooden bridge I looked up and saw the black bear. He was at the other end of the 12-foot footbridge, staring at me, swaying back and forth. When our eyes met, my knees went weak and I stopped breathing. What was I going to do?
What would you have done? Think about it for a minute. I would love to hear your answer.
To recap: I’m alone, it’s already dark and getting seriously darker, to retreat would lead to the noisy crashing cold ocean behind me, and the only way to my cabin was across this footbridge.
What I decided to do was scream as loudly as I could. The problem was that I might only have one shot at this, and I had to struggle to gain control of my trembling voice. I forced myself to scream as loudly as I could, my voice ringing in my ears.

Now I was really terrified because I knew no one could hear me. I realized then that the bear did not appreciate my scream and was getting agitated. What to do?
I remembered what I had learned I should do in this situation: act bigger than the bear and be louder. I was afraid to back down and retreat into the noisy, dark woods along the cold ocean, where he might come after me. I had to try to intimidate the bear into backing away and letting me pass.
The bear was staring at me during these critical minutes when I was deciding what to do. I slowly removed my knapsack from my back and held it up in one hand. I planned to throw it as an offering to spare myself.
Then, summoning up all the courage I could, I started to pray in a very loud voice, asking God to get me past this bear alive. I was simultaneously stomping my feet on the wooden bridge while holding both arms up in the air so I looked as large as possible.
It worked! The bear scrambled away into some nearby bushes. Not feeling out of danger yet, I kept my eyes on the spot where he fled and continued yelling and stomping my way slowly towards my cabin.

When I threw the cabin door open, my friends said, “Fitz, are you all right? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Not surprising that I was so white in the face and breathless after that frightening encounter with that black bear in the woods!
To see some of her newest National Park Paintings, go to Woods Cove Art Gallery, 1963 South Coast Hwy or visit www.nationalparkpaintings.com.
For more information about FITZ Maurice, email fitz@fitzmauriceart.com, visit www.fitzmauriceart.com