After dinner I went down to the bridge to watch the evening come in. In the wilderness, you always have to keep wary for bears. As I chose which railing to look over, upstream or downstream, I thought about a bear’s mental map of these woods. A bear would know about this bridge. This bridge would be the easiest way to get from the north bank to the south. As I settled on the downstream view, I made a mental note to keep aware.
Bubbs Creek tumbled below, a roiling cataract. Lying back I watched mayflies hover in the air above. They are such abstract little living mechanisms. They would seem as edgy as wasps if we didn’t know they were harmless.
Beyond the railing, and the lofting mayflies, the trees towered up. There were cottonwoods, red and white fir, Jeffrey pine and sugar pine. Behind the trees, swooping upward on either side, were the high white walls of Sierra granite. It’s the same fabric Yosemite is cut from. Above it all a few mares’ tails of cloud twisted through the blue evening sky.
A little squirrel came out on the south end of the bridge. He evidently intended to cross. Of course this would be easier, I thought, than finding a fallen log, or leaping tree branches above the noisy torrent.
I turned to look at him.
He saw me and froze.
He could easily rush past me and get across. I would never be quick enough to catch him. I knew this. He knew no such thing. The squirrel way is caution. He can’t do much to fight.
To him, I controlled this six-foot-wide causeway. I eyed him lazily, mentally inviting him to go. I only wanted to watch.
The squirrel stood taut in his nervous standoff half a minute. Then he ducked under the upstream edge of the bridge, the opposite side from where I was. In that lazy evening, it took me awhile to realize he might be trying a route beneath the planks. I wanted to see. I swung around and looked under the edge.
Two sturdy steel I-beams ran the length of the bridge, supporting the planks. The I-beam in view was on the downstream side so, of course, no squirrel. Casually I rolled over and peered beneath the upstream edge.
The squirrel was there. He was clambering towards me along the flat that formed the bottom of the outward channel of the I-beam. At his size, it was like a sidewalk. He was not 6 feet away. He froze.
I intended him no harm, just curious.
By and by, I tried a little clucking sound with my tongue. I hoped to be encouraging.
From a creature a thousand times his size, it didn’t come across that way.
He turned tail and rocketed back the way he’d come. He scurried so fast it was comical. He did not even slow down till he was safely among the logs and granite boulders on the bank, thirty feet away.
I guess sometimes I might be the bear.