Wilderness Day Spa

American Black Bear

American Black Bear

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The answer is: “Yes, bears do it in the woods.” My wife I saw one … ugliest thing ever.

As I paddled the in the bow of our 16-foot Grumman aluminum canoe, Honey panicked in the stern. We plummeted through a trough of abuse called the upper Verde River canyon. The gushing torrent below Perkinsville splashed high on the red and gray limestone walls. White, crusty deposits marked the high water splatters on the cliff above our heads. I could hear only the hollow grumble of water against stone and the freakish screams of a corporate American woman brand-new to outdoor adventure. Her office chair gripped her fanny far better than the slick metal seat of our cigar-shaped boat. She slid side to side while her feet danced wildly on the canoe floor. Her hands gripped a wooden paddle as if it meant her life. She paddled the air above her head with grace and precision.

“This is NOTHING like my day spa,” she yelled, rebutting the promise I had made to get her on board… “Just so you know!” she yelled.

The swift current shoved us to our left and we scraped the gray, curving wall. We left a fine, silver line etched on the side of the trough alongside the marks of other canoes, like signing a book at the entrance of a high-class party.

I looked ahead and saw a huge black bear spinning in tight circles on an outcropped grassy ledge 10 feet above the water. He circled with his nose low, back hunched and eyes intent on the ground where he danced in precisely the same posture my dachshund had adopted every morning for three years. I knew the dance well. I knew why he spun, but I couldn’t change the course of the boat.

The water bounced us off the left cliff and shot us to the right. The bear completed his circle dance and ended with his butt hanging over the water. We rocketed straight for him. I heard the moment Honey saw the bear.

“BUTT,” she screamed, far too late.

Obviously, the bear had gorged itself on prickly pears and juniper berries. The wort had fermented in his intestinal track until it became a sour mash suitable for the distillation of some new booze we could call Wild Canyon Cactus Gin. If only we had brought a distiller.

His black bobbed tail stood erect and prickly berry bear trots poured toward our canoe as we dashed under at the speed of rushing water.

The line of splattering mash started an inch behind my seat. It flowed wildly over the ice chest and across our packs. My Marlin lever action 30-30 laying across the packs took a direct hit. The line of mash continued into Honey’s milk crate full of boots: She’d brought four pair in case she stepped in poop.

Honey tried to hide behind her canoe paddle. She raised it high to block the onslaught, but the mash stream ricocheted off the angled paddle directly into her face and hair. She smacked the big black butt with her ore as she washed by, her face packed with wild river bear mash.

The bear turned swiftly and I saw the power of the Black Bear. He jumped 10 feet straight up to a tiny rock shelf, grabbed it with his front paws, then bound another 10 feet skyward and ran over the cliff top. I will never again think of a bear as a clumsy oaf.

I back-paddled, trying to land our boat and to relieve the moaning, groaning and gnashing of teeth. But the slope steepened and the water picked up even more speed. We slid through three miles of the steep canyon sluice in what seemed like 10 minutes.

At the bottom, the river widened and the water shallowed. We found our way to a sand bar. Honey’s face pack had dried to a hard crust except for the swath of clean around her mouth illustrating the length of her tongue.

“See Honey, just like at the day spa!” I said of her crusty facial as I picked up my lever action Marlin and began to clean the dried bear mash from the open sights. The fight started right then.

I learned a lesson for lifelong happiness: When wife and gun suffer a crappy morning, forget the gun.

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