Friday, July 11, 2014

Return To The Woods

Out in the woods, on the slope of a valley, two technicians work. They're trying to get some vegetation sampling done, in spite of the humidity. Not to mention the crew is short-handed, so they're covering extra work, on top of the extra extra work they've opted to do. As the gnats swarm around, and it proves annoyingly difficult to determine how much of the ground cover is live plants with the different levels of shrubs and trees coming into play, the two wonder what the heck they're doing.

"We're almost done with this array, at least," said the first, older, little chunkier, dark, straight hair thinning on top, but getting annoyingly long on the sides and front.

"Yeah, do you, do you think you want to do more tomorrow?" said the other, roughly the same height as the first, perhaps a inch shorter, sandy blonde hair wisely buzzed short.

"If we can. Have to see how the weather plays out, but if it doesn't rain, and the capture's aren't crazy, I think we can manage it."

"OK, that's sounds good. Yeah, they're talking about rain tomorrow afternoon, but we might be able to squeeze a couple in first."

Across the valley from the techs is another array. The two already took care of the veg sampling there, on their way to this one. The arrays are three walls of aluminum, standing knee-high, set in a "Y" around a bucket set in the ground. It's from that direction the two hear an abrupt, loud bang. Something crashing into metal. Both heads snap up and peer in that direction, but the other array is at a higher elevation, so they don't see a thing.

"Careful over there! We don't want to have to retrench that thing, ya know!" the older tech exclaimed. "That's all we need, to have to do more digging."

"Probably just a deer. They trip over those things all the time."

"Yeah, could be a bear, though. We aren't far from where Kyle got approached by that bear last year." The older tech looks across the valley and shouts, "Hey, while you're there, could ya grab my hand rake and bring it over here?"

"It'll still be there when we get done here."

"Unless that's a raccoon over there. Probably steal it, add to the collection of stakes and Sherman traps. But yeah, it's no big deal, just bugs me I forgot it."

The work continues, slowly. The two keep getting distracted, discussing Mel Brooks' films (the younger tech is a Philistine who's never seen Spaceballs), the World Cup (the older tech knows zilch about soccer, but his coworker's enthusiasm is infectious), the name of Achillies' sidekick. Eventually, they finish. As they gather their tools to leave, they turn to see a bear, sitting patiently. It's not a massive bear, only a black bear, between 2 or 3 hundred pounds, though that's large for this neck of the woods, but the rake looks like a salad as it rests in his jaws. The younger tech is stunned, unsure of what to do. The older tech is surprised, but strangely calm. Even he is surprised that he isn't more nervous, but the bear seems calm, so he figures he might as well be calm, too.

"Hey, my rake. Thanks a bunch." He walks forward, but the bear leans back a bit. "Oh come on, you went to the trouble to come over here with it. Are you just in the mood for keepaway?" He turns to the other tech. "Hold up your hands, see if he'll toss it to you."

"Is this really how we should handle a bear approaching us?"

"You want to try and scare it, see how that works out?"

"No," He raises his hands, motioning for the bear to toss the rake. The bear tilts its head, but doesn't otherwise react. "Now what?"

"Howzabout a trade? I don't have any food - and we aren't supposed to give bears food anyway, sorry! - but I'm sure we have something."

"We can't give him work equipment!" the younger tech hisses.

"We can if it's something we can replace easily. I'll just say I lost it in the woods, and no one will no different if you keep your mouth shut about it."

"Why not just say you lost the rake?"

"I can't say that, the bear is clearly standing right there with it in his mouth. Let's see, you want a compass? See, tells you which direction you're going."

The bear snorts.

"Yeah, probably useless to a bear, with bear senses." He proceeds to rummage through his bag. "We've got a stapler, a marker, want a hand magnifying lens?"

The bear settles more firmly on its haunches, and folds its paws across its chest.

"Real bargain hunter, aren't you? Look, I told you I can't give you food. Can't give you this canopy tube either, not that I know what you'd do with it. Pardon me a moment." The tech removes a red handkerchief from his pocket, meaning to blow his nose, but notices the bear's attention pick up. "You want the handkerchief? Well, it's a nice one. My dad gave it to me. I haven't used it since the last time I washed it. You really want it?"

The bear drops the rake, and bats it casually in the the tech's direction with one swipe of its paw. The tech holds the handkerchief out at arms' length. The bear calmly leans forward and plucks it from his hand with its teeth. It then rises, turns, and walks off on all fours, without so much as a snort or growl for a fare thee well. The older tech turns to the younger.

"And you were worried about me giving up field equipment!"

"What does it want with that?"

"How should I know? Got my rake back, got to meet a bear up close, and didn't get mauled. And now I'm done working for the day! Let's get out of here."

A few weeks later. . .

"Now describe this thief to me again," the sheriff said, slight irritation creeping into his voice.

The man mulled it over, rubbing his chin whiskers. "Well, I couldn't see his whole face. He was wearing a handkerchief across it like a bandanna. But he must have had a big nose, the bandanna was really stickin' out there."


"Oh he was so hairy. A big beard, bushy eyebrows, hair all over his arms and chest." This was uttered by a very flustered lady standing next to the man. "And he was having a hard time staying on his feet. He was bowlegged, and swaying around a lot. I think he was on meth."

"Might be, he wasn't making much sense with his words," the man agreed.

"OK, well, we'll determine that when we catch him. Now what did you say he took?"

"Waaal, he took our picnic basket of course. And the cooler full of beer. And the barbecue grill."

"He's probably going to sell the grill for more meth!"

"Well, if he tries to sell the grill, it won't be hard to find him. Not that many places to sell one of those around here. If he tries to steal it. I'll be sure to keep you folks informed if we pick up any leads."

"What's this coming to, where druggies can show up and rob family outings! It's just awful, I tell you!"

"Yes ma'am, it's very sad, but try not to worry. This is a pretty rare occurrence, so I'm sure we'll be able to find the culprit. He's not likely to take his goods back to a cave."

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