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Down from the Mountain by Bryce Andrews

Down from the Mountain by Bryce Andrews

Author:Bryce Andrews
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: HMH Books


7

Reaping

When grizzly cubs lose their mother, they lose everything. The milk that they have depended on is gone, and just as damaging is the loss of a sow’s knowledge and instruction. Young cubs are seldom out of their mother’s eye- and earshot, and their first year is one long lesson: This is the smell of a winter-killed deer; here is where fawns hide; these boulders are worth flipping; in September, gorge on apples. Cubs need to understand the whole seasonal round if they are to survive alone. Half a summer will not do any more than half a wheel can roll down the road.

And then there is the problem of hibernation: At least some of the time, orphaned black bear cubs will put themselves to bed. Grizzlies, in contrast, must be shown how to den by their mothers. This fact makes solitude a death sentence for an orphaned grizzly. Even if it is lucky in finding food and continues fattening and growing through fall, a cub of the year does not know what to do when the snow flies. Without a mother to lead it into the secret corners of the mountains to a den, a grizzly cub will not live to see a second spring.

In spite of their hopeless situation, solitary cubs display a strong will to live. They vocalize and search. If their mother cannot be found, they turn diligently to the work of surviving, using every strategy they possess or can devise in their developing minds.

Millie’s cubs, for example, knew how to hunt gophers and find apples. They devoted themselves to these endeavors with a hungry will.

The cubs did not travel far. They kept to the pastures and thickets south of Post Creek and tried to make a living digging rodents. They did not, as their mother had long ago learned to do, anticipate the brightening sky and seek cover before sunrise.

Light came into the valley, and farmers drank coffee at kitchen tables. From windows and porches, the men and women saw two small dark shapes moving through swathed fields. Taking notice of the little bears and the absence of a sow, they began calling the tribes’ Natural Resources Department.

The first reports came in, and a tribal game warden was dispatched. Parking his truck on the road, he watched the cubs dig in a field belonging to Greg Schock’s father, Walt. In earlier years, that plot had been the site of the Schock family’s first experiment with growing corn beside the mountains. In 2016, Walt’s field had been planted with alfalfa and cut for hay. The cubs moved across the lush stubble, digging gophers as intently as any dog might and shoving their muzzles into the excavations. It made good watching, but as day ran down to dusk, the warden grew convinced that the little bears were alone. When he was sure of it, he called Stacy.

For two days afterward, Stacy couldn’t find the cubs. He kept a close watch on the field and cruised all the dirt roads.



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