Category Archives: Discovery/Adventure

Welcome to the Black Bear

This blog post on the black bear is the first in a series of articles that will help you do some fill-in to your brain attic (see blog post…Hiking Vision-To See or Not). The brain attic is the repository of our memory that we fill with key furniture that gives us discernment.

When hiking and we look at something it is the furniture we have deposited in our brain attic that gives us the foundation to understand what we are seeing and how to respond appropriately to it. In my blog post…Have You Hiked Today, I reviewed the necessity of knowing the Fauna and Flora of the habitat you are hiking. Todays post is spot-on the key subject of both articles noted above and that being an introduction to one of the most prevalent and interesting of the Fauna (wildlife, animals) that inhabit the hiking habitats of North America, the Black Bear.

My focus in today’s blog will be on characteristics, habits and hiking in their presence. I will dig more deeply into the subject of their lifestyle and life cycle in a subsequent post. First we must understand how to respond to their presence and then we will dig into how to discover their activities and trace their presence.

The black bear is the most prevalent bear in North America.

Their population is over twice that of the combined populations of all other bear species. So, if you are going to have a bear experience, it will most likely be with a blackie. Not that all black bears are black. They come in all shades black, brown, cinnamon, blond, blue-gray, or white.

So, where will you most likely find them?…Eating. They are opportunistic eaters, meaning they take advantage of whatever is available. They are carnivores by their taxonomic order but their diet is omnivorous, meaning they eat both plants and animals. 85% of their typical diet is plant material and 15% animal protein. They are much more likely to take a kill from a weaker predator than to stalk and kill themselves. Now for your autumn hikes, know that during that time of the year they often forage 20 hours a day seeking to increase their body weight by 35% in preparation for winter. It is called hyperphagia, the gorge themselves. Salmon, whenever available, are an important food source especially in the fall since they have a high fat content.

Bears have excellent memories for food sources. They learn about food types and locations, and reapply that knowledge. So if they have found that campers have food and they leave it out frequently, guess where they will be looking. Always use bear bags when in bear country and keep especially meats high and away from your tent.

Bears have good eyesight but not the best. They have exceptional hearing and their sense of smell is seven times greater than a dog, particularly for food-related scents. They poop in piles that are usually chuck full of seeds and other plant materials. Thus their scat is very discernible from that of herbivores (plant eating animals like deer) because the bears digestives system is designed for meat protein and is very inefficient in digesting plant materials. Thus their diet is expressed in their scat.

Black bears habitat is primarily forest, forest edges, and forest clearings. They have shorter curved and sharp claws. Thus they are good at climbing trees, which they do to escape predators, to find food, sleep and rest. Their claws are excellent for shredding and taking apart decaying logs in order to reach insect colonies, small mammals, etc.

But not only are black bears good tree climbers but they can also run 30 to 35 miles per hour and do so going up or down hills.

Also of note, bears are territorial. Males will range from 10 to 60 square miles and females usually 2.5 to 10 square miles. The males mark their territories by scratching or clawing trees as high as they can reach. The highest claw marks are those of the dominant male.

So how does this help those of us that are constantly hiking in bear country to remain on the good side of these fast, hungry, tree climbing critters?

First, an aggressive black bear is very rare; a bear will defend its young or food source if it feels threatened. A startled bear most often will flee rather than confront.

But, why put yourself in a position to be checking out their paw prints in person.

What we know is that when we see their scat, you know there are bears around. If you see rotten stumps torn up, you are likely seeing relevant signs of their presence. If you see claw marks on trees, they just left you a note of their presence. They are hungry all of the time and they love berries, blooms and bugs. So, if you are in a blueberry/ huckleberry patch in the mountains, make noise and watch for their activity. They do not want to see you so let them know you are around.

Black bears wear their emotions on their big furry sleeves and you’ll see signs of distress such as jaw popping, head turning, huffing or vocalizing, or aggressive slamming of their paws on the ground. If you see this activity, they are telling you to back off. But back off does not mean run.

The “don’t do’s” in a black bear encounter where stress is expressed include:

  • Do not look the bear in the eye; this is perceived as a challenge and a sign of dominance.
  • Never turn your back to a bear. If safe to do so, slowly walk backwards and give the bear as much space as possible.
  • If you are hiking with small children, pick them up (so they don’t scream or panic).
  • Talk calmly and quietly so the bear can identify you as a human. Do your are best to diffuse the situation.

The key is to never get yourself in a situation where you have stressed a bear. They don’t want it and you don’t want it. By being aware of their presence and giving them both notice and distance, you will likely never confront these generally shy and stable critters. Hiking afraid is not the answer. Being aware of what is going on in the habitat around you both protects you and opens the opportunity to enjoy and become exposed, always at a safe distance from wildlife, in the adventure of the neighborhood.

Respect and understanding the habits and characteristics of individual wildlife is the door to both cooperation and delight. With the correct furniture in your brain attic, you will comprehend what you are seeing and know how best to respond and respect your circumstances.

From what you have learned just in this post, you know the most effective defense from a bear attack.

Your ultimate redemption from the worst of circumstances rests on your understanding of your opponent’s weakest link. The black bear has one sense that is seven times more vulnerable than that of a dog. It is through knowledge and the application of that knowledge to your circumstances that you both see with comprehension and act with understanding. Bring your bear spray and know how to use it if you are going into the valley of the bears in the spring when the cubs are out and the valley is narrow.

I hope to see you on the trails of adventure.

With Hiking Stick In Hand,

Scott

Hiking Vision-to See or Not

Before I dig into the subject of hiking vision and the ability to see the eyes of the forest that are watching you, I want to reintroduce you to a coming event.

I have not said much about the Haunt lately nor have I gotten in-depth into the process of discovery for the last few months. The Haunt, by the way, is both a location on my website that has been up, to now, empty and a bit of a magical location where Rupert Walker lives and where Dr. Jon Jonathan, his hiking companion, and scribe, hangs out. It is from the stories that Jonathan has written and will be writing, about the exploits of Rupert Walker that we will learn far more than I can teach you about the enormous delight and wonder to be found in becoming fully engaged in adventure hiking.

Jonathan will have one of his first narratives available in coming weeks. I am presently doing some prep work to assist (Editor Work) in getting the first adventure published. “Published” does not mean, at this stage, going public but because of the ties to my work on adventure hiking, Dr. Jonathan is developing each narrative for us with an attachment that will demonstrate the tools of the process used by Rupert to record his discoveries and the discovery methodology. These will be available on our website. I will keep you posted.

I will also post on the website and in the Haunt section an introduction to Dr. Jonathan and his chance meeting with Rupert Walker. It will introduce you to the two men and give you a glimpse of what is coming.

But the question before us is: Hiking vision, the concept of seeing? When you get into discovery hiking from the perspective of what Rupert sees as compared to what I see or you see we will discover that we really don’t see well at all.

And the reason we don’t see well is that we have not trained our eyes to focus. To train our eyes to focus means we have trained our brains to focus and therein lies the issue.

Our brains are like an attic’s content or furniture. The attic’s furniture are those things we have taken in from life and that we’ve experienced in our lives. Our memories. Our past. So when we see something our knowledge base and experience and discipline come together to decipher what we are looking at. And that is where purpose must come into the development of our attic’s furniture to construct the content and the habit of seeing.

I have, in earlier articles, spoken about the necessity of asking in our minds the: who, what, when, where…questions as we experience events through our five senses while hiking.

Asking questions such as, what is going on about me? Who made that noise? What did I just hear? Where did that movement come from? And who or what is there? Asking those questions is a habit that you must develop to start seeing what is happening about us.

Our attic needs content to apply the questions in context to the activity we are sensing. Thus my advocacy in the “Have You Hiked Today” blog post about your getting to know the fauna and flora that live in the habitat you are hiking.

This knowledge base is critical to your truly seeing what is before you. I know this is an elephant to eat but by doing it purposely and one bite at a time you will build an amazing system in your attic with furniture that will fit together and give you incredible insight. This insight into what you are seeing happens because you experience events or activity in the context of what you understand or know about them. So as you build content and have relational experiences through your senses in the context of your knowledge about the object, you strengthen the process of analysis and your understanding and seeing.

For example, you are hiking and the wind is coming at our face and all of a sudden you smell something putrid. If you are unfamiliar with the flora and fauna, your first thought will likely be something is dead up ahead. You have discovered in the past that dead things stink. However, if you are familiar with the inhabitants of the habitat you are hiking, you are aware that there are brown bears about and you know that brown bears often roll in rotting and putrid things to disguise their scent. You, all of a sudden, will see in your mind a different alternative that has very different implications.

Another example is the squirrel in my blog post “Listening To Your Hike“.

If you aren’t familiar with the activity of squirrels, you would not know that they get active with chatter when something new or concerning is wandering through the neighborhood and that they can also go berserk with chatter when in danger. I saw or comprehended that the chatter was unusual and, by being present but not manifest, I was able to introduce myself into the scene and see the great horned owl that was the object of “Mr. squirrel’s” anxiousness. It is about having the content in the attic to fit the context of the moment. And this builds in your attic exponentially as you experience more seeing. The events while hiking start relating together and insight becomes almost instant as you see the signs before you.

It is all about taking your hiking to the next level and being purposeful in developing your brain attic. By chucking out the irrelevant furniture and adding the relevant furniture we can develop a keen sense of seeing that will open the door to whole new experiences in your hike.

Check out the Haunt for an introduction to Rupert and Dr. Jonathan.

I hope to see you on the trails of adventure.

With hiking stick in hand,

Scott

Have you hiked today?

This is the question that elicits our desire not only to say yes I have hiked today, but also to tell our story.

We are a community of comrades bound by our love for the out-of-doors and particularly that of hiking, backpacking, trekking, etc.

As many of you know already, my particular niche in this wonderful lifestyle is adventure or discovery hiking.

It is to that end that my hiking this last week has been focused on what I originally thought was trail riders (horse people tramping the trails). I was aware that there were some range mules roaming the thousands of acres of open country where I was hiking but their presence was not apparent except for the find of an occasional neck bell. These critters apparently often have large bells attached around their neck to make their presence known.

During my last two hikes this week, I was, as always, asking myself what I was seeing, hearing, smelling, etc.

Continually striving to perceive what was going on around me. One of the inquiries that often open my mind to seeing more clearly is to ask myself what is incongruous about what I am seeing. I had been hiking  two days this wee and seeing lots of horse signs but what I was not seeing was man signs. Not only no man signs but the horse travel was often through brush and in areas not normal for the trail riders.

My prior supposition, based on little to no evidence, was that the occasional bell sounds usually far off were the singular ringing of a small band of range mules. My proper deduction should only have been that there were range mules in the area with no hypothesis as to their number, their activity, etc.

This week I went off trail, which is my particular delight in hiking and particularly in investigating the activity in the habitat. I followed a spoor of prints so obvious and plentiful that you would trip over them. As I came around a blind of trees I saw movement. One of the key principles in adventure hiking is to be present but not manifest. So I dress in colors that blend with the habitat that includes my pack, hat and shoes. I am cognizant of the noisemakers in my hiking and I am constantly asking what am I hearing, seeing, perceiving, smelling, etc. Over time I have found that the questioning becomes a behind the scene activity taking place in my head and almost unconsciously. I am often even aware of the wind direction.

As I was following the tracks before me I saw a slight movement, which at first I could not discern. It was 6:30 AM and I was in a relatively heavily wooded area so it was dusk like. As I watched and waited a large mule appeared, it was grazing within 40 feet me. As I was taking a picture, which turned out quite indistinct due to my turning off the flash, I saw further movement behind the mule. To my delight I was in the midst of some 20 to 30 mules and horses milling about in a treed area. I did not hear a single ding or jingle.

After taking some further pictures, I passed on intending to revisit the site later in the day. After further review of the trails throughout the area, most of which were shared both by the equus caballus (horse/mule) and the mule deer, the evidence further demonstrated that it was a rare occurrence that trail horses were ridden in this area. Most all this activity was from a range version of a solid-hoofed plant-eating domesticated mammal with a flowing mane and tail.

It is in this arena of seeing, not just looking, that is so important as we hike the hills with the purpose of entering into the activity about us.

There were two distinct clues as to what I was looking at that I did not immediately see. Part of that takes place in us because we often don’t spend time studying Ethology…the study of animals and their behavior in their natural environment and Botany…the study of plants. I am here not talking about some formal education but that of being aware (studying up a bit) on the animals that live in the habitat we are hiking and also understanding the various plant types and their interrelationship (who eats what). For example, when I am hiking in an area that I am aware that porcupines live, and I hike in the early morning (porcupines are largely nocturnal but often feed in the early morning) I am automatically looking for signs of porcupines. If I see small fresh prints in an area where there are willow or similar deciduous stands of trees about or I see fresh nibbles on new shoots of low greens or grunt sounds, I am likely seeing the signs of a porcupine. By following the grunts or prints you may just be invited to observe their breakfast meal that is if you can be present but not manifest. It is also a great help if you have a basic animal prints and scat chart with you for reference.

The two signs I alluded to above were first that the hoof prints did not display any sign of shoes (horse shoes). The second, as I noted earlier, was that nowhere were their signs of man associated with the hoof prints. I found no shoe or boot prints, no paper or other associated debris or signs. Lastly, the movement through heavily brushed or treed trails with downfalls etc. isn’t the pattern for the normal trail rider.

The goal is to think through all of the alternatives to what you are seeing. Eliminate all that are not confirmed, and likely the remaining alternative is the correct one.

If you keep working on your seeing, your evaluating, and your discerning, you will likely enter into a world of activity heretofore unavailable to your past hiking experience. The eyes of the forest are watching but it is to our cunning to discover who they are and what they are up to. This is what hiking is all about for me.

I hope to meet you on the trails of adventure.

With hiking stick in hand,

Scott