Of all the unpleasant sensations a man may experience in this vale of tears, one at the top of the list is doing something, all by yourself somewhere, and suddenly knowing with absolute certainty that you are not alone. And at no time, in no place, is this sensation more unpleasant than when you’re using the bathroom.
If you live in America, you are well aware that California is the throes of a severe drought. In the interests of doing my bit to conserve water, I usually step outside to pee. Darleen and I live in a relatively isolated rural area. My closest neighbors, one to the north, one to the south, are each about a quarter of a mile away, and in each case their homes are hidden by the folds of the hill behind my house. When I step outside near my propane tank, I know I have absolute privacy.
So it was a singularly unpleasant experience to be standing outside, doing my little bit for water conservation, to suddenly have that instinctive primal sensation that I was not alone. My immediate reaction was to look down the driveway. It’s at least a third of a mile, perhaps more, in a straight line to my front gate, and nowhere, along any part of that winding drive, was there any sign of life. From my front gate to the hardtop is another half mile or more, and there was no one there either. There was no one in the pasture to the south, and no one in the pasture to the north.
Then I looked up the hill.
It’s a remarkably steep hill, a sort of open savannah stood on end, grassland dotted with oaks and studded with random boulders, with good visibility in most places for over a hundred yards. And there, about fifty yards away, gazing impassively down at me, was a bear. A very large black bear.
For those of you who live in cities and have only seen bears in zoos, ambling lazily along behind protective fencing and entrapping moats, fifty yards may seem like a nice, safe, comfortable distance; you might even think that is too great distance at which to observe a bear.
For those of us who have experienced a bear’s tender mercies, up close and personal, in the wild, unconfined by fence or moat or fear of man or dog, fifty yards is a clear violation of what psychiatrists call “my personal space.” And for those of us who have painful firsthand knowledge of just how fast a bear can move (faster than a Quarter horse for over a quarter of mile), fifty yards is much too goddamned close.
And there I was, anchored, as it were, by the business at hand, and with the wrong gun in said hand, and too small a caliber at that. Or, as Dan Bronson unkindly said later when I told him what had happened, “That’s not when you want to be holding a squirt gun.”
I think I’ll find other ways to conserve water.