“Tad or Dat?”

Does that ring a bell?

I suppose you have to be in your mid to late 40s at least to have that question mean anything to you. “M or W?” might be more familiar to a younger crowd, though I don’t know if determining first server is still done the same way- by spinning a racket in your hand, or spinning it and letting it fall, then asking partner whether they choose up or down. I haven’t played tennis in ages. (click images for larger pic)

Wilson is still around and going strong, but the T.A. Davis corporation of California ain’t making rackets anymore, to my knowledge.

Remember when every respectable garage had a Jack Kramer or two hanging over the workbench? I found one at our place here in Hamilton, still in the old wooden frame.

Owen will play with his oversize-head Wilson he ordered on Amazon, but I’ll take the Jack Kramer and teach him a lesson.

Except for a few cracks, the local courts here are in pretty good shape. There’s Owen waiting for my blistering forehand, with Hamilton cross-country-club kids passing behind him.

Owen has had no formal tennis training, beside a time or two in PE class. I can see he’d be pretty good with practice. Still, I can whup him using my McEnroeesque drop shots, just when he’s expecting another powerful back-court volley.

Tennis, like golf, is almost a perfect sport, at least in the sense that there is no one to blame but yourself for errors. And you can’t blame the conditions, as both players have to deal with the same weather, sun angle, wind and distractions.

I made the mistake of playing a set with O in the midday sun, and then going to pick-up soccer the same evening. I could have confined myself to bed for the next two days.

O. had his first soccer game with the Bitterroot Valley Hawks on Saturday. What’s there to tell besides we got creamed 14 to 1. Ours is a co-ed team and we were beat by an all-boys team. (to my Seattle readers: I certainly am not implying that gender had anything to do with our loss, which can be attributed to us having only 2 subs and Helena Christian academy having 7).

I was thinking, given the large size of the field, better opponent, slow grass, and midday August sun, that Owen, playing striker and waiting for our defense and midfield to work the ball upfield, wouldn’t see the ball much. I was wrong, though. By my count, he had a solid 14 chances to touch the ball, maybe more.

Hawks fans. And Helena’s fans quarantined behind the fence.

Allen takes a halftime nap.

Finally in the second half we had some chances, playing against Helena’s benchwarmers. O had a couple good chances right in front of the goal. The parents around me screamed, “Go, Owen!” but he was exhausted and couldn’t gather enough strength to give it a good strike. He had 3 such chances and failed to convert. On the 4th try, he made a good short pass to left midfielder, who relayed it to our defender who came up for the attack, and we put one in. Achieving one legitimate goal is so much nicer than getting skunked!

Bad News Hawks after a tough but well- fought loss. Look behind the mountains at the billows of smoke in the distance mountains. That’s the 3-mile fire that’s been burning for about a week. It started with lighting. I’m hoping that the Monday rains will douse it but a local tells me it takes more than a light drizzle to put these summer fires out.


Monday we play on the same field but there will be wet grass so some longer-range passes will be possible with the skip effect. I’ll let you know how it goes.

gambling report

by Montana Slim

You want some high-roller Casino action? Come to Montana!

Wow! Looks like fun.

Do they have entertainment too? Will 38 Special be rockin’ the house here? Is Sloan Younglove coming to town with his comedy-magic, or does he still have his regular show at the Stratosphere?

How ’bout the choices for cuisine? Is there a steak house open past midnight? An early bird buffet special? 

Can I get comped for extended play? What benefits does a player’s card get me?

How loose are the black-jack rules? Can I double-down on anything? Can I get insurance on 21?


Well, you’ll have to ask Marty, behind cash register 2. He might be a little unfamiliar with such questions, but he can guide you to all the action. 



“Just go out through there and go in the first door on your left. If it’s locked I’ll call Patty, ‘n she can open the place up for ya. It doesn’t take her but a minute to turn on the slots. Oh, and you can buy your drinks here and bring ’em in if the bar’s closed.”

These sad little casinos are all over the state.  Once I was at a strip-mall supermarket in Big Fork and on the way to the car popped into one of these places, for research only. There is a certain comfort in leaving the heat, glaring sun and sounds of cars and trucks gunning their engines as they leave the parking lot, and entering a dark, plush, air-conditioned world of faux-leather seats, hardwood counters, brass rails, dark-green carpet, rows of bottles to gaze at, and blue neon in the background, but it stopped interesting me long ago. Plus there is rarely a real-live poker game, with all the forlorn and bitter characters around the table. It’s just people sitting alone at machines, with Patty coming around at regular intervals with your next Jack n’ Coke. Maybe I’ll pop in to one of these places at a busier hour someday, just to give a report, but I doubt it- the thrill, thank God, is long gone. 

I wonder what’s worse- a state with every small town dotted with these little fleecing operations, or states where it’s illegal, except on a reservation- with Vegas coming in to run the mega-casinos, waterfalls and all, sharing a chunk of the huge loot that the 1/4 Indians get. 


Anyway, it’s much better to spend your time, if you have free time, at the Darby Library!

O the sportsman

What does this have to do with sports? Nothing, but I haven’t been taking many photos recently. Saturday I ran the cash box at the garage sale, and this is the view from my chair. We sold over 600 bucks worth of useful stuff, and junk, which will go to charity, and I got to chat with some nice locals. 


Well, it’s been almost two months since our stay in Hamilton began. Soon we’ll be vacating the house we’re in and leaving town. We don’t intend to go far, though; it’s a better than even odds bet we’ll stay in the Bitterroot for the duration of the trip.

You’ve seen some of the activities the boys are up to. Now, I’ll be a bit more specific about what I’m doing with Owen. Allen is not really an organized team-sports guy- especially if they involve a ball. It’s not that he’s a klutz- he can wing a baseball and kick a soccer ball as good as your average Trevor and Madison out here in Montana, he’s just not into it. He’s happy with his swimsuit, fishing pole and bicycle. Owen, on the other hand, has that athlete’s knack with body movement and ball handling. You can see it when he just bends over to scoop up an errant grounder. I’m not saying he’s Joe Morgan material- I’m just sayin’.

So, sports-wise, the beauty of this trip is I have some time to give Owen some practice in all the sports he’s not doing when he’s playing the single sport they allow you to be involved in in Japan. He played basketball in jr. high back in Japan, but I know he missed soccer a bit- memories of elementary-school-age glory, as captain of the team.

About Owen’s soccer team. It’s just a scrub-league made up of home-schooled kids around the valley, but the coach is a great guy and the other kids are all friendly. Pretty good opportunity for Owen to keep his skills up and practice his English a bit- at least listening- O is still a shy dude in the English-speaking world. 

Coach put Owen at striker and told him he doesn’t have to run too much- like he did playing midfield back in Japan. “Just wait for the ball, turn and get a shot in.”  Thing is, O and I went out to Stevensville on Saturday to line the fields, and I began to wonder whether Owen would ever touch the ball if he plays striker. The grass is thick, lush and slow, and the field is 315 yards long, and they’re playing 9 a side! I couldn’t help but  question the idea of B-League players trying to advance the ball 300 yards to get in scoring range on a full-sized field, two players short, on a pitch that felt like running in a dream sequence where your feet stick to the ground, under the August Montana sun. They are going to be pooped after 5 minutes! The local soccer-board-member father said, “We always play with the goal posts placed here; they’ll be fine.” I didn’t say, “Now look here- I’m a licensed, association referee in Japan and this is beyond the pale!” but nodded and accepted my role as itinerant father from alien territory (Japan and Seattle). 

It’s going to be camp Lejeune basic training next Saturday, with all the running. My strategy for O is this: hang out on the half line; receive the ball; turn and boot it down the field; the ball will nearly come to a stop with the slow grass as you race past the sweeper for your solo breakaway and deftly juke the goalkeeper for an open shot. That’s the idea anyway and we’ll bring plenty of water. 

Aside from the team soccer duties, O and I like to play pick-up ball down at the high school. It’s a great, mixed crowd, twice a week in the evening. For me, except for surfing, there is nothing better, sports-wise, than pick-up soccer and basketball. For O, it’s a great experience as everything back in Japan is so hyper-organized. Pick-up soccer is loose and casual, but competitive at the same time, and players of all abilities find a role on the pitch. Owen is excelling with his crisp passing, ball-control and solid shots. He’s unsatisfied, however, with his one-on-one dribbling. “I want to get good at getting by the defender on my own.” Yes, that was always the toughest aspect of soccer for me. Better to just advance using a simple wall pass, if you have a teammate in the vicinity. And now, at 55, if I try to dribble by an opponent, I usually fake myself out. The legs refuse to obey. 

Yesterday evening I had the wonderful experience, for the first time, of getting a crisp, 12-yard pass, Gheorghie Hagi-style, over to Owen in the middle, and he one-touched blasted it (left-footed, he pointed out later), nice and low, into the net. Young O gets lots of compliments from the other players, and the Brazilians, for whom you have to earn your passes, even when you’re clearly open, don’t hesitate to pass to O. 

I’ll be brief about the other sports I’m playing with O. 

He bought a basketball down at the only sporting-goods place in town. (We’ve been keeping them in business- soccer shoes, balls, fishing gear, etc. It’s good to avoid Amazon if you can.) You can play hoops at the old high school or at a newer elementary that has glass backboards and the biggest playfield you’ve ever seen (pics in future post). 

He got a tennis racket. OK, we bought it online- a cheap Wilson for $25 bucks. The cheapest in his size at the store was over 60, and we’re just funnin’ around. 

We still have the bat and gloves for baseball. 

That’s it for ball sports and the O sporting report. Hope to have an Allen fishing report soon. 

random sample

Went down to city hall and saw this.

No wonder I can never tell if a car is from Montana, unless it’s one those plates on the left. I can spot an Idaho, Oregon, Colorado or Florida from a good distance, but Montana? faggetaboutit. I think the deal is, you choose your charity, pay a little more and then get the special plate.


Hamilton has it’s Saturday farmer’s market. That’s where we found the stand for Owen’s soccer team.

There’s live music! You got your bluegrass option, or jazz-funk guitar with One-arm Slim



Allen came home from the IGA across the highway with another bottle of Japanese green tea. This time he got the bold variety. 

I said, “Wow. So they have two varieties?”

“They have a bunch of flavors. And they’re all sold out of regular, because I bought them all.”

Allen’s paying premium price for this import stuff, but he doesn’t care; he loves the ocha!


We like going down to Darby. It’s quintessential Montana. And on the way you can hit Lake Como for a swim. Now is the hottest time of the year, but Lake Como seems to be always refreshing and cool when you get in. They have to let water out for irrigation and to keep the Bitterroot flowing, so it’s always drained and fed, keeping it cool but not cold. Downside is the lake gets really low and it’s not nearly as pretty as it was back in June

Owen sits shotgun in an ’07 Prius, oggling a ’67 Camaro SS. Darby high 8-a-side football squad toils under the hot sun. 


Owen and I found a baseball field in Darby and I hit him some fly balls. (OK, 4 out of 5 were grounders. I’m no fungo expert.)

As a spectator of neighborhood baseball, I’ve chased a few foul balls and brought them around the dugout to hand to a benchwarmer, who handed it to the 3rd or 1st baseman or ump. Why did it take until the 21st century to invent something simple like this?

I’m keeping Owen busy with lots of different sports. The idea is: In Japan you choose one single sport and stick with it. In elementary school it was soccer for O, then basketball in jr. high. So I thought that on this trip I’d get him accustomed to baseball, fishing, shooting, tennis, etc., and keep him sharp in basketball and soccer to boot. Allen is less a team sport guy, so hiking, fishing, shooting and archery should keep him busy. 



Here’s where O’s team practices. Perfect pitch!


click for bigger pic

The Hawks’ new striker!

The Darby Rodeo

Was a blast!

Rodeos, fairs, parades, fireworks displays, all over the state and country cancelled right and left. But Darby is an outpost of cowboy defiance, and though they cancelled the spring high-school sport season and other stuff like everyone else, the rodeo must go on!

We got our tickets at Murdoch’s ranch supply just south of Hamilton. $15 bucks- not a bad deal. I was set to pay $45 for the three of us but the cashier hesitated. Her lady friend had no customers at her register, and she looks at me and says, “Are you a senior?” Immediately the first woman says, “I was going to ask but do it in a nice way.”

“What way was that?” I asked.

-I don’t know. Just something different. Anyway, how old are you.


-Then you get the discount- they said together.

5 bucks off, and then she told me about discounts at Lowes, Home Depot and other stores. I knew my McDonald’s coffee had dropped a quarter, but this was great news! El Cheapo rides again!

Having been in Japan for over 20 years, I hadn’t been to a summer county fair for a long time. Oh I’ve been to plenty of summer fairs, but summer in Japan is different- everything is green, tropical and growing like wild. The smells are different. You know that smell of the tall, dead grass, and the feeling of kicking it as you make your way across the makeshift parking lot out in the field as you head to the fair? You probably don’t think about it but it brought back a wave of nostalgia.

(click on pics for bigger image)


The stands were full when we arrived, so we got better seating along the fence. Allen found a corner spot and that was his roost for the rest of the evening. First rodeo for Allen and Owen (first for me as a matter of fact, at least one that had the bucking broncos and the bulls- though I’d seen plenty on TV).


This Darby local was a bit suspicious of these out-of-towners. She smelled city-slickers.


The ladies were up first with the barrel race. A timed event- make your way around the three barrels and back to where you started. Winning time: under 17 seconds. One girl would have won with a near 16 flat, but she knocked over a barrel and that cost her 5 seconds.

Now it’s time for a bit of pageantry.

These young ladies, past rodeo champions and rodeo queens and princesses, get ready to enter the corral for an applause lap.

Bring out the flags, girls! First came the Darby Rodeo Association flag, then the sponsor’s flag, then a big cheer from the crowd as the Montana state flag came was carried to the middle by last year’s rodeo queen. Then the announcer asked for all to stand as this year’s rodeo queen hoisted Old Glory for a couple runs around the corral.

Excitement builds as the cowboy announcer introduces the start of the bareback bucking bronco event.

Nobody told these whippersnappers they’d better be ready to get off that fence. The broncos were wild. They would kick everywhere and ram right into the fence, all over the corral.


Here comes rider #1 out of the gate.

I don’t think he made it to the horn.

Rider #2 was tough, and his horse was crazy wild. Look closely at how he’s leaning way back (half out of control?).

#2 made it past the horn, but I’ll bet for a second he almost wished he hadn’t. Crazy horse took him on a bucking joy ride around the corral. The mounted cowboys whose job it is to get the riders hand out of the cinched rope and take him off the bronco were having a heck of a time corralling that horse.

That horse came within a couple feet of me and the boys- almost clipped the fence. It was so exciting I can’t remember if he got bucked off at this point or not. (you gotta click this pic to see what a spot this rider is in)

Hanging on for dear life

Next they announced the clown. For rodeo beginners, the clown is the guy who provides hi-jinx entertainment throughout the evening, and distracts the bulls after they’ve bucked a rider off, so they don’t trample or gore the rider. He was announced as the “funniest man in American rodeo, coming all the way from Missouri.”

He was hooked up to the sound system, so we got to hear his jokes and comments all night. I thought it all sounded a bit stale. Stuff about the pretty girls here- “They’re not like Missouri girls- you know why? Y’all still have your teeth. Har har.” I’ll bet the same toothless Missouri girls joke gets played in Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and all over. Except when he’s at the Missouri State Fair, Missouri girls suddenly become toothy and fetching.

I was wishing he was unmiked and just did physical comedy- you know, having a hard time getting out of or in the barrel, having his big pants get caught on a post, close calls jumping over the gate with an approaching bull, getting chased by an angry calf- stuff of the please-the-kids nature. Instead it sounded a bit forced, and he of course did the whole, “Are ya having a good time, I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you, etc. stuff”

The most forced moment of humor in the evening was when the clown got out a pressurized t-shirt shooting tube and shot shirts into the crowd. He was a pretty good shot with that thing but missed by a mile on one when the shirt landed in the dusty corral. The announcer said, “OK, everybody boo!”


Then the announcer said, “Here we are booing a clown because his t-shirt cannon skills are crummy, and this is supposed to be a bucking-bronco rodeo. Standards have really dropped, heh-heh.”

Wait a minute, didn’t you just ask us to boo?

The only other complaint of the evening was the music. OK, there was some good old time rock and roll, but somehow many of the songs just didn’t seem to fit the family-rodeo atmosphere. After the pageantry of the rodeo queens, the display of the flags, and even a prayer to bless the whole event, somehow “Brown Sugar”, “You shook me all night long”, and “Highway to Hell” didn’t seem to fit. But what do I know- I’m a senior now-a curmudgeon who arrived here via a 22 yr. time warp tunnel. Still, I bet the kids would have liked a silent, goofy, pratfall clown and old Hank Williams numbers just as well as what was on offer.

Do you really need dirty rock lyrics and t-shirt guns to improve upon this?

Wait, there is one more small thing that bugged me, and trust me, just about everything else was fantastic. A rodeo is a great showcase of skill, courage, danger and excitement- with or without the lowbrow junk added on.

So, they had a pause in the events where they auctioned some stuff for charity. Nothing wrong with that and the announcer tried his hand at auctioneering. It was fun, but then they got to the “Two Bottles of specially gift-wrapped, reserve-cask Crown Royal. What do we have for a bid on these babies?”

The bidding went up to $500 (hey, it was for charity). There was a woman just to the right of us, behind the fence, having her teen son bid for her. She was getting a lot of attention from her posse surrounding her and really enjoying it. I don’t know, maybe it was 100% genuine philanthropy and she just wanted to help the Darby Wheelchair Bullriders Association, but she seemed a bit too satisfied with the attention. Now here is what the sneaky announcer did. After she lost to someone way down on the other end, he says, “Do you want both bottles?”

Now, if I was the winning bidder, I would have said to myself, “Do I want both bottles? I just bid $600 on both bottles, for crying out loud! Of course I want both bottles- give me both the green label bottle and the silver one, dangit!”

Of course I only would have said that to myself. I would have also known that the clever announcer had me in a pickle. He said, “We’ll offer one to the nice lady on the other side if you only want one.”

The cowboy philanthropist in row 4 under the Coors Beer sign said, “Just one is OK,” and he kissed goodbye to a $300 bottle of Grand Marnier. Ever seen a grown cowboy cry?

Then the announcer came back to the lady standing 10 feet from Allen. “And m’am, would you like to buy the second bottle for your last bid of 575?

I knew she’d have to say yes. I couldn’t look back at her. She said yes.

The DWBA had a good night for donations.

Allen picked up on my disgust and said, “You didn’t like that, did you?”

-No, they snookered her. (OK, he hasn’t learned ‘snookered’ yet but that was the idea.)

OK, back to the excitement. The next event, as the sun set, was ladies’ calf roping. They don’t have to jump off and tackle the calf and rope his feet up, but their roping and riding skills still need to be sharp. The idea is the calf shoots out of the gate, then the girl follows and ropes him. One part of the rope is only a thin string. When the rope tightens, the string breaks and the clock stops. It all happens in about 3 or 4 seconds and they come one right after another.

Next came saddle back bronco riding. I don’t know which is actually harder, bare-back or saddle back. You’d think the former but that saddle forces you to sit tall and not ride flat on the horse, your back against his. I’m guessing bareback is still harder.

And then came the marquis event of the night. You guessed it, bullriding! Now those bulls look big, strong, fierce and angry, but actually, the horses do more difficult bucking. The thing about the bulls, of course, is that, while the horses just want to get away from the cowboy once he’s off, the bull can be quite angry and out for blood. I saw one tough rider get a good headbutt in the kiester after falling. Luckily the horns missed him. Another rider got trampled a bit, but somehow got up and brushed himself off. These guys are super-tough.

It was dark by the time the Bullriding started, so I only have blurry images of rider and bull. Anyway, watching the bulls actually wasn’t my favorite part of the evening. It was watching the two cowboys tasked with herding the horses and bulls back into the pen, and helping the riders dismount and get to safety. These guys were cool cats.

corralling one of the tougher broncs


calmly waiting for the rider to get bucked, or the horn

I’d say they were around 40 yrs. old, and cool as cucumbers. No flash, just get-the-job-done serious about their role. Amazing horsemen, and brave.

All in all we had a great night and talked about it on our drive back to Hamilton.

That’s your rodeo report.

random shots

No theme today- just some stuff I have in my recent photos folder.


A food shot? Why not? It’s a mixed crowd reading the blog; not everyone is here solely for my keen socio-political insights. 

Speaking of sustenance, the boys like to get a little from Japan, now and then. Mental sustenance via internet conversations with their brother, sister and mother, and physical via whatever Japanese products they can find at the supermarkets here. Allen was happy to discover this one across the street at the IGA. “It really is Japan’s #1 tea. I didn’t like it too much before but now I really like it!”

Cattail McOwen and his afternoon haul


O and the bike the Terwiliger’s lent him. O loves to ride daily. I think he has the cyclist’s build. 

The one they lent Allen looks cooler but it’s a steel frame and heavy. Still, Allen really digs it. He’s heavy too!


So, we were at the farmer’s market a week ago. (I’m all for supporting local farmers and artisans and such but jeesh- 3 bucks for a plain croissant? You’d think we were in Seattle! [Ach loved those rolls and we’re going back down again- he’ll pay with his own money- el Cheapo rides again!]) There was a stand advertising the Bitterroot Valley Homeschool Athletic Association. A couple teenagers in soccer uniforms were manning the table.

-You guys recruiting for your team?


-What age are we talking about?

-From like 9th grade on.

-My son is turning 15 in September. Is that about right?

-Yeah. That’s perfect. 

So now Owen is on a soccer team. I’ll devote a post just for that after a couple more practices, and get y’all eager to hear about his first match later in the month. (Soccer reporting is my specialty, having followed O and A’s team from 3rd grade to 6th.)

For now, I’ll just post this pic which is this year’s team fundraiser. The fee for joining the team is not bad at all, only $150, which covers uniform, insurance and some other stuff. But they don’t tell you about your sales duties. Theresa, official soccer mom for the team, hands you a pack of these bad boys after you’ve signed all the forms. In direct Montana fashion, she doesn’t say, “If you can….or please try and…” but “You have to sell 10 of these by September 25th! (or was it 20- ugh!)”

We’ve all had our share of Girl Scout Cookies and Campfire Girl mints, but out here in Montana they don’t raffle out sissy stuff like that!


Anyone with enough freezer space to deal with the prize is welcome to send O. $20 and try your luck. Otherwise, I’m not going to force him to do much door-knocking. The fewer tics he sells to the general public, the better chance I’ll have of eating steak for the duration of our trip. 


There’s also a weekly vintage car-show in Hamilton every Saturday through the summer. Free, at the fairgrounds! I don’t think we’ll get down today, but when we do, I’ll get some good pics and some good bloggy commentary up. 

around town

Owen getting his line ready on a section of the Bitterroot in Hamilton. This spot is only a five minute bike ride from the house, so the boys (especially Allen) like to ride down here.


Same spot, but just around the corner before the river forks. Pretty good swimming here too. Here the boys are using their spinning reels they got up in the Flathead. The owner of the pond-cleaning company we’ve been working at recently lent out his fly reels/rods to the boys, so they are set either way. 

The local Catholic church that the community is trying to preserve.



Early morning at the worksite, near Victor, just east of the Bitterroot River. We’re waiting for the rest of the crew to show up. We got up around 4:30 in order to make it out here and get a bunch of work done before the blazing afternoon heat. 

You get wet and mucky cleaning ponds. This spot is some guy’s estate. He has four sons and one daughter. The daughter’s wedding was coming up in a week and he had to get the ponds clean for the shindig. 

Later in the week we cleaned the pond on this property- belongs to a UCal prof. Just beyond the big tree on the right some huge Sandhill Cranes came out and honked for a while. 

As you can see, we just have to clear out the dead cattails. 

Back at home, Allen staining the fence. Next door neighbor Darren went for a darker shade of reddish brown. Darren’s an easy going, super-friendly guy. When he found out the boys had fly fishing equipment, he came out with a jar full of flies he had tied himself. “Here Allen, take these. I only use my favorites but I bet you can find some good ones here.”   Allen counted 140 flies in the jar! Thanks Darren!

Bear story

Hello again.

Two weeks since my last post. Sorry for the hiatus. Here is the bear story:

We’ve taken a couple more hikes since last post. Here are some falls along the creek running up Blodgett Canyon, near Hamilton.


And here is a shot of the steep canyon with jagged peaks, taken from the trail along Fred Burr Creek, about 20 minutes north of Hamilton. (you don’t have to go far here for great hiking)



You can hike all the way to Fred Burr lake, but that’s a good twelve miles, so it’s for backpack camping. The 4.5 mile-in hike to Fred Burr Reservoir was good enough for us. We like traveling light.Fred Burr Reservoir.

It was a week-day, and it appeared we had the place to ourselves, until an old guy and his dog came up to the lake and chatted us up a bit. His golden retriever loved swimming. 

He was a nice, local guy, carrying an expensive camera with a big lens. “Did you guys see the bear?” he asked.


-Yep, a mother and her two cubs. About a mile in where the trail meets the dirt road. We got a little close and she growled at me. Just keep an eye out.

He was so blase about the whole thing. It was a black bear and she didn’t want any trouble with humans, but throw in the cubs and you can have trouble, of course. I said thanks for the tip and then got ready for a swim myself. “Are you going to swim a long time?” asked Owen.

-No, why?

-I kind of want to go back at the same time as the man. (strength in numbers!)

-I won’t be long, and I’ll bet he’s pretty slow. Don’t worry, we’ll catch them before we get to the area where he saw the bear. Anyway, wouldn’t you want him to go first if the bear is still in that area?

-Hmm. I guess so. 

The lake was cool but not frigid, like Canyon lake a week before. My swim was short as promised and we soon were heading back down. Nobody was too worried about the bear, but I said, “Hey, let’s play that game we played in Glacier National Park where you have to make a sentence.” 

The boys weren’t too keen on the mental effort, but I forced them to do it and soon we were all talking, as you should in bear country. It’s a simple game I made up-good for ESL learners like my boys. You go from A to Z and Owen and Allen have to say a word that begins with D, for example. The more interesting word is chosen. So if Allen is lazy and says Dog but Owen comes up with Doom, Defensive, or Divorce, O wins and Allen must make a sentence with O’s word. 

Allen: Alligator

Owen: Advice

Me: Owen wins. Ok, Ach, give me a sentence with Advice.

A: Papa gives bad advice. (and so on through the alphabet)

So we plodded along, killing time and eating up mileage while playing our game. We were almost through with the alphabet and I was wondering what we’d do after that to make noise. I remember when I was 23, doing some work for the BLM up in Alaska north of Fairbanks with my buddy Jim. Out on the trail we must have said, “Hey Bear! How you doing Bear!” a thousand times. 

Me: OK, ‘W’.

Owen: Window.

Allen: Bear! Bear! Bear!

Me: Come on Allen, get serious. Bear doesn’t begin with W! 

(OK, I didn’t say that, but Allen most certainly said, “Bear Bear Bear!!”

Allen was walking on the left side and he and mother bear were staring at each other with only twelve feet between them.  A moment later, Owen and I saw the cubs up ahead, just off the trail. Those 2 seconds that Allen was in the staredown with mama bear must have felt a lot longer. I said, “OK, guys, let’s go back. Quick, back up the trail!”

I guess you are supposed to back away, not turn your back. We only backed away a couple steps, I grabbed my bear spray, then we turned and walked back up the road, not hurrying at first but then walking at a fast clip- never running. Although Allen said the mother had stood on her hind legs and growled, just like with the old man, she wasn’t interested in any contact, and didn’t follow us. After about a hundred yards, we stopped and I tested the spray with a blast into the trees. I figured it would have a reddish color with all the hot peppers but it was actually green. Jalapenos?

We waited about five minutes at that spot, then proceeded back down the hill and past the point of encounter. No more bears and I was thinking, “There’s one the boys will never forget.”

That night the boys made dinner. Japanese style burgers made with panko, white rice, shredded daikon topping, and orange vinegar, from Japan!

Happy to be alive! That’ll probably be enough hiking for the time being. Time for the lads to work on their trout fishing.