It may come as surprise to you, loyal readers, but J. Wilderman has been involved in a number of scuffles in his lifetime. I don’t seek out fights, but sometimes they’re unavoidable. Sometimes you have to stick up for the little guy getting bullied. Sometimes you find yourself stuck in the middle of two warring villages in Croatia. Other times, a Black Friday deal on denim is just too good to let go. But between the border quarrels and denim disputes, there is one fight I’ll never forget.
I was sojourning in a small cabin in Montana, taking a brief reprieve from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Each morning, I watched the birth of a new sun. Each night, I drifted to sleep to nature’s symphony conducted personally for me. I cut my own wood, caught my own fish and collected my own water. I reconnected with myself in a way that can only come through disconnect.
Most days, I fished. My grandfather taught my father how to fly fish and my father taught me. As a young child, it was instilled in me that fly fishing was an art form. And, my father told me the same as his father told him, art does not come easy. Every summer, I lived in the river, growing as a fisherman and as a person.
The morning mist embraced me like a forgotten friend and the gentle current rubbed against my ankles like an affectionate cat. It’s easy to get lost in the quiet calm of the river and spend more hours in the water than intended. The fish weren’t biting that morning but the overwhelming sense of tranquility made up for it.
Still, I needed to eat, so when I felt that first tug I let myself get caught up in the rapid excitement of an upcoming fight. And, boy, did this fish put up a fight. I don’t know what it was about this particular fish, but I didn’t want to let it go. It dragged me down the river and I somehow held onto to my line as I clumsily stumbled after it. As it lead me around a bend, I slipped and fell to my knees. I felt the line snap and I heard my father laughing in my head. When I got back to my feet, the laughing stopped and so did my heart.
Beast Versus Bird
Not 20 yards ahead of me, a mighty brown bear was holding my catch in its paws. Normally, I don’t like my things being stolen from me, but this time I decided to let it slide. I quickly realized I was standing frozen in the wide open, so I ducked behind a nearby downed tree, deciding to wait for the bear to eat his meal and hope it wandered back into the forest. I was watching the big, furry thief with cautious fascination as the bear sat on its rear and held the fish between his paws, like a child learning to feed itself.
There was a quick flash and the bear was hit in the head by something. I could not tell what. The fish fell to the rocks as the bear defensively went back on four legs, shaking its head and searching for the culprit. At this point, my hiding place felt greatly inadequate. If the bear couldn’t smell me, it could easily see me. Unfortunatley, as it scanned its surroundings, the bear’s gaze did stop on me, or, at least, my general direction. I tried to remember if I was supposed to run or play dead, when the bear’s attacker came back for round two. Another quick flash and hit, but this time I saw it. A beautiful bald eagle. I followed its flight path as it disappeared over the trees. The bear let out a frightening roar as it stumbled around in a circle like an angry drunk man after being cut off. The eagle returned and began feigning assaults – drop diving at the bear and pulling up at the last minute, just out of reach of the bear’s paw swipes.
I wasn’t sure what the eagle’s plan was, but I could tell it was playing games. Circle. Swoop. Circle. Swoop. With each swoop, the bear would lunge and miss. Before long, I noticed the bear was gradually getting closer and closer to the river’s edge and further and further away from its meal. Although, the eagle was giving me the perfect distraction to leave, I couldn’t tear myself away from the spectacle.
The eagle took one final dive, but this time, not at the bear. In one smooth motion, the eagle briefly landed on the rocky shore, gathered up the fish and flew away. The bear made a last-ditch pursuit, but unless he could sprout wings and fly, that fish was gone. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor beast, even though he stole the fish from me in the first place. Now, I really had to leave. I went back up the stream to my original fishing spot to collect my gear and headed back to my cabin empty-handed.
I’ll never forget that day. I’ll never forget the feeling – being frozen in fear and fascination. Me afraid of the bear. The bear afraid of the eagle. But what are eagles afraid of? Airplanes, maybe.
Years ago, I found a sculpture that could have been carved straight from my memory. Purchased from American Expedition, the sculpture depicts a bear — perhaps a touch more dignified than what I witnessed — and an eagle — just as strong and majestic as reality — fighting over a fish.
I’ve been back to that cabin, back to that river’s bank. I haven’t seen the bear or the eagle since that day. I know I should be grateful to have gotten away unscathed, but a small part of me knows that I may never see such a perfect visualization of Mother Nature’s sense of humor.
About J Wilderman
J Wilderman is an adventurer, big game hunter, deep-sea fisherman, mountaineer, rock climber, sky diver, cave spelunker and a real wilderness man. He’s run with mustang in Montana, scaled Denali in less than a week, fought grizzly bears with just his wit and a stick and won the Iditarod without any sled dogs. Having explored every continent and sailed each sea, J Wilderman is now taking time to put his adventurous tales to paper.