and committed one simple act of compassion.
It had been blistering hot that day in late August 1997 and it was County Fair time in western Montana. The night temperature had cooled a little and it was quite pleasant as he dropped his daughter off at her dormitory at the university, eighty-some miles from his home and he and a friend (who had accompanied him just for the ride) started the long drive back.
About twenty-five miles from home as he steered his Jeep through a sharp and narrow curve, he could see the headlights of a dozen cars stopped at the far end of the curve. It was just after midnight. The moon had already gone down and the night was black, the highway was black, and the bear laying in the middle of it was black. There had been a collision between the bear and a Chevrolet Suburban, one of many vehicles returning home after a day at the fair; no one’s fault really, just an event that occurs all too frequently on the highways of the west.
When he pulled over and off the side of the road and came to a stop, a middle-aged couple quickly approached with a rather urgent question: “Do you have a fire arm with you? The animal is suffering!” He was already reaching for the case containing his S&W model 19: this was not a first-time event.
After instructing his friend to move the gathering of several dozen people off to the side at least thirty yards, he approached the bear with a feeling of admiration for this creature of nature, he admired the beauty of its heavy black coat, shiny even in the lights of the cars, and felt the sadness that always comes over him when he knows he will squeeze a trigger and end the life of a wild thing. He cautiously touched the bear and there was no movement: it could not move: its back was broken and it was paralyzed. Its breathing was heavy and difficult: it was alive, it could feel pain, but there was no possible hope for recovery.
He carefully calculated the direction his bullet would take after it would pass through the bear and ricochet off the pavement, made certain it would be a safe shot, not a danger to anyone present or to anything in the background, chose the exact point of impact for an instant kill, and after softly saying, “Go to sleep, my friend”, squeezed the trigger and simultaneously and willfully broke four laws.
1. It is illegal to shoot a game animal aided by artificial light.
2. It is illegal to shoot a game animal out of season.
3. It is illegal to shoot a game animal without a valid license.
4. It is illegal to discharge a firearm from, across or on a highway.
After the animal was removed from the highway, permitting traffic to resume, over a dozen people, men, women, and children, some still shaking from the disquieting sound of the report of a magnum round in the middle of a peacefully quiet night, came over to him, shook his hand and thanked him for doing something that needed to be done.
Considering the alternative, and knowing that the response time to get a law officer to the scene would be a minimum of several hours, what might you have done?
Today was another day spent in the back country, full as usual with things to do and things to see and things to think about, but today seemed especially pleasant because of what I didn’t see and didn’t hear and didn’t have to think about. It was a good balance.
My mission was accomplished; a ton and a half of lodge pole pine brought back and stacked, some beautiful Fall scenery completely enjoyed and remembered (I’ll get to the pictures in a bit), and all the thoughts that the wilderness always stimulates were properly considered at length and in due course.
But I didn’t see or hear a television set.
I didn’t hear a car horn or a siren.
I didn’t hear any bickering or complaining.
I didn’t have anyone try to sell me anything.
I didn’t have anyone cut me off in traffic and make me angry.
I didn’t even consider politics.
I didn’t take a watch along, so I didn’t concern myself with time.
And perhaps the best of all, although I looked deeply into ten pairs of eyes out there in the forest, I didn’t see even one pair that just looked blankly through me, as though I wasn’t even there, and none were averted. Each pair of eyes I saw today looked directly at me, with intensity, and made me feel like a real living being, maybe even a person of interest.
The colors of Fall are now brightly spread across the palette of the wild country. They speak for themselves.
Once in awhile a task comes along that seems at the moment to be just way too big. Sometimes I get that feeling when going out after a load of firewood, knowing I will have to fall at least four 70-ft trees, saw them into 18 inch lengths and load about a ton and a half of them into my truck.
Then I think about a beaver. He’s a lot smaller than I am (an adult can weigh around 50 pounds), and doesn’t even own a chain saw. Here’s what he can do:
(This tree is just slightly less than three feet in diameter and about a week after these pictures were taken, he had finished taking it down.)
Compared to my chain saw, his tools are pretty small, primitive, and strictly “jaw-powered”. This set I obtained from an adult beaver who had no more use for them, having departed for the big beaver lodge in the sky. The longer pair are his top teeth and the shorter ones are his lower. The orange colored sections are what are exposed.
After I review these photos, I think for a few minutes and understand how easy my task really is.