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Mother Nature

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“All the beasts of the neighbourhood had made a league to destroy me . . . some fortune was disposed to amuse herself at my expence.”
~Meriwether Lewis, June 14, 1805


I am certain that this day will ever remain pungently humorous in my memory. So little have I been fortunate enough to live through a day without the assault of melancholy which promises to remain indefinitely, however much I resolve to oppose it, and remove it from my mentality. But I’m afraid that this old friend of mine (a veritable devil, if you will) has remained faithful in the daily visits, which I allegedly dread.

So, I did resolve to set out from camp, gun slung over the shoulder and espontoon in my hand. The instant I set to walking from the society my company, my senses became assaulted by the effect nature tends to have on me. It is a kind of provocativeness, a mesmerizing whisper that curls around my senses and lures me into the trees, down a pathless slope as I push my way through the bramble, and let the wilderness permeate my senses. The shrill call of birds, the rustle of wind raising my hair . . . oh, it is almost sinful, this invisible cord that binds me to Mother Nature herself. This particular morning, I pursued the cataracts of the Great Falls, which I had encountered the day before. My heart had never before risen to such a height, as I plunged deeper and deeper into the warm solitude of the wilderness, this darling heartland that fondled with me with a wind or a pleasing sight. I exhaled softly, shouldering my rifle, as I strode on, up a crest to its pinnacle, where I stood and surveyed the roaring beauty of the Falls. My heart must have soared then, must have raised from my chest and sang. And I knew my lips had curved into a blissful expression, I at a loss for words, almost unable to breathe. The whole moment prolonged for what seemed an eternity, the thrill racing through me repeated and intense.

Here I stood, on the crest of earth, more powerful than the greatest monarch who breathed at that moment. I am certain that my pride and satisfaction surpassed even Napoleon’s.

I proceeded into the narrow valley that ran between the base of this bluff and the river, my feet sliding and tripping almost. I confess, I was so absurdly rapturous that I might have spun down with childish glee.

Then came the oddities, so peculiar, so ridiculous, that I am often given to question the reality of that afternoon. First came the bear.

I had happened upon a buffalo, a humped beast which had the intuition to raise its head when I approached, but sank to the ground after I had fired a bullet into its brain. It did not oppose me, did not in any way attempt to avoid prospective death. I almost smiled at its dullness, as I might have at a dull-witted man. For this day I had become one with nature, and even the creatures living in the wilderness seemed individuals, of their own accord and personality. I imagined myself to communicate with them, I seemed to say to this buffalo, with a slight shake of my head, that he had best lie down and let death come. At the same time, pity surged alongside this derision. I stooped, brushed my hand along its woolly coat, and fingered the smooth short horns as I listened to the birdsong.

I pride myself on my cool-headedness in a dire situation. I made no exception now when I heard a horrible roar at my back and turned my head, to glance askance at the image of a monstrous bulk, plowing its way towards me through the reedy grass. My hand went instinctively to my gun, when in a flash I realized I had left it unloaded. Fool. No time to reload it now. I clutched for the last resort, my espontoon, which I had momentarily laid aside on the ground. At the same time I mentally calculated my chances of escape. My eye darted from a nearby tree, to the bear. No. That would be an impossible attempt.

I caught a glimpse of the river through the trees. And then I returned my gaze to this grizzly. It had been gradually approaching me, lumbering on all four legs with a certain caution that made me wary. Any moment it would start to rush upon me. And then I would be lying on the ground beside the buffalo, prostrated for the sake of this beast’s repast. My body sprang into action before I could think another minute. Heavens, no! I had no intention of dying this day, no intention whatsoever. With long strides I ran, my lungs like to burst as I crashed into the rushing water, the current swirling against my legs as I waded farther in. Then I pivoted around, trying desperately to maintain balance. The bear had lumbered to the bank, its small eyes fastened upon me, as it attempted to make up its mind as to whether it ought to follow. It decided to, its sides rippling as it rushed into the water.

My mind whirred for an answer, a solution . . . there had to be something I could do to prevent an early death. I still had to reach the Pacific, and then the trip homeward . . . Hell’s fire, how could I die now? My espontoon nearly slipped from my slackened clasp, and I groped for it. I raised it. And I pointed it directly at the bear. The creature froze, its eyes moving from the espontoon, to me, and back again. I lifted my arm, so that the espontoon’s point could have pierced the bear’s skull, had it dared to step nearer. It apparently had no wish to dare. It must have seen the fire in my eyes, perhaps the image blazoned in them of a brandished spear directed into the bear’s own flesh. A tide of audacity rolled through me, and I took an insane step forward. “Fiend,” I whispered; my voice quivered as did the silent air around, the bear staring at me in shock. Yes, the shock in its beady eyes was ludicrous. I did not laugh at the moment—laughter would have crowned the madness riveting in my gaze. The bear swung around, and fled. I watched it, amazed and greatly amused.
I could not account for the bear’s behavior, though I supposed incredulously that it had been so startled by the confrontation, whereas before it had always lunged upon a small creature cowering in resignation, waiting for death to come. I had no intention of waiting. But my rationale scorned that idea. In short, I could not persuade my common sense to accept the probability that the bear had been terrified. At any rate, I strode out of the water, the water chilling me from the waist down, as I sat down on a rock. O, indeed . . . my mind had been considerably brightened by the experience, if anything could be said at all.




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