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Excerpt

You remember the story of how Shorty Roberts and I followed that deer up onto the mountain? And how I got to thinking of my bones bleaching up there in the weather, no one knowing where we were or what had happened? Well, it almost did happen one time, and they would have been pretty well scattered, I think.

"It was getting toward the end of the hunting season. I was coming down Jervis Inlet from the camp. The weather was fine, and I got to thinking that it wouldn't be a bad idea to stop for a hunt. So as I cruised along, I kept an eye out for a likely looking spot, and pretty soon I saw just what I was looking for. There was a nice little draw going up into the mountains, and a bit farther on there was another one almost its twin. I saw that I could go up one, cross over and come down the other one. It was pretty steep, but didn't look as though it would be too hard to cross over the hump between them and get back to the boat. If I got a deer it would be an easy downhill drag to the beach. So I ran out the anchor, put a shoreline on a tree and away I went."

Father loved to explore, to go where he hadn't been before. Hunting was often just an excuse to see new country. This day was certainly one of those times. He had no need to climb a mountain to get deer. There were plenty of those to be had on much easier ground, and closer to home.

He climbed up beside the little creek that runs down every mountain valley, however small. No matter how similar they seem from a distance, they are always different and always interesting, if your mind inclines that way.

He saw lots of fresh tracks as he went along, but there was quite a bit of undergrowth and he never managed to get a look at a deer. The trees became sparse, and the ground more steep and rocky. It was time to cross over into the next valley.

He had spent more time than he should have and he knew that it would be wiser to go back down to the boat over familiar ground, but that was just what he didn't want to do. He decided to chance it. Up and over the ridge he went, down into the upper reaches of an almost identical valley. Here though, he felt he had more chance of getting a deer, for what wind there was, blew up the hill toward him. He was hunting now, moving slowly, alertly. But this takes time, and the afternoon was waning.

Then he came to a difficult spot. Here the creek streamed over a fifty foot drop, and the rocks were slick with moss and unclimbable. It took him almost an hour to pick his way up, across and down, with several false starts. Far below, the water of the inlet shone grey in the afternoon light. The sun had gone behind the mountains, for there is not much afternoon in those steep valleys in late fall.

He considered what to do. He would have liked to cross back over to the other valley. He knew the ground and would have no trouble going down it in the dark. But the ridge was steep here and might prove difficult. He didn't care for the thought of being halfway down the other side when night came. He could go farther down the valley he was in, to where the trees grew more thickly, make a fire and bed down for the night. But it was long since he had eaten, and the prospect of hot food and a warm bunk on his boat was hard to put out of his mind. He recalled that the lower part of the dividing ridge was timbered and hadn't seemed to be a difficult climb. There was sure to be a deer trail leading from one valley to the next. He decided to try it. As he got nearer the water he began to angle up onto the ridge. It was now dusk, and in the shadows it was becoming too dark to see small objects.

"Several times I almost stopped and built a fire," he said, "but each time the thought of that pot of hot stew on the stove drew me to it like a magnet. A man has to be crazy to do a thing like that, climbing over the rocks on a strange mountain in the dark. But then, being young is much like being crazy!"

So he kept going, and he got lucky. At least that's the way he put it. But I think that at a high enough level, skill can seem like good luck. At any rate, he found a distinct deer trail leading in the right direction. And just in time. Once started, full dark comes very quickly in the mountains. In a few more minutes he could see only a few feet in front of him.

"But," he said, "you don't need to see very much to follow a good deer trail. It takes the natural course and you can feel your way along it with your feet." (Well, some people might, and if anyone could, it was him.) "And," he said, "it was a good trail. Must have connected more than just those two valleys. Anyway, I was making pretty good time considering the circumstances. It wasn't completely dark. There were a few stars showing between the clouds, but there was no moon. You could tell a branch was there just before it hit you in the face.

"I'd reached the top of the ridge. There was a bit of flat ground, fairly clear of brush, but there were a lot of boulders scattered about, some of them the size of a small house. The trail led around and between them. It was an eerie sort of a place, and something about it began to get to me. In those days the woods were like home to me, but it didn't feel like home there.

"Two or three times in as many minutes, I stopped and listened. There wasn't a sound. I took in a deep breath. There was something about the air I didn't like. I took a few more steps. There still wasn't a sound, but I knew I wasn't alone. I jacked a shell into the gun and swung around. I smelled a rank smell and something loomed up over me, and I fired point-blank from the hip. The muzzle flash lit up a huge black shape reaching for me. Then, of course, I couldn't see much of anything for a few seconds. I jumped back and tripped over a blueberry bush while trying to get another shell into the chamber. Something grunted and fell heavily to the ground, making quite a bit of noise. By that time I had my back to a boulder and another round ready. I stayed still as death. There was a light air blowing across in front of me, so I knew whatever was out there couldn't scent me. I heard a few scuffling sounds and the occasional moan. I had a few matches. What I would have given for a fire! But the thing might just be waiting to see where I was, and anyway, starting a fire in the dark with nothing around but blueberry brush and hemlock, when it has been raining steadily for days, was something I wouldn't even try. Especially with some big creature I might have only wounded just a few feet away. And, it could have relatives nearby.

"So I just sat there. All night. Listening. Thinking of all the stories I'd heard since I was a kid about the monsters that live in the mountains. I don't think a night was ever that long before or since. The moans stopped after a while. I didn't know whether it had died, or recovered and was watching me, and I wasn't about to go over there and find out. A match is a poor thing to shoot by.

"I sat there for twelve hours, I figure, with the gun in front of me and my finger on the trigger, and all that time I imagined I heard noises all around me, of things sneaking up on me. It's wonderful what the imagination can do with the sound a mouse makes scuffling around in the leaves. I'll never forget that night!

"Daylight came, finally. I had just about given up on it. Never was that first faint light so welcome. The birds tell you first; you know how you hear a little chirp or two? Pretty soon you realize it isn't quite as dark as it was.

"When I could see about ten feet, I got up and stretched. Then I walked carefully over to where I figured the thing was. I don't know what I expected to see. Maybe one of those big hairy people the Indians say live in the mountains. Certainly that's what I should say it was to make a good story out of it. But I'm afraid it wasn't. I never did come across one of those, though I believe the Indians are telling the truth about them. But what it was was strange enough, though I didn't realize it at first.

"What I saw was just a big black bear lying dead on the trail. I'd been perfectly safe. My shot had broken its back. I was puzzled. Black bears don't go around hunting people. It was in good shape. Not fat, but good, shiny fur. Its eyes were closed, which was odd. Then I saw that they weren't closed. It had no eyes! At least if they were there, they were covered with a thick layer of unbroken skin. It had been born blind. How had it lived? Of course bears don't have very good sight at the best of times, but it's not as bad as some people make out. It was light enough now to see, and I walked around a bit. I saw bones. Deer bones mostly, but there was part of a bear skull. No human bones that I could see, though I'd almost left mine there. I found his den between two boulders half buried in the hillside. He had lived there for quite a while catching what came by, whatever it was-never knowing night from day. It gave me the shivers thinking of that thing waiting there listening to me coming along, and sneaking up behind me in the dark. It must have known every rock, every twig and bush on the whole flat. I often wonder how it learned what it knew. How to be silent. How it could be so silent! A deer can just about hear grass growing. How could it catch a deer? But there were a lot of deer bones. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?"

He skinned out the head and brought it back and tanned it. I can remember seeing it when I was very young. That it had no eyes didn't impress me much at that time. My mother didn't like it. When I was old enough to be interested, it had been thrown out, or lost.