Bear Dance pt 3: The Last Showdown –
Part III: The Bear Dance
Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a three-part series. Click here for part 1 and for part 2
July 28 – 8 a.m. – My cell phone rang. It was Ray. “Hey – I got a call last night from my neighbor – he’s camping at site 66, just above us. He said “BEAR!” Came around 4 a.m. He says they tried to yell at it, but it completely ignored them. So they shot fireworks at it … That’s all they had. He said he thought there might be two. They saw the little one. I have the chickens and the pontoon boat – what’s the plan?
“Robin, mom and I will meet you at State Bridge at 11 am. We’ll go cook some chickens. Anyone staying with you tonight? You’re going to have bears.
“Yeah I know. No volunteers yet. It’s going to be fine. Lots of people are coming. It’s going to be fun. I’m not worried. Meet at the dock.”
RJ and I broke camp on Wednesday. Ray was still inside. His plan was to barbecue today, stay overnight, then break up camp, load up the supplies, and leave in the morning. Our on-site reservation ended at 11am the next day.
11:00. Robin, my mom and I set out from Watertown and met Ray at the boat launch on Lower Saranac, packed for a day trip to the chicken barbecue to celebrate Ray’s birthday. The planned route for the day ran through my head as we drove. 3 hours of toasted smoke wafting through the woods. Carry 3 sites above us. Ray for the night. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. I was under wrapped. I sighed to myself. I’ll take care of that later.
Ray had the pontoon boat, a yeti full of chicken pieces, four bags of charcoal, and three gallons of our family’s Cornell Chicken Marinade.
We had a bacon-wrapped venison roast stuffed with onion that I had pre-cooked the night before, a platter of my mom’s stuffed eggs and all the fixins for a berry whipped birthday dessert. Plus a surprise gift for my brother, unveiled at the ramp.
We have had many barbecues in the camps over the years. No matter the menu or the season, one factor is constantly eating “Chez Bull Rush Bay” – the wind. It’s a culinary camp challenge. How many times had a planned mid-afternoon “meal” happened late, or later, when hungry guests waited and watched as we struggled against the wind. I had devised a solution.
Several years earlier, I had made my brother a 3ft x 3ft grill grate designed to fit the Bull Rush Bay chimney. Fabric grid surface, reinforced mesh frame, sturdy wooden handles carved from trekking poles that kids had cut and carved at camp and saved over the years. The wooden handles char a little more with each use, but remain cool to the touch so the grill can be lifted from the front, allowing cooks to take care of the fire. It’s sturdy and rustic, built to meet Camp Chef’s demands for any Bull Rush Bay feast.
My response to the wind was a 3ft x 3ft grid blanket; Half inch plywood, iron wood bolted side bars, large grill glove friendly handshake cut out front – I had my hands free “Bull Rush Bay 2018- Bears- Wind- Fish – The Monroes “on top with a Dremel in my shop. It would retain the smoky heat and keep out the wind. Ray hugged his approval. We loaded, embarked and sailed up the lake.
We met Margaret at the locks. She gave an update on the bear.
“Yeah… They’ve been busy. Around Hungry Bay, they think they saw 2 large and a smaller one. The ECOs entered, but they did not spot any. Heard gunshots last night, fireworks, maybe? It looked like they were almost 67 years old around there.
We exchanged more information about the bears as she helped us maintain the locks. We invited her to our barbecue. She smiled and walked past. We arrived at camp, docked the boat, and waded ashore.
It was shortly after noon. We are right to work. We had pre-cut a good stack of hardwood splits. We lit the fire – a bed of charcoal, augmented with charcoal. Our blend of grilled meats.
Family and friends arrived in small waves. Ray carried some. Others came on their own. The chickens went on to 2, with the roast. Somewhere along the way, a platter of sausage-stuffed zucchini and cheese-stuffed mushrooms were added to the mix.
Our new covered grill worked great! My Robin was the camp sous chef, lifting the lid as I tended the chickens, coating layers of sizzling smoke sauce with each turn. My mother, the camp matriarch, supervised and sampled my grill work from her camp chair behind me.
People came, the wine corks popped, the table filled, the spirits flowed. The roast venison appetizer came out at 3:30 p.m. Ray came over and helped turn the chickens between trips. He added charcoal, painted chickens, chatted with the guests. We watched the smoke rise through the woods
“You’re going to have bears tonight.”
“Yeah, I know.”
I turned and nodded to Robin – “You have one now – I’m staying.”
I was not thrilled for one night. I had only brought enough preparation for the day. Ray’s wife, Patty, had not yet entered. He put her in the cell.
“Hey, can you take Dick 4 Starbucks?” I think there are some on the shelf. He spends the night but does not have enough formula.
My sister-in-law Doc and my loving wife RN protested against my choice of nutritional supplement. I laughed.
“I survived 8 weeks and a Fort Benning wake-up call to nicotine and coffee from the MRE canteen. I think I’ll survive the next 24 hours on Starbucks in a box. “
Ray went to look for Patty and another boat full of guests at the entrance. I turned to Robin.
“Aren’t you mad if I stay?” I cannot be who I am and leave my brother alone here.
She nodded. “I knew you were staying the minute we left the house this morning. He will have bears tonight. You are his brother. Here, take my hoodie. You will need it.
WORLD RECORD!!!! At exactly 4 p.m. Mom sampled the chicken and declared it ready. We ate on time. My grill cover is gone.
We ditched the grill. People ate in waves, corks popped, spirits flowed. At one point, people played water volleyball in the bay. The cake came out, the candles lit, a “Happy Birthday” chorus echoed in the woods.
Dinner and Show – As the evening began to slowly descend and the guests enjoyed the cake – I performed my best bear dance to enthusiastic applause. He arrived late. Those who sailed on board sailed while the lower locks were still open. I said goodbye, and Ray took mom and Robin to the state bridge. They took the grill, the grill cover, all the rubbish. What was left of the chicken was going out with Patty.
I climbed onto my rock and took an imposing position – soaring eagle, surprised cougar, one-legged bow hunter – I sounded the horn, long and loud. People applauded, people laughed – everything was in agreement.
“You’re going to have bears tonight.”
A small group stayed. The last glass of wine has filled up. As dusk descended, guests demanded an encore performance – I lead a singing bear dance along. Armed with dog dishes, pots and pans, we danced, danced and sang around the fire.
Then they all left. Ray transported the last guests and family across the lake as I cleaned up the camp, sprayed ammonia, put out the first warnings, built a bonfire, prepared for the night.
9:30 p.m. The wind had calmed down. Night sets in. I shined the spotlight on Ray as he docked the boat. We armed air horns, placed “bear bombs” beside us outside the lean-to, threw logs on the fire, we settled down. I held the spotlight. Ray read by a headlamp.
Something crossed my chest, along my arm in front of Ray’s head. I hit him with the projector – a mouse that rushes. I remarked to my brother, “The mouse just ran across my chest and down my arm. I bet if we did a survey people would rather face a bear than this mouse.
NOTE: I would later have been categorically right. The Hierarchy of Fear post-camp surveys clearly showed – MOUSE! cheated on BEAR! Just for the record, the big spider too. Although… I wonder… I never took refuge in Ray’s living room in response to a big spider. Or smile.
At 10:30 am I scanned the camp with the spotlight. THE! Right behind my big rock, overlooking the coolers – two green circles peek out behind the trunk of a big hemlock.
“Ray-Bear. Up there on the hill. Behind the hemlock. We watch. “
Ray got up and walked out of the lean-to. “Yeah, got it.”
The bear didn’t seem very worried. I don’t know how long he’s been there watching us, waiting, biding his time over the coolers, planning his next move. Ray tried to take a photo while I held the projector – but it was too dark.
Spotlight on him, the template was in place. The bear came out from behind the hemlock on all fours, standing on the rock where I had played not much earlier.
Ray grabbed a cedar branch bear bomb, I maneuvered an air horn.
“Alright, ready?” “Yeah.” “On the count of three.”
“ONE TWO THREE…..”
Ray Bear bombed the fire. I blew the air horn. A surprised black bear danced through the night.
Photo of the bear by Jeff Nadler / Almanack archive