My Uncle Daniel is in town this weekend, and our Saturday’s dedicated to an afternoon of his stories, a tradition passed down from our Amish roots. Gathering our chairs in a circle after a wonderful meal, we all sit in my mother’s living room anticipating what Daniel is about to tell us. He is a keeper of stories, both his own and stories of family and friends who have a tale worthy to tell. After many decades, I anticipate hearing something old and something new.
My Uncle Daniel resides in Holmes County Ohio, the heart of Amish country and makes his business providing English services to the Amish. A butcher by trade, he processes their beef and venison, storing the meat in his frozen locker. Thus his namesake, Locker Dan, a name known three counties over. Semi-retiring, he sold the locker and ceased processing beef, and he and his wife Ruth provide travel and adventure services to the Amish throughout the year. Daniel is proud to find a way to make a living at what he loves to do, and we always glad to hear about it.
We are sitting on the edge of our chairs with our eyes peeled on him as he begins.
“In my prime, I was camping in a pristine, untouched forest in northern British Columbia with a group of friends. I wasn’t the guide this weekend and wanted some time along. My fellow campers dropped me off a few miles from the main camp to hike solo under an oasis of trees. I was reveling in my own forest surfing experience, and I thankful for the solitude. After finding the perfect camping spot and setting up for the night, I walked down to a nearby stream to cool my body and pan for gold. My only gear, a water canteen, an iron pickax and a gold sifting pan, and a few snacks assembled in a small backpack. As I crouched down, I felt eyes on me, an eerie feeling that I couldn’t shake.
I scanned the area wondering if my mind was playing tricks on me. I hadn’t see anything on my walk into the stream. My eyes rested on the top of the hill. A large grizzly bear sat on his haunches watching me in his stream. I sighed and sat motionless waiting for him to go down over the hill so I could move. The potential of a standoff with this big bear outweighed my panning enthusiasm. I stood up and waved to him, “Its just me, big fellow. Go about your business.” And my next sigh was one of relief as I saw him disappear over the crest of the hill. Darkness creeping in on me hastened me to move on from here. I picked up my bag knowing that my camp was not going to workout. My plan to sleep under the stars wasn’t the best choice with a bear roaming the area. I thought about what to do for protection and remembered passing a fallen down shack on my way in, less than a mile away. I stomped through the forest floor hoping to reach the structure while I could still see. I found it. The shack was leftovers of a cabin with two partial walls standing. Tin from the roof was piled to one side. I pulled the tin over the walls to make a leaning roof and piled debris on top to keep it from blowing away. I crawled in under the small lean to and laid down, darkness fell, and after several hours, I drifted to sleep.
In the dead of night, I awoke to heavy breathing. I acclimated my eyes to the light and laid very still. It was coming from the other side of the wall and the breaths were interspersed with grunts. The sounds were not human. I was sure it was the bear coming back to find me. My scent drew him here and his pacing continued for hours. I prayed, “God please let me live to see another day. Let him give up this vigil.” After what seemed like forever, the bear wandered off. I laid still unable to find sleep.
As light dawned, I crawled out from under the shelter and examined the ground. Large pancake-sized paw prints were all along the wall.. He was so close to me, a miracle he didn’t find a way to get to me. My life had been spared. I immediately get my barrings and begin the walk back to rejoin my group, thankful my nerves didn’t take over, and bring me face to face with the grizzly. The lean-to was in the right place at just the right time, and I thank God. It saved my life. As scared as I was, I reveled in the exhilaration of just me, the forest, and then this bear.”
I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories of them. In order to maintain their anonymity in some instances I have changed the names of individuals and places, I may have changed some identifying characteristics and details such as physical properties, occupations and places of residence.
upations and places of residence.