Thursday, December 13, 2007

Believing what I see

Probably like most hikers, I've seen things in the backcountry that were not what I initially thought they were. I have seen several 'bears' that resolved into stumps or logs when closer. Also I have seen a couple of logs that turned out to be bears. Woods with a lot of downed trees and often dim light are a good place to see things that aren't really there. I've also seen animals that I couldn't identify, I had too brief a view or they were too far away.

Only one time that I'm aware of have I really fooled myself into seeing something that wasn't there. On a fall day near Halloween with high clouds and a stiff breeze. I was hiking up a canyon when I saw what I thought was a large, dark animal ahead of me. Its head appeared to be moving back and forth feeding on berries on bushes but I couldn't see it clearly, I had forgotten my monocular that hike. I yelled a couple of times and moved a bit closer, the animal paid no attention. I have a policy about black bears, if they don't move when they become aware of me, I leave the area. Another yell with no response and I decided to to turn around, I was feeling distinctly uneasy. By the time I got to the trailhead I had about half convinced myself it was a bear and half aware I didn't know what it was, I even considered Bigfoot.

The next spring I decided to hike the same trail, it was a quiet day and early enough that leaves were still sparse. When I got to the area I had turned around the previous fall, I was looking around thinking of the previous hike. Then, I saw the same thing I saw before. Only this time there was no breeze and I had my monocular. What I had seen was a dark rock framed by brush so it really did look like an upright bear. Without the wind, it didn't appear to be moving and was less lifelike. Had I not hiked the same trail the following spring, I might never have realized what I had seen and probably settled on the idea it was a bear. As the brushes leafed out and then grew, the resemblance went away. Fortunately I have other real bear stories some of them here.

I sometimes talk with people who have seen very unusual things in the backcountry. I don't know what they saw, I wasn't there. But for some of the stories, I think back to how easily I've believed I saw something that wasn't what I believed it was. I don't disbelieve them but I wonder if they saw what they thought they had.

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