Our lows are in the forties now—great sleeping weather!—and the first yellow lines lace the leaves like veins in a body. In two weeks gigantic splashes of yellow (aspens) and persimmon (serviceberry) will splash the hillsides as if a greater power had a temper tantrum with a handful of crayons. Random groves of flame-tipped aspens will flambouyantly overshadow everything.
While my literary agent shops my latest manuscript I’m preparing for what comes next—a season of snow and cold—just like my four-legged friends. About the best that can be said for winter here is that we have beautiful powder for skiing and snowboarding. For the mere mortals among us, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing draw us outdoors.
Thanks to one of the best mushroom-foraging seasons in years I have enough dried porcini and hawkswing to flavor soups throughout the winter. I’ll make a fine sherry-based porcini gravy to serve with our Thanksgiving tenderloins, feeling absolutely no guilt that turkey and I have finalized our divorce, and I no longer have to serve the bird.
I returned from the fishing tournament a couple of weeks ago, victorious with a chinook that was half-a-pound heavier than my daughter’s largest.
In true Big-Fish-Goddess fasion I landed the salmon, and its smaller friend, in the last thirty minutes of the competition. (As the tournamnet master weighed the winning fish, I distinctly heard my daughter say something unladylike before erupting in somewhat maniacal, hysterical laughter.) But she boated a thirty-eight-pound halibut—like hauling a Steinway grand from a trench deep on the ocean floor while praying that a shark doesn’t take it for a snackiepoo—so claimed bragging rights in the bottom-dweller division.
Bear activity here has reached peak proportions, and I never step into the garden without checking first for a hungry predator. The spots on the fawns are fading, and every doe looks exhausted. I stopped spraying Deer Off a couple of weeks ago, welcoming them to gorge themselves in my garden as they brace for a tough winter.
I’m riding Penelope twenty miles a week—she’s quite popular with the Farmers Market crowd—and golf is a great way to take advantage of a beautiful season in a magnificent place. (I’m thankful.) Next week my fly-fishing guide, who became a close friend so long ago that he’s family now, and I will end the season with our traditional meatloaf sandwiches, Fritos, and pumpkin cookies. We’ll be the boat of semi-geezers, catching and releasing loads of trout, peeping at the changing leaves, laughing at the noises we now make as we struggle with a fish or the oars.
A sow bear in Alaska wants me. Local fishing guides call her Nasty Pants. I call her something much worse.
Our first encounter was five years ago. I was minding my own business while fishing for trophy trout at Brooks Falls in the Katmai Wilderness. Nasty Pants came barreling around a large willow stand, huffing and teeth-clacking and making a spectacle of herself.
Of course, her spectacle was nothing compared to mine as I splashed through chest-deep water at an all-time high. My wading boots were five sizes too large. Clown shoes.
During our little introduction a 27-inch rainbow took my fly. The line went into the backing as I battled fish and current. Nasty Pants did a territorial-bear dance, marking me as her own. I didn’t know whether to watch the bear, work the fish, or drown. I told the guide to cut the line.
“But that’s a 27-inch bow!”
“I don’t care about the bow. The bears, specifically that one—” I nodded toward Nasty Pants, who was grinning “—are flipping me out. Cut the line!”
“But—” he started.
“Cut it or I drop your rig,” I said, giving him the Mom Look of Death.
He cut the line. I breast-stroked (actually, it was more of a spastic, waving sprint) through the river, then crawled through the mucky wetlands while loudly insulting Nasty Pants’ mother. Then I vowed never to return to Brooks River or Falls.
Two weeks ago I returned to . . . wait for it! . . . Brooks River and Falls. My husband, a very adventurous lunatic, was eager to fish it again. I had caught my trophy trout on the Qvichak River so agreed to accompany him. I would bear watch during the morning and read at the lodge that afternoon. He and the guide could do manly things while holding fly rods and running from bears.
From a viewing platform I watched watched bears eat and fight and loll. A trio of anglers—silly men—downriver were triangulated by the animals, pinned in place for thirty minutes armed with bear spray and eau du fear.
Then a big, ill-tempered blonde bear ambled into view. I looked at her. She looked at me. I recognized her. She thought I was dessert.
She wandered around the viewing platform, planning her menu. A group of bears decided that the end of the bridge was a great spot for a nap. Nasty Pants settled down beneath us, and I pondered my exceptional ability to levitate as the bears blocked the bridge. When they awakened and while Nasty Pants was distracted by a silver salmon, we scooted across the bridge. I glanced over my shoulder several times to ensure that Nast Pants wasn’t faster than me, and then walked faster all the way to the lodge.
Once at the lodge I pulled out my iPad, propped my wading boots (that fit this time) on the lip of the fire pit, and settled in with a good suspense novel. Every once in a while I’d see a park ranger scurry past outside, rushing toward someone have a bear moment. Happily, it wasn’t me.
Just after three, our DeHavilland beaver floatplane lifted off from the smooth surface of Brooks Lake. I know that the big blonde bear standing on the bank was sad to see me go.