The Bears, roaming the coastal mountains spanning the Wild Rogue Wilderness Area, had grown accustomed to the roar of the jet boats churning up and down their precious river. But, it was annoying that the numbers of the pesky things bringing loads of bigs (humans) up and down river, were increasing.
More worrisome in recent years, was the invasion of bigs hiking the remote trails that transverse the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Bob’s Garden Trail, where it cut across the bear’s habitat and joined a dirt road that led to Bob’s Garden Mountain and beyond, was especially troublesome.
Nevertheless, the friendly, wooded slopes along Watson, Full and East creeks, remained a comfortable home to Edgar and Connie Bear, their family and the community of black bears living in this secluded area of Oregon. There was a time when the bears shared the wilderness with Rogue River Indians… but the arrival of Canadian trappers from Hudson Bay and other white men who followed, had long ago assimilated the natives.
Coal and Ebony, Edgar and Connie’s adventuresome cubs, were no longer afraid of the sound of approaching jet boats. For them the floating logs loaded with bigs were curiosities. Nevertheless, they knew to scamper out of the nimble boat’s path and onto Rogue’s south bank to avoid being hit.
At first, Ebony was more timid than Coal. When a jet boat approached she always dashed onto the bank as fast as she could and disappeared into the thick undergrowth crowding the dense forested, mountainous slopes. Coal on the other hand, occasionally performed one or two of his dance routines for appreciative spectators. Once he made a threatening dash toward a boatload of tourists. Several of the delicate, longhaired bigs screamed and grabbed each other. Since that day, he used increasingly bolder antics to arouse fear in the vulnerable spectators.
Recently though, Ebony was growing brave enough to join Coal in his risky pranks. One day she climbed a madrone tree spanning the width of a narrow stretch of river and then dangled from a sturdy branch over the approaching jet boat loaded with captive bigs. When the boat drew near, she pumped her weight up and down so it appeared that she might fall into the boat. She and brother Coal grunted with delight when they heard the terrified screams.
Connie Bear worried that her mischievous cubs would be hit by a boat, or that their antics would anger the bigs and cause them to bring fire-spitting sticks to put a stop to the young bears’ pranks. She tried to enlist Edgar’s support in her attempts to curb the cubs’ dangerous play, but he simply grunted and said that the cubs’ tricks didn’t really bother the adventuring bigs… rather they made their trips more fun.
“Cubs will be cubs,” he said.
“And, you’ll see, trouble begets trouble,” Connie concluded.
Famous Highway 101 is the main artery passing through the small Oregon coastal town of Gold Beach. Chilly winds constantly sweep the beach and most of the year force inhabitants of the tourist town to bundle up even on the sunniest of summer days.
Gold Beach High School sits on the west side of 101 near the center of town. The school’s parking lot is always full…These days most students own or have access to an automobile. It was true of John Valley who owned and maintained an old Ford 150 pickup. He and his is best friend, Russ Sparks, used the pickup to ferret from one adventurous project to another. They did everything together.
Saturdays, they could be found beach combing through piles of weathered driftwood scattered on the beach stretching two miles south from the mouth of the Rogue River. Winter storms hitting this section of the Oregon Coast delivered a continuous supply of gnarly wood down the raging river to be churned smooth by the salty ocean waves and then deposited along the city’s ample beach.
When they weren’t sleuthing for prize chunks of driftwood, they were swimming a few miles up Hunter Creek in the warm sun away from the icy winds blowing against the coast.
They also liked to take pictures and were always seeking out a prizewinner. South of Gold Beach, the treacherous cliffs of Cape Sebastian provided walls of churning water and white plumes of crashing waves as subjects for their artistic eyes.
Sometimes the two friends set up tripods above Cunniff Creek and waited for hours for hovering sea gulls to achieve a perfect formation against the deep greens of the forest background.
The pair of adventurous chums also were known for the fun loving pranks they played on fellow classmates and tolerant citizens of the rugged western town.
In eighth grade they “borrowed” one of Julie Granger’s favorite barrettes and made Julie think they were sending it skyward out over the ocean attached to one of Russ’s science project rockets. Julie and her open-mouthed classmates watched the thoughtless launch. Julie began to cry when she thought her prize was gone forever. John and Russ looked at one another and felt terrible when they realized they had gone too far this time. John quickly produced the hairpiece. To make up for their meanness, Russ bought a new barrette from his sister and gave it to Julie. It took Julie a week to forgive them.
One Halloween, in the entrance to the high school, they constructed a headless driftwood statue of Ichabod Crane riding a stick and burlap pony.
Another time at night they sneaked into the school and let loose a greased pig in the main hall. The custodial staff struggled to catch the slippery critter before students were scheduled to arrive. Conscience drove John and Russ to come to school early and join the staff in efforts to capture the illusive animal. Russ snagged the pig around the neck while John grabbed the hindquarters. The boys returned the pig to Dale Zimmer’s place three miles up Cunniff Creek and returned to school.
When they walked in the front door, Principal Phillip Clapp greeted them with suspicion, thanked them for their help and just before he sent them home to get cleaned up, said, “Next time use soap on the pig … better for all concerned.”
John and Russ, were fascinated with the jet boat trips offered by Jerry’s Rogue Jets, who also owns and operates Rogue River Mail Boats. They spent many hours helping out at the jet boat docks and getting to know the jet boat pilots. At the beginning or end of seasons when their boats weren’t full, pilots let the two teenagers come along free.
There was a friendly competition among the river pilots. Most had developed and mastered a river talk loaded with interesting facts about the river and its history. Each was constantly searching for new pieces of entertaining information or stunts to add to their routines that would set them apart from the others.
For sometime, river pilot Derrick Evan’s trip was the most popular. He handled his boat with expert ease explaining every maneuver with lighthearted humor. He was known for finessing the last particle of interest out of every turn in the river… every branch and twig gracing the riverbank… every animal they might encounter along the 52-mile trip to Blossom Bar and back.
When John and Russ managed to get on a boat, they always took their cameras. A favorite spot for picture taking was Foster Rapids. There they would often see bears lurking in the woods and on occasion fishing or playing in the river. Of course there were plenty of bird-subjects. They hoped someday to get a close-up shot of the majestic, illusive eagle that often soared in the sky above the river.
One day in early spring, Lee Withers spotted a black bear cub circling the campus of Gold Beach Elementary School and the town ignited in excitement and concern. Mayor Jeff Crantz quickly ordered lockdown at the school and the fire department was called to disable the handsome animal with a stun gun and return him to the forest.
The two friends, who left school early to get in on the excitement, were delighted to be allowed to take the unconscious bear to the hills and dump him off. Russ named him “Raider.”
“He’ll be out for a couple of hours,” Frank Counts cautioned. “You better drop him off before he wakes up. Somewhere around Green Knob would be a good place. When he wakes, he’ll not be a happy bear.”
They stopped by Russ’ house to get a piece of foam to put under the lifeless bear. Though State Route 33 is paved, there are enough bumps in the road to injure or considerably bruise the chubby bear. There were even more potholes in the road, where 23 veers off toward the southeast and up into the pine, cedar and fir-covered mountains of Shasta Costa Bar.
Once they had made their cargo comfortable, John shifted his 150 into gear, nosed it north along 101 to State Highway 33, and turned east to follow the Rogue into the mountains.
The boys enjoyed their quiet ride along the beautiful river. In early summer, the Rogue was sparkling its way toward the ocean carrying a full load of water.
At one pm, John brought his pickup to a stop on a grassy patch of ground on the north shoulder of County Road 23.
Though the bear was just a cub, he weighed almost 200 pounds. The boys fashioned a drag sled from downed tree branches and took turns pulling him up the grade toward Green Knob. Their plan was to drag the bear toward the mountain crest until he showed signs of waking up, then they would simply walk away and leave the cub to overcome his bewilderment and return to his life in the wilds.
It was nearly two in the afternoon when the cub snorted and attempted to get to his feet. John lowered the sled handles and the boys moved away. Raider struggled to his feet… wobbled a couple of times and back. The boys laughed.
“Maybe we ought to get back to the truck and head for home,” John said gesturing toward the uncertain cub, “… at least get away from him. Upset big ‘uns might be nearby.”
The boys climbed over a moss-covered log to give distance and a barrier between them and the wild bear.
“How about hiking to the river?” Russ asked producing a map and gesturing northward, “… four miles down and back … take us a couple of hours… we’ve not explored this part of the woods, right?”
“It all looks pretty much the same as everywhere else to me,” John hedged, “But it is a nice day for a hike… let’s do it.”
“Don’t let that hemlock hear you say everything looks the same!” Russ chuckled, “I never get tired of looking at God’s creation. I’ll grab some grub and our cameras… you never know. Gi‘me the keys,” Russ said holding his hand out.
John watched the cub begin to explore his new habitat. It appeared the young animal was content with his new surroundings and happy enough to leave him and Russ alone.
A few minutes later, Russ returned with his backpack and John’s camera.
“What about grown up bears?” John said betraying his uneasiness.
“We leave the bears alone and they’ll leave us alone, I’ll bet ya.” Russ said
“I guess,” John returned uncertainly.
The boys began forging their way through undergrowth and over the needle carpeted ground beneath the towering fir and pine. Before long they noticed that the cub was following them.
“I think he likes us,” Russ chuckled.
“So long as he doesn’t like us for lunch,” John said.
“I don’t think we have to worry. They eat mostly berries and fish and stuff like that. We’d be too tough.”
Some 40 minutes later, the boys had reached the southern bank of the Rogue. Along the way they had seen several other bears lumbering through the woods. Raider had followed them all the way and was now sitting a few yards away watching them.
The boys sat on the riverbank to rest and eat peanut butter sandwiches. Up river a hundred yards they watched two new cubs approach the river’s edge and begin milling around the base of a large madrone tree spreading its branches in all directions.
The boys watched with fascination as Raider minced his way toward the strangers. When the two Rogue bears spotted Raider, it appeared a bear confrontation was imminent.
The angry face-off was interrupted by the sound of a jet boat approaching from up stream. Within a minute or so a boatload of bigs would be passing on their return trip to homeport in Gold Beach.
John and Russ scrambled into their backpacks and extracted their cameras ready to capture whatever might follow. The two resident cubs turned away from Raider and trotted toward the madrone tree. The female bear climbed the tree and made her way out onto a large branch out over the river and waited, while other cub hid behind the madrone. Raider sat on his hindquarters and watched.
The jet boat rounded a curve in the river and gushed into the pool of water that had collected in a deep section of the waterway. At that instance the cub behind the tree jumped into the open and dashed toward the bank lifting both paws and baring his teeth. The cub in the tree locked her hind legs around the branch and let her torso swing beneath the branch with her head facing the oncoming jet boat.
The shocking sight caused everyone in the boat to scream. The rooky jet boat pilot’s natural reflexes cause him to swerve the boat to miss the bear. A boy who was standing looking at something on the starboard side of the boat almost fell into the river. His dad grabbed him at the last second.
As quickly as the jet boat had come, it was gone amid fading shrieks and groans.
John and Russ looked at each other in stunned silence. Then, they broke into abandoned laughter.
“What a hoot!” Russ said.
“Scared the liver out of those people,” John added.
The female cub had returned to the ground and joined the male cub beneath the madrone tree. Raider joined the two cubs. Apparently, the excitement of scaring the bigs had taken any animosity out of the encounter between Raider and his counterparts.
“Guess we don’t have to worry about Raider fitting in,” John said.
“Drat it!” Russ hollered, “We didn’t get a shot of that!”
“Next time, we’ll be ready,” John encouraged.
“Yeah, next time.” Russ agreed. “Want to head back?”
“Suits me,” John said getting to his feet and adjusting his backpack.
“Wonder if Raider will follow us,” Russ said joining John.
The two friends began the strenuous mile-and-a-half climb back to John’s pickup. Before long it became clear that Raider had found new friends and didn’t need them. They saw several fully grown bears lurking here and there. It seemed clear that they weren’t interested in any encounter with humans.
One handsome bear stood in a shaft of sun silhouetted against the deep shadows of the dense forest behind him. Russ raised his SLR and snapped a picture of the elegant creature before he lumbered away into the darkness.
“That really was a hoot,” Russ said on their way back to Gold Beach.
“Yeah, a kick… too bad we didn’t have camcorders,” John agreed.
“I got an idea!” Russ enthused.
“Watch out!” John cautioned, “another of your hair-brained ideas… let’s have it.”
“What if we were to organize the bears to put on a show for the people as they go by in the boats?” Russ asked feeding the idea.
“Hmmm,” John mused, “a 20-second bear show on the banks of the Rogue… that’ll bring in the dough!”
“I don’t care about money… think of the fun. Those cubs already do it… I’ll bet, if we work it right, we can get the big ones to join them… making it more terrifying,” he paused then added, “Maybe teach one to juggle.”
“Are you kidding? John laughed. “Juggling bears? You’re crazier than I thought.”
“Okay, maybe not juggle, but dance… you’ve hard of dancing bears, haven’t you?”
“Tamed bears… maybe… at a circus, but wild bears in these mountains…”
“Come on, John! Remember when we trained those goats to imitate the cheerleaders at homecoming?” Russ laughed.
“Yeah, I remember,” John laughed, “And I remember how long it took to get them to do it… sync their movements… and even at best… they were pretty ragged.”
“Wasn’t it worth it? Remember how the crowd howled?”
“Yeah, and so did Mr. Clapp… howled us into two months of cleaning the toilets.”
“Awe, come on man, let’s try it…”
The sun was low in the west. John fell into noncommittal silence as he drew his pickup to a halt in front of Russ’ home.
Russ sat silent for a moment looking out the passenger window at the distant ocean.
“You going to get out or are you going home with me?” John asked giving his horn a quick beep.
“The bears could to do a line dance … high kicks like the Radio City Rockettes…” Russ smiled at his good friend. “Give it some thought … that’s all…”
“Man, I gotta work this summer…” John protested… then added, “Boy … even if what you’re talking about were possible, it would take months… not to mention the danger of trying to corral a bunch of wild bears.”
“Think about it…” Russ grinned opening the passenger door and scooting out. He fetched the foam from the pickup bed, returned to driver window, “Just think about it…” He turned and bounded toward his front door.
John sat for a moment shaking his head, then, hit the foot-feed and headed home.
In early spring John and Russ began working with the bears by simply showing up and hanging out in a remote section of the woods around Bob’s Garden. Every time they came to the bear’s habitat, they brought them treats. Eventually, the bears learned to trust the two invaders. The treats included wild blackberries they’d picked from vines growing on sun drenchedpatches of ground in the hills above Gold Beach and fish they bought from Larry Monford, who like to fish but not to clean and eat them.
“What you doing with all those fish,” Larry quizzed the third week into providing them fish.
“That cub we took to the mountain… he’s become a buddy bear. He likes fish,” Russ explained.
“Eats an awful lot of them,” Larry said scratching his head.
“Yeah, he’s getting to be a whopper,” John added attempting to end the conversation.
“I guess,” Larry said apparently satisfied.
The boys were determined to keep their experiment a secret. If it failed, no one would know, and if it looked like it would succeed, they wanted it to be surprise for everyone – especially those first boatloads of tourists skimming the Rogue.
John and Russ spent many hours of their days off trying to coax the bears to learn some sort of simple organized dance routine. Juggling was out of the question. While the bears eventually showed interest in the sport and were intelligent enough to master the art, the lack of opposing thumbs prevented them from gripping the ball.
Four weeks into the summer, the bears were achieving enough organized movement that John and Russ knew they were onto something. The opening of the bear show would be a spectacle to behold.
Tired of picking buckets full of berries, by mid-summer the boys enlisted Janice Yeager and Carolyn Unger into helping out. The girls obliged the first two or three times they were asked.
“I like you…,” Janice said one day, “but not enough to keep picking those tiny little berries without getting in on the profit… Who you selling them to?” Janice finally asked.
They let the girls in on their secret in an attempt to persuade them to keep helping.
“You can’t tell anyone… please!” Russ pleaded.
The girls accompanied John and Russ to the mountain to see for themselves. Delight showed on Janice and Carolyn’s faces as they watched the bears line up and move their feet up and down to the rhythmic drumbeat Russ banged out on a hollow log.
“The Three Bears!” Janice squealed with delight at the antics of the three cubs. “I’ll pick berries,” she enthused, “ but only if I can be at river’s edge, when the show begins.”
“Me too,” chimed Carolyn.
“At river’s edge hiding… you’d have to be,” John warned, “We don’t want the jet boat set to see humans… just bears.”
“No!” Janice protested, “Dressed like a bear,” she added laughing.
“I don’t know,” Russ hedged. “The spectacle is real bears doing a chorus line.”
“How about dressed as pioneers,” Carolyn suggested, “We could look like real pioneers, couldn’t we… aprons and bonnets?”
“Neck line up to here,” Jan laughed fingering her chin.
“Great idea,” John chuckled, “Ghosts out of history… I like it.”
“Yeah,” Russ agreed, “That’d be an unexpected jolt too. Let’s do it.”
Every day for the next two weeks, the four circus trainers bribed the bears with berries, fish and apples. The lively cubs were, by now, quite comfortable at being handled by the gentle bigs, who kept them supplied in goodies.
They had trained the bears to take their cue from a series of whistle codes. One blast on Carolyn’s whistle cued the opening number. Two toots, three and the finale would be cued by the fourth blast on Carolyn’s whistle.
The day before their great surprise, the foursome settled on the staging area for the program. They chose a stretch of the river between Burnt Rapids and Fall Creek where the water current slowed and pooled enough to provide a place for the jet boat to linger, if the bear show were entertaining enough to hold its audience. Along this stretch of the river an open space sloped gently up from the bank to the tree line where the forest became increasingly dense… the perfect place to hide until they were ready to spring into the open space and begin the show.
Of course, there was the possibility that the boat’s pilot would fear for his customers’ safety and jet away down stream.
The four hoped for the best, but felt that, if it went well the first time, word would get around and their act had the potential of becoming a delightful attraction for tourists – as long as the bears tolerated being manipulated and the four humans maintained interest in doing it.
Before sunrise on August 29, John, Russ, Jan and Carolyn headed up the mountain to corral the bears and prepare for what Russ called their “Savage Surprise.” Jan and Carolyn rode in the cab with John. Bundled up, Russ rode in the bed. As the pickup neared Green Knob, it seemed to know how to follow the summer worn tire tracks that marked the accustomed parking spot.
The sun began to punch shafts of light through the dense trees as the foursome hiked the mile and a half to the staging area.
Expecting to get breakfast, the performing bears followed. By the time they reached their performance space the sun had eased the chill in the air.
Jerry’s Rogue Jets and Mail Boat Jets offer trips up the Rogue several times each day to three different turnaround locations up stream. That meant that midmorning boats would begin to pass the staging area on their way up stream and come by them again at varying times during the afternoon. The quartet decided to present “Savage Surprise” to first boat of the day to pass them on its way back to Gold Beach.
Until then they would continue to rehearse the bear routines in the trees out of sight of the river.
At about 10:00 they heard the first jet boat. Everyone felt a surge of excitement. It was hard for the foursome to wait the two hours for the boat’s return, but they had agreed to wait.
“Let’s put the final touches on it,” Russ said betraying his excitement as he stayed out of sight of the passing jet boat. “That one will be back in a couple of hours.”
Derrick Evens squeezed the throttle, feeding fuel to the powerful 315 hp Yanmar Diesel and sending his jet boat skimming across the shallow waters of Rogue River toward the mouth of Quosatana Creek. Migrating salmon often gathered in calm pools to rest a bit before continuing their swim up the swift flowing river to spawn. Observing primal behavior of the ancient fish was one of the attraction customers would experience along the 52-mile jet boat trip from the mouth of the Rogue River to Blossom Bar and back. Derrick wanted to give his customers their money’s worth.
He reversed the thrust of the powerful jet stream of water and slowed the 32-passenger boat to a standstill. Those lucky enough to have seats near the sides leaned over the edge of the mail boat to get a close look at the large fish. Over the years adults aboard had collected bits and pieces of information about fish migrations but few had seen it in action. Children studied animal behavior in school. They knew about the migration of salmon up rivers and squealed with delight at experiencing their lessons firsthand.
“The water is cold,” Betsy Claimer said, withdrawing her left hand from the river water and wiping it on her jacket. She sat on the seat closest to the port side of the boat.
“For the salmon to survive and be comfortable the temperature of the water should be 55 degrees,” Myles Westin announced.
Everyone within earshot turned to look at the toe-headed boy sitting directly behind Betsy.
Betsy turned to look at the wise acre. “How do you know?” she asked scowling.
“Encyclopedia.alot.com,” Myles answered and added, “that’s 12.8 celsius.”
“Oh boy,” Betsy said facing front.
“Some salmon species are extinct,” Derrick said into his lapel mic. “These are the lucky ones… well… lucky until they reach the spawning waters.”
Myles yelled over the sounds of the boat’s engine, “Yeah… after they spawn, they turn red and die… but steelhead don’t. They can live for many years.”
More sightseers turned to look at the precocious youth.
Derrick laughed, “The ichthyologist is right. You will see some along the way, if the bears haven’t gobbled them up.”
“What’s a ichthyologist?” Betsy asked her dad who was sitting next to her.
“It’s someone who studies fish,” Myles said leaning forward.
“Can we move?” Betsy said to her father.
Earl Claimer laughed and said, “There’s no place to move… the boy is smart… listen and you might learn something interesting.”
By then Derrick had maneuvered the sizable watercraft back into the river channel and was heading up stream.
“Look over the sides you’ll see the determined critters making they way home,” Derrick said.
“They’re swimming about 14 kilometers an hour,” Myles said pointing to a large salmon swimming up stream near the boat.
Betsy poked her dad, rolled her eyes and whispered, “Probably thinks he knows how fast flowers grows, too.”
The pristine river offered miles of quiet solitude as it snaked its way through the timbered slopes toward Agness. Even Myles had been quiet for miles. Everyone seemed to be hypnotized by the surrounding beauty… each sinking into his own thoughts.
Betsy wondered what it was like for young girl pioneers living in these mountains long ago. “I’ll bet their dad’s made dolls for them… out of what? Pine needles, I’ll bet… and they wore pieces of leather left over from making adult clothes… Some day I’m going to hike in those woods and see what I can find… pottery… maybe…”
Earl Claimer marveled at the untouched look of the river and the forests lining its banks.
“All of Oregon once was like this,” he thought, “I hope this jewel can remain like this forever,” knowing that unless it becomes protected as wilderness, man’s entrepreneurial drives and thirst for possessing nature would likely eat away at the paradise.
Myles counted the various birds flying overhead or resting near the river. So far he had counted 26 hawks, 9 Osprey, 6 blue heron, 14 sea gulls, a bald eagle circling high in the sky and too many small birds to count… well, certainly, he could count them… but they moved in circles so fast, he couldn’t keep track of the ones he’s counted and the ones he hadn’t.
Derrick wondered what his wife would prepare for dinner tonight, but at the same time kept his mind on carefully negotiating the large jet boat through sections of shallow water. He could tell that some of his passengers were fascinated that the boat could move through such with out scraping bottom. Others couldn’t hide their concern.
“This boat is designed to operate in very shallow water, he said, “Would you believe, as little as three inches?”
Can you do a “crash stop?” Myles hollered.
Looks of concern came from a several riders.
Derrick laughed, “Not unless I have to! I don’t think you’d want to experience that unless we have to… But it’s good you reminded me that it’s available.”
“How about a Hamilton turn… could you do one of those?”
Derrick laughed again, “Man, you know a lot about jet boats…”
“He knows a lot about everything!” Betsy mumbled giving Myles a side glance.
“Not enough water to do that… but they’re fun… maybe I’ll do one when we get back to base,” Derrick said, then, pointing he continued, “If you look on your left, you’ll see signs of civilization. Trough the trees you get a glimpse of Agness Community Library and coming up, again on your left is Lucas Lodge where on our way back we’ll stop for lunch and some trinket buying if you are into that.”
Derrick beached the craft. “We’ll be here about one-half hour.” he said. “Some of you may want to visit the old Agness store. It’s a kick and maybe the Agness-Illahe Museum. You know Indians once thrived along this river… might find something interesting about them.”
Thirty minutes later, the loaded jet boat was skimming the Rogue again headed for Illahe and points beyond. Shortly, the watercraft reached Illahe, a favorite spot for camping enthusiasts.
Campers waved to the jet boaters as they surged by.
“Watch out for fish!” a young boy with black hair yelled.
“You watch out for snakes!” Myles returned.
The black haired boy yelled something but no one in the boat could hear.
“Our Einstein is right,” Derrick called into the mic referring to Myles. “There are rattlesnakes in abundance in these rocks… we don’t have to worry about them; mosquitoes, yes, snakes, no. You might keep an eye out for bears,” Derrick cautioned with mocked concern. “We often see them playing in the woods to your right. The cubs like to tease us. That forest is part of Wild Rogue Wilderness.”
“How big is the Wild Rogue Wilderness?” Betsy asked scanning the trees for bears.
“Big! It’s largely untouched watershed,” Derrick answered.
“It is 35,818 acres to be exact,” Myles said.
“You live here?” Betsy asked turning to squint at Myles.
“I live here, now,” Myles returned matter-of-factly.
“Myles!” his mother said sternly, “Don’t tease the girl. Tell her where you live.”
“I did… I’m not dead, am I? … Means I live here now, like I said.”
“No fair,” Betsy scowled.
“He lives in Portland,” Mrs. Westin said, and responding to the perplexed look on Betsy’s face, she added, “He just likes facts… He’s really harmless,” she concluded running her fingers through his hair.
“Mom!” Myles complained, pushing her hand away.
An hour later Derrick brought the boat to a standstill. Everyone looked around for the attraction. For the last two hours, the terrain was pretty much the same.
“This is as far as we go,” Derrick said cutting the powerful jet engines. A wonderful silence fell over the river. “This is called Blossom Bar. Peaceful, isn’t it? This is what animals, who live here, enjoy all the time… well, except, when we come around in our noisy boats.”
“Why can’t we go farther?” Betsy asked and before Derrick could answer she turned to Myles and said, “I’ll bet you know.”
“Actually, I don’t know exactly, but I suspect it has something to do with that steep incline you see over there. Not even this special craft can get up that.”
“Is that it?” Betsy asked turning to Derrick.
“Myles is right… mostly… and beyond the waterfall the river is studded with big boulders. We wouldn’t want to try it.”
“I’m happy with what we’ve done,” Fred Claimer said gesturing at the surroundings.
“Excellent, great, fun, beautiful,” said others.
“If we could go further what would be next?” Betsy asked looking at Myles.
“River, rocks, animals and trees,” Myles said not wanting to be without something to say.
Derrick laughed and said, “Myles is right again but there’s something else… If we could go further in a couple of miles we’d come to Marial. That’s a pioneer farm complex, listed on the National Register of Historic Places…” He broke into a big smile and added, “If anyone is interested, you could hike there and we’d pick you up here tomorrow.”
“Seriously, if you are interested, it’s easier to get there from I-5.”
“Isn’t Zane Gray hangout around here somewhere?” Myles father asked.
“I think that’s at Wrinkle Bar,” Derrick answered.
“Yeah,” Myles injected and pointing to his topographical map… “It’s about three miles east of Marial.”
“Good grief,” Betsy said and looking at Derrick asked, “Can we go home now?”
“You’re right too,” Derrick said looking at his watch. “My watch says we need to be heading back.”
He pushed the button to crank the engine to life and the boatload of vacationers slipped into the channel and on their way back to Gold Beach.
After a while of silence, Betsy whispered to her father, “Who’s Zame Gray?”
“Zane… Zane Gray. He was a famous writer of western novels. I liked him when I was a boy… Riders of the Purple Sage,” was my favorite.”
“Not like Hannah Montana, I’ll bet,” Betsy grinned. She gave Myles a quick glance. He was looking at her. She quickly looked away returning her gaze to the wonder of the Rogue… On their way home she could watch the opposite shore.
This far from the ocean the sun was hot. Though the breeze caused by the movement of the boat was also hot, it felt good. The smells of fir, pine, madrone and wild flowers filled the air. Betsy wanted to remember the wonderful time she’d had today … even the annoying, factoid-spouting kid behind her.
Russ stood on the bank looking up stream for the first sign of the returning jet boat. The bears and his friends waited in the woods for their cue.
“Here she comes!” Russ shouted pointing up stream. The loaded jet boat was coming down Clay Rapids rapidly approaching them. ”It’ll be here in a minute!” he called trotting toward the others.
Three Square Dance bears and Russ hid behind a patch of brush clustering not far from river’s bank ready for Carolyn’s signal.
Just as the jet boat entered the pooling water Carolyn whistled.
The three big bears and Russ, dressed like a black bear, moved onto the open stage and began their awkward square dance. While John called “Circle left and do sa do,” Jan and Carolyn slapped their knees to his measured beating on the hollow log.
The jet boat sped into the slower moving water.
Bill Astin who sat with his dad in the front row seat pointed and yelled, “Look! It’s bears.”
All heads looked port side… mouths dropped open followed by ohs and aahs. Two women emitted muffled screams.
Derrick couldn’t believe his eyes. He’d worked on the river for 12 years and had never seen anything like this. Apparently, one or more of his competitors had gone all out to pull off a huge upmanship. But enough of that! Paramount in his thinking now had to be the safety of his passengers. He had to quickly decide whether to speed away or pretend that this was a normal occurrence and bring the boat to a standstill and let his passengers enjoy the spectacle before them of four black bears attempting to square dance to the sound of an invisible caller. He slowed the boat to a crawl.
“One’s not a bear!” Myles shouted.
“He’s right,” Derrick said relieved that panic hadn’t entered his boat. He reversed the jet thrust to prevent his boat from entering Burnt rapids.
Fred Westin laughed at the sight.
“Allemande right,” the caller yelled as the bears changed direction bumping into one another.
More laughter came from the boaters.
“Last time I took this ride you didn’t have this,” George Cramer shouted thrusting his head back and looking up at Derrick.
Derrick was caught off-guard. ‘What shall I say?’ he asked himself. He didn’t want panic to erupt among his patrons by telling them that this was new to him as well, “I believe mail boat driver Bill Franks rounded up this act,” Derrick hedged.
By now the “bear” quartet had disappeared into the woods. Then the sound of two toots of a whistle brought three bear cubs into the opening. They began a series of acrobatic maneuvers to the delight of the children on board.
Betsy screamed with delight while involuntarily turning to look at Myles.
Myles smiled and mumbled, “Ursus americanus altifrontalis,” I think.
A dozen or more cameras pointed their lenses at the spectacle transpiring on shore.
“Aren’t they cute,” Ms. Barkley gushed.
More aahs and oohs filled the dry, friendly summer air.
Three blasts on the whistle brought more bears into an almost presentable chorus-line routine. And it was comical.
“Rogue Rockettes!” Derrick shouted into the mic.
“The Radio City Rockettes have performed four shows a day, 28 shows a week, 365 days a year for over 40 years,” Myles rehearsed almost to himself.
“Really?” Betsy exclaimed showing genuine interest.
“Yeah,” Myles said looking into Betsy’s dark eyes.
“Hey look at that,” Rob Danielson shouted pointing to the spectacle emerging from the woods.
Carolyn’s fourth blow on the whistle signaled the “Savage Surprise” finale. The bears, wearing Indian headdresses, emerged from the woods into the performing space. Accompanying them were Russ, John, Jan and Carolyn also dressed as Indians. They wore war paint on their faces and leather moccasins on their feet. John wore a feathered chief’s headdress. Russ had a single feather sticking up from a headband circling his head. Leather straps dangled from their sleeves and shirt bottoms. Carolyn and Jan wore colorful leather vests over tan blouses and leather skirts decorated with colorful hieroglyphics.
The ensemble began circling an imaginary bonfire. When the circle was complete Russ began to chant a war dance. The humans and bears stomped and gyrated as they continued to chant a rhythmic… “Hey yah, hey yah… holum wa… ha!” and repeated it over and over again as they danced. The bears inserted loud grunts from time to time.
“Hey, are those bears dressed as Indians or Indians dressed as bears?” Warren Silverman shouted and broke into billowing laughter.
Others joined him.
Carolyn blew a final blast on her whistle and the Indians turned toward the jet boat and began a war-whooping dash toward the boat with tomahawks raised in threatening stance.
The tourists looked at one another… alarmed at what they saw. Several women screamed… Betsy grabbed her father’s arm.
“Oh boy, let’s get out of here,” Mel White shouted.
Several women screamed.
The bears stood watching bewildered.
The four Indians stopped 50 feet from the boat… turned to confer with one another… waved dismissive hands at the boat and turned to rejoin the bears.
Sighs of relief issued from the boaters.
“Sorry about the scare… I should have warned you…” Derrick mouthed into the mic. He was glad that the Indians were retreating and that his boatload of watchers seemed to be calming down. “I guess that’s it,” he said. “Let’s get back to jetting.” He revved up the boat’s engines and engaged the jets. The boat lurched forward.
Fred Westin raised his hands above his head and began clapping in the direction of Savage Surprise. Soon everyone in the boat was clapping. Derrick maneuvered the boat into a Hamilton turn to bring the boat back for a sitting ovation for the forest performers. He then maneuvered once more into the river channel and away.
“What a trip that was,” Russ said after the boat had disappeared from view. “Up for another go?”
“We’ve gone to a lot of trouble for just one 15 minutes of fame, don’t you think?” John said.
“I’m game,” Carolyn said.
“Me too,” Jan said admiring the body of bears milling around and added, “What about the bears, shouldn’t we ask them?”
“We hike over and pack in another round of food and they’ll go for it, I’ll bet.”
“You girls stay here… we’ll get it,” John said.
“No chance,” Janice rejected, “Stay here with these bears… not likely.”
“Let’s go,” Carolyn said.
Thirty minutes later the quartet was back with food for the bears and shortly after that they were ready for the next Mail Boat to come into sight. And so it went for the rest of the day… four shows in all.
From his vantage point hovering high above the action Rusty Eagle watched the day’s charade with amused interest. It reminded him of Toby Pig’s Greatest Show in the Forest.
“Ha, ha,” he laughed, “What if I get Toby Pig together with the Rogue River Wilderness wild bears,’’ he laughed to himself. “Wouldn’t that be another beak dropping spectacle.”
He swooped in low for a closer look at the outlandish sight of big burley bears dressed as Indians. “Wait ‘til I tell Tob, Hap and the others.”
Several pumps of his wings took him comfortably aloft heading for home
Talk of the Indian Bear show dominated conversation in Derrick’s jet boat from Illahe all the way back to Gold Beach and continued into the parking lot. For sometime to come satisfied jet boat patrons would have owned bragging rights to a unique experience.
Betsy walked beside Myles on their way to family cars parked beside one another in the gravel parking lot.
“My favorite was the three cub’s tumbling,” Betsy said, “What did you like?
“I liked the chief’s headdress that man wore,” Myles said, and couldn’t resist adding, ”Though it wasn’t very authentic…” he paused. Betsy’s eyes told him that she didn’t really care about ‘authenticity’ and he continued, “… but men and bears pretending to be Indians… that was a fun.”
“I’m glad you were behind me,” Betsy said to Myles as they neared their family car.
“I didn’t mean to show off,” Myles said, “I just like facts…”
“That’s okay… I like facts too. I’m just jealous you know so many more of them than me… without even trying.”
Myles laughed. “Without trying? That’s my problem… too much trying… Mom says I got my nose in a book all the time…” he paused again and then asked, “Where you from?”
“I live in Salem,” Betsy replied.
“That’s 45 miles, depending on your starting and ending points.”
“Betz, you ready?” Mr. Claimer asked touching his absorbed daughter on the shoulder.
“Yeah… I guess,” she said reluctantly, and not knowing how to get more, said to bye to Myles.
“Bye,” he grinned, turned and hopped into the Westin family car and closed the door.
Fred Claimer studied the look on his daughter’s face, walked to Westin’s window and gave him a business card. They smiled at one another.
The parking lot empted quickly.
Derrick told Jerry’s Jet Boat staff a story they found difficult to believe. He warned them, “When the other boats check in you’re going to hear more…What a hoot… I hoped their adventures went as well as mine.”
“Where’d they come from?” office manager Shelley Android asked.
“I’ll bet Bill Franks hired them,” Derrick said, “It’s a great gig… adds a lot of excitement to the trip… Doggone it… He beat me to it. Hope they’re out there again tomorrow…” With that he waved, “I’m out of here.”
That evening Coal asked mother bear if they could do it again.
Connie Bear grunted, “Let those bigs keep ordering us around making fools of us? I just wish they would go away and leave us alone,” Connie concluded.
“Mom, they liked watching us…” Ebony said.
Coal added, “It gives us something to do besides hanging out in the same old terrain with the same old bushes and trees.”
Raider added, “I got in trouble when I went into town looking for some fun.”
“What do you think, Edgar?” Connie asked turning to the big bear.
“It’s an easy way to get berries and fish,” Edgar said, “I say we keep doing it as long as they’re fools enough to keep the food coming.”
And that was that.
A week later after another exhausting day staging their spectacle, the troupe settled into a padded booth at the Indian Creek Café.
“A couple more times will do it for me,” Carolyn said.
“Aww come on,” Russ pleaded, “The look on their faces… unexpected… Those folks were caught in a raw improvisational NOW…”
“Yeah, and I’m exhausted,” Carolyn complained… “Two more times and I’m done.”
“Hey, we’re on to something…” Russ enthused. He laughed, “Think about it. We’ve given those river pilots a new way to compete. Derrick thought Bill Franks did it and Bill thought Derrick did it.” He laughed again, “They finally figured out who was doing it… Listen, it’s catching on… it’ll be big… the talk of Curry County… Maybe Jerry will talk dollars for next summer. How about it, John, Jan… don’t you think…?”
“Yeah man… It’s a kick…” John said and hesitated, “fun doing it, but… bears, berries, fish everyday… Man… we can’t keep that up. The mail boat people going to pick berries? I don’t think so…”
“Jan! Come on… help me out here,” Russ pleaded turning to the perky high school charmer.
“Russ, you’re such a dreamer… I gotta get my real world life back for what’s left of this summer. You ought to, too,” Jan reasoned.
“Shoot!” Russ conceded, “I guess you’re right, but we’ve put so much work into it… Don’t you think it works better than we expected? … It’s a shame to quit.”
John laughed, “Maybe that’s the time to quit… planning it, working it up … doing it… It’s like chance art… a happening…” more laughter… “It’s our very own mid summer night’s dream… that’s enough, I think. I’m ready to move on.”
Russ took a deep breath. “Okay, okay…” he said settling back in a sign of resignation. “What’s next?”
– M Russel Pike ©2011 – See M. Russel Pike’s Bio