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The Bear Dance

A Brief Outlaw Note:

     Ahead of this story, as a map check, I wish to share a few thoughts.

     My goal for this blogging adventure remains simple:  Share Some Day’s I’ve been In.

     Within these posts my readers will find rugged Adirondack hikes, canoe trips, hunting adventures, fireside chats, some time spent in swamps. 

     Are these stories really true?  Well, that’s two questions.  They are ALL real.  Most of them are true.

     “The Ice Palace”  is real.  Watertown, Lake Ontario, Lake effect, ice storms-that’s all real.  The story itself was inspired by a diamond engagement ring, first apartment, an ice storm, and my wife.  So while the tale is fiction, the story is real.

    MegDella’s Flock” is real.  Our Shetland Sheepdogs are real.  My wife is really Irish.  We’ve  spent a lifetime together fighting off wolves, shearing sheep.  She’s Rebecca in the story.  I’m Patrick.  MegDella is my Mom’s first Shetland, Lady.  It’s  real.

     “The Marmalade Cat” -real too.  I moved a lot as a kid.  11 times by 5th grade.  Robin & I adopted a marmalade cat  shortly after getting married.  Or maybe he adopted us.  His name was “Tom”.  The rest I made up, but the story is real.

     “Bagging Grinches”, “Swamp Things”, “Olympic Outlaws”, “Damn The Torpedoes!”  They are all both real AND true.

      All the rest are one or the other or fall somewhere between.      

     That brings me to “The Bear Dance”. 

Told in III parts, I may relate it colorfully, but it is all both real and true. 

I don’t know where my trail leads. I only know where I’ve been.


     One More Outlaw Note: 

Shortly after I penned “The Bear Dance”, The Adirondack Daily Enterprise published a report about bear problems& concerns for public safety on Middle Saranac Lake.  As reported in the article, DEC Forest Rangers shot & killed a big bear somewhere on the lake.

     I’ve encountered this before, in a prior bear encounter that I chronicled which was featured in Adirondack Life Magazine, (August 2015, page 70), in a “BarkEater’s” piece entitled “Cliff the Bear – A memorable encounter at Lake Colden” . My second of five published Adirondack Life Magazine pieces.  

We called that bear “Cliff”. DEC Forest Rangers shot that bear too. Difficult choices, not made lightly, I’m sure.  But a choice, nonetheless.

     Which takes me back to the underlying foundation of this blog.  Life is choices.  The ones we make.  The ones we don’t. 

     But one might ask, when choices are made based on mankind’s law- to shoot a bear, in its home- in the eyes of  Mother Nature,  and the bear:

Who’s the Outlaw?

     Tough question. Tough Choices.  I don’t know the answer.  All we can do is each make our own.  Living life, no regrets.

     In the mean time, here’s my story, hope you like it.

Until Our trails cross again- Thanks for reading! Do The Bear Dance! -ADKO


The Bear Dance

A Three-Part Camp Adventure

“The Bear Dance” appeared in The Adirondack Almanack over a period of 3 consecutive Sundays, as a series, during May- June 2021. The story proved quite popular with Almanack readers.”- ADKO

Part I

  Bear Essentials

     Wednesday, July 11, 2018, 3:30 pm:  My cell phone rang.   It was my brother Ray, calling from the lean to on Bull Rush Bay.

     “Hey- I’m in camp for the day.   Pepper’s with me. Two food bins are missing from the lean to and  the Yeti is tipped over.”

       We ran down the list of potential culprits- vandals, raccoons, bears.  Missing food bins didn’t fit any known raccoon MO. It would have taken Racczilla to tip over that Yeti.  Scratch raccoons.  That left two suspects- vandals, or bears.

     I said “Vandals would have stolen the Yeti, and the beer.  Bears leave drag marks.  Be careful, especially with that pup!  Keep your eyes peeled for drag marks. Call me back.”

     3:42 pm:  My phone rang again.   

     “Hey-Pepper found  a bin.  It’s got a couple of  puncture holes and what might be a claw mark on it, but it’s still serviceable. I’ll  look for the other bin and call you back.”

      I thought to myself : “Cripes- Ray- just be careful with that dog!”

     3:51 pm:  My phone rang.  “Hey, me again.  Pepper found the second bin.  It’s toast.  We need a new bin.  Stuff is strewn around pretty good. Looks like we’re missing some rolls and bags of chips.  I’m gonna clean this mess up, pack up all the food bins and the yeti on the Starcraft, and take it all back to the house.”

     We agreed.  The 2018 Monroe camping trip to  Bull Rush Bay had just gotten a whole lot more complex.  We had a bear in our camp.

     The basic presence of a bear was really no surprise.  We’re in the Adirondacks.  Camping inside the Blue Line.  We go into camp every summer assuming bears are around.

       We take basic precautions- absolutely no food in the tents, clean up after meals, practice “Carry It In- Carry It Out”.  Maybe we’ve just been lucky, but in over 45 years, we’ve never had a bear in our camp.  Until now.  We needed to identify our options, develop a strategy-make a bear plan.

     As both hunter and gun owner, my immediate reaction was

“I’ll bring my 12 gauge.”

     Almost as immediately,  I ran down a mental checklist of potential outcomes of that plan. All ended badly.  I suppressed my inner Davey Crockett and dismissed that thought almost as quickly as it came.  We had a bear in camp.  We did not need a gun in camp too.

     My son RJ came home from his summer job working for the Adirondack Watershed Institute on Millsite Lake as a Watershed Steward.  Headed into his second year at Paul Smith’s in their Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences program, he’s working his way through the 46 with his friends.  Air horns came to mind.  I briefed him on the bear.

    “Air horns-yeah- I carry one in my pack.  Standard equipment.” 

Air horns went to the top of the list.

     Then I called Gary Hodgson.  Gary attended Ranger School with my Dad.  Dad always described Gary as “The only man I know who could have been a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.” 

Others visit camp on some form of modern watercraft- not Gary.  He comes sailing quietly into camp in a 100% hand crafted birch bark canoe.  719 High Peaks rescues to his credit.  Even in retirement, Gary remains the Forest Ranger other Forest Rangers call when they need advice or assistance.  When Gary talks, I listen and learn. 

     As luck would have it, I had just visited Gary before my last trip to camp.  In all my years, one skill I continue to lack is that of making fire without match.  Aware of that fact, Gary had made me a bow drill and given me detailed instructions on its construction and use. I had it with me in camp.

     Gary called me back almost immediately.  I briefed him on our bear, and asked him about air horns. 

“Well, once you’ve got a bear in camp- an air horn might startle it off, but it will most likely come back.  In the high peaks- they require bear proof food canisters now.”          

     He shared with me several bear encounters and stories of his own, and strategies he had evolved for dealing with bears in one’s camp.  From his recommendations I seized on one key ingredient that we could employ expediently- Ammonia.

     So, armed with air horns, a spray bottle,  and 2 half gallon bottles of ammonia, I coordinated with my brother.  We made a bear plan. We discussed concerns about dogs, camp and bears- topics on which  neither of us are particularly well versed. We agreed, while it may be common practice in some quarters to hunt bear with dogs, those are trained bear dogs.  Ours weren’t house pets.  We weren’t hunting bear.  Ray decided to continue bringing his Labs, but not overnight.

    With that, we agreed to load up on Saturday and head back, determined to make an effort not to desert camp.

    Ray and I reached Bull Rush Bay around noon.  The drink cooler was open.  The bear had returned, leaving two empty Bud Light Lime cans with puncture holes in them.  The remainder of camp was intact.    

     My daughter Chelsea walked in at Ampersand later that afternoon for the night.  She’d been briefed on bear status and left her dog “Captain Blue” home.  We prepared bear defenses- moved all food containers 20 feet away from the lean to-against a big rock, in plain view.  We sprayed everything with ammonia, gathered  bonfire wood, armed the air horns.

     Ray and his family stayed for venison Hunter’s stews.  I did a bear dance.  Armed with an old garbage can lid that had been hanging around camp for years as a drum, and a birch log baton, I did my best adaptation of a vintage rain dance around camp.

  “Hey Yah Hoy Yah Hoy Yah Hey Yah- Hey Ya  Hoy Ya Hoy Ya Ho!” 

Each verse accompanied by a thump on my drum.  All were entertained.  I’m pretty sure I made social media. Less sure what bears thought.   

     Ray, dogs and family left at dusk. After dropping them at the walk in,  Chelsea and I returned to camp.  We moved our sleeping gear to the lean to.  I prefer sleeping there anyways, and especially with a bear- I can see better, tend the fire better,  and react faster than if confined in a tent.  Air horns at the ready, we built up the bonfire and settled in for the night.

     About 1 am we heard noise by the coolers.  We shined our flashlights- there it was – caught in the act.  The bear had dragged the smallest of our coolers from its perch.  It wasn’t a big bear- maybe 200 pounds, I’d say, not much bigger than our Yeti cooler. 

At one and the same time my immediate thoughts were;  “Cool!  There’s the bear!”, and “Oh Crap – There’s the bear!”

      It was standing there looking at that cooler- and in that second, I could read that bear’s mind, “How come that tastes so AWFUL?”

     Chelsea blasted her air horn.  We watched bear butt scoot up the trail.  At that point, we agreed to take turns on watch.  Armed with the  big flashlight, Chels volunteered for first watch. I dozed next to her- one eye open.  Even a small bear is a big bear.  We agreed, if the bear returned, we would leave.

     Shortly thereafter, Chelsea gasped; “Dad it’s back!”  She blasted her air horn.

       “Dad, the bear came back. I don’t feel safe.  I’m scared and I want to leave.” 

I agreed, we grabbed our “go bags”, got on the Star Craft, navigated the night lake to the walk in, and spent the remainder of the night in the bear free environment of my brother’s living room.

      Fortified with pancakes, coffee, and several hours of sleep, Chelsea and I returned to camp in the morning.  There were no signs that the bear had come back.

  My wife Robin and daughter Abby walked in later with reinforcements-  bigger air horns, more ammonia. 

I made  six “bear bombs” –   bundles of dried cedar boughs designed to throw on the fire at bear sighting to make an immediate big blaze- make us big with fire and noise.  Put big fire between us and the bear. Blast air horns.  That was the plan.

     Everyone came in for dinner, I  reversed my polarity and did another bear dance. 

Family left, Ray stayed. We deployed a  camp early warning system of noisy pans and clattery stuff on paths and bushes. Armed with ammonia, air horns, bonfire and bear bombs, we manned the lean to for a 2nd night. 

The bear lives here, but so do we.  As long as it’s not wounded, rabid, cornered,  aggressive, huge,  a mother with cubs, or doesn’t bring reinforcements- we ought to be able to intelligently weather the presence of one adolescent beer chugging bear.

     July 15th: No bear came that night.   RJ came in.  Ray went out.  RJ brought game cameras.  They didn’t aid our security, but bear footage on game cam would be video worth watching.  We  repeated our strategy for the next two nights. No bear. 

     RJ went out to go back to work.  I stayed to button down and bear proof our camp as best as possible.  I ferried all the food coolers down to my brother at the State boat launch on Lower Saranac. 

I left no food behind while camp was unoccupied, although the drink cooler was still full.  I took all the beer out and hid it in the back of the lean to, just in case.  I positioned “scare bear” traps inside the lean-to- pots pans and metal camp plates from the cook kit perched precariously on stuff.   I sprayed everything with ammonia.

     I met a DEC boat coming out of the channel as I was going in. Two Park Rangers were coming up to post bear warning signs on Weller Pond.  Apparently the bear activity has been heavy up there the past 3 days. Same bear?  Different bear?  Both?  Who knows. I updated them on bear status in our camp, and headed for home.

     Ray would be in camp during the upcoming week, I planned to return with RJ on Sunday through Tuesday when he had days off from work. We needed to be smart, be alert, and have a plan.  We understand that this is the bear’s home. We respect the bear.

       Somehow having bears around makes me feel more alive, more in tune, more aware.   We are willing to make the necessary adjustments required to camp smartly in the Adirondacks in the presence of bears.  I just wish they would learn to close the cooler after making a sandwich, and not drink all my beer.     


Part II:

Bear Watch

     July 12, Late Afternoon: My phone rang.  It was Ray;

  “Hey- listen, the only day I can get in here overnight this weekend is Saturday- just me- what’s your plan?”

     He seemed a little uneased at the prospect of a night in camp alone.  I couldn’t blame him.  We’d already been visited 3 times by the bear. Twice in one night.  Twice while we were there.

      “I’ll be there on Saturday.  I’ll row in- late evening.  We’ll fish, camp out in the lean to, build a bonfire, and fend off the bears.”

July 14th, Early Afternoon:

Ray called. “Hey- I’m in camp. Pretty sure the bear was here- figure you didn’t leave our utility bin in the middle of the lean-to with bite marks in it.  There ‘s a bunch of pans on the floor.  The bear must have knocked them over when he grabbed the bin.  Apparently they scared him off, because the bin isn’t opened and everything else looks intact.”

     I nodded as I spoke.  “Yeah- I put those pans there.  I’ll be there in an awhile.  I’m on my way now.” 

Apparently my “scare bears” had worked- on a bear standing right where I was planning to sleep.

     I reached camp around 7pm.  Ray, dogs and family were there, eating dinner.   The bear had been back in our absence.  Our bear plan needed some serious upgrading.

     Along with another half gallon of ammonia, I brought with me two hand held spotlights to add to our arsenal. I  traded the birch baton for my hatchet and  performed my bear dance.  Turned it up a notch. 

I then climbed the big rock overlooking our coolers.  I channeled back into my once upon a time arsenal of martial arts stances; “Crouching Tiger”, “Fleeing Lion”,  a “One legged Bow Hunter” stance that I made up on the spot.  Certainly enough to intimidate any onlooker bears.   Then I blasted my air horn.  A preemptive strike. 

     “I’m here.  I’m big.  I have fire bombs, air horns, spotlights and ammonia –  and I plan on sleeping all night in that lean to you’ve been raiding.” 

Point made- I climbed down off the rock-before I lost my balance and fell down off the rock.

     Dinner show complete, Ray ferried dogs and family to the walk in while I sprayed the whole camp with ammonia and built up our fire.

     It always amazes to me just how much wood it takes to keep a big bonfire burning all night. The wind off the lake speeds the burn rate.  We work all day-  huge “yule” stumps,  massive hardwood logs,  punky poplar chunks- no matter what we manage to drag down through the woods, regardless how impressive the pile- by morning – it’s gone.

     Ray and I manned the lean-to, took turns stoking the fire. Neither of us slept much.  No bear.

     July 15th-Sunday It was windy all day- that  hard, whitecap Middle Lake wind.  We took the pontoon boat and attempted to fish. 

     By mid-day Ray and I had trolled across to the upper end of the lake. There, on the far side of the lake, we spotted a young couple in a canoe, with a life vested dog, along the far shoreline just below Bartlett Carry. They were paddling hard, but losing ground in the wind.  We stowed our rods and  motored over.

     There was a young blonde gal in front, sturdy male in the back,  a young couple-with dog and gear sandwiched between them.  The young woman’s hair was matted to her head, she looked near exhausted.

     “Hey, pretty windy today- can we give you a tow?” 

Ray was shouting through the boat engine and wind.  They eagerly agreed. We directed them over to a small cove, out of the wind, so we could safely get situated and toss them a line.

    “Where are you coming from?”

    “Whellen Pond”  “”Hmmm…..” I thought.

     “Okay- Weller Pond.  Where are you headed?”

     “The boat launch.  We’ve got to get this canoe back- it’s a rental.”

      “Where are you from?”


      How a seemingly intelligent young couple from Philadelphia could be in the middle of the Adirondacks, in a canoe, with a dog, without a clear idea of where they had been, or where they were going, was beyond me- but I kept my thoughts to myself.

I manned the tow line while my brother slowly steered towards the mouth of  South Creek, the closest thing to a “boat launch” on the middle lake.  My brother and I agreed.  If that wasn’t where their car was, it was as far as they were going in this wind, a safe landing spot, and from there they could call if they needed more help.

     It was also clear that our male friend had no concept how to steer a canoe with a paddle.  Now was no time for a tutorial, so I stood on the back of the pontoon boat and guided the canoe with the tow rope from the front.

  This is no task for amateurs.  I might not recommend it for anyone who hasn’t practiced.  Those who think otherwise should try it. One wrong move and a towed canoe quickly takes water and submarines.  We know.  We’ve done it.  Submarined a towed canoe- I mean.  The lake bed may still be polluted with the Teddy Grahams Ray jettisoned one summer.  Happens fast- gets worse quicker.

     So Ray and I worked in concert, slowly, deliberately, into the wind, until we had the young couple, and their dog, safely to the entrance to South Creek. Clearly exhausted and relieved, the young woman suddenly produced a wad of bills from some pouch or pocket .

      “Don’t you dare- young lady!” I said.

     “We’ve all been there.  Just glad to be able to lend a hand.”

     They thanked us, made some remark about “Legendary Adirondack Hospitality”– and were gone.  We motored across the lake back to camp.  At least they’ll have a story with a good ending to tell once they get home to Philly.

     Ray stayed for dinner but couldn’t stay the night.  RJ wasn’t coming in until later the following day. We spent the afternoon restocking the  firewood pile.  I ferried Ray across to the walk in around 5pm.   I was on my own for the night.

     I have always enjoyed time alone in camp.  Days alone, nights alone- it’s peaceful, somehow cleansing. In Colden, working on the trail crew, we had bears, but that was different.  We had a cabin.  Here, I was in the open, more vulnerable, perhaps- more exposed.

     Being post cancer tube fed, I have a tactical advantage over others.  I don’t eat food.  Don’t cook food.  Don’t carry food with me.  My prescription formula doesn’t look or smell like food.  I’ve never tasted it, but I highly doubt that it tastes like food.

       I find that occasionally.  The “who” I am now is far stronger than the “who” I was then.   Cancer raided my camp.  I blasted my air horn, bear bombed it.  It returned.  It brought reinforcements.  I fought again, hand to hand, with my hatchet.   Cancer did not disable me.  I evolved.

      Unfortunately, at this moment, I was fairly certain that any tactical advantage my evolution may have gained was erased by the bear sized Yeti full of food sitting yummily against the big rock in front of our lean to.

     It also occurred to me that I somehow, as the only non-food consuming member of the family,  had managed to find myself as the lone guardian of the  camp cooler for the night.  Bear bait.  I was guarding it. Which was okay, as long as I wasn’t it.

     I did a bear dance, struck intimidating hunter poses on the rock, blew my air horn, built a bonfire, and manned the lean to for the night.

     I sat in my reclining camp chair, sleeping bag as a mattress, filled my feed bag with coffee from my Army issue canteen cup, wrapped myself in an old poncho liner that’s been with me since Ranger School.

           About 3am I stepped out into the night air to put more logs on the fire.  Overhead, through a gap in the trees, massive White Pine and Hemlock, the night sky was a bright twinkle array against black, framed in the gentle sway of the trees, mirrored in glimmered reflection off the lake.

     I stood there awhile, breathing it in, thinking nothing – everything – life.  It occurred to me right then, that the only way to experience that moment – that space- was to be there, in a lean to, in the Adirondacks, alone, with bears, gazing at the stars in the middle of the night.      

          I returned to the relative safety of the lean-to. I think I slept some during the night.  I’m not sure. 

July 16th: I greeted the first rays of Monday as I threw the last sticks of wood on the fire.  I decided that morning to be like the bear, hibernate awhile in the safety of day.  No bear.  Except me, channeling my inner bear while I snoozed.  I wonder if “Snoozing Bear” would be an effective addition to my arsenal of poses.

     I spent the day practicing the fire making skills Gary Hodgson had taught me .  I harvested “tinder fungus”, made charcoal and tinder nests, all as instructed.

      I worked diligently for several frustratingly sweaty hours with my bow drill, made smoke several times, hot embers twice, fire once. Mission accomplished.  I now have a much greater appreciation for modern fire making devices.  Thank God for matches!

     RJ arrived that evening at the walk in – with his girlfriend-a fellow “Smitty” from down Albany way.  A Natural Resources Conservation major with Forest Ranger aspirations.  We’d met her before.

  I’ve unofficially dubbed her “North Woods Law”, but her real name is Carrie.  She eats venison, takes her own fish off the hook, camps with bears.  We like her.

     The three of us manned camp.  RJ checked his game cams, no bear footage.

The wind really picked up, but we managed to fish.  Ray came and went for day visits.  RJ caught two big pike.

We watched bald eagles soar, counted ducklings, saw herons, spotted fawns, heard calling loons. RJ and Carrie swam. We gathered, chopped, sawed and split another big stack of wood.

     I went on a hunt for genus “Dirca”“Leatherwood”“Ropebark”, again, per instructions from Gary Hodgson. 

Wikipedia info page and photo in hand, I followed the river down to the locks, examining trees, leaves, and branches along the way.  I’m by no means a Dendrologist.  I know the Maples from the Oaks, Poplar, the Birches, Beech, Black Cherry, most of the pines. I know Ironwood from Elm, Cedar from Balsam, Walnut from Hickory. I know berries, but not shrubs.

     I did not find Dirca.  I did find bear skat, bear tracks, rotted tree trunks torn open by grub hunting bears.  Bears were around here, had been here, were here. 

It occurred to me as I passed through scattered clusters of ripe wild raspberry and not quite yet blueberries that the hatchet I carried was a little short as a defense against bears. If it came down to me and my hatchet v.s. some raspberry patch bear, I’d already lost. I picked up my pace.

    I made the locks in a little over an hour.  Bear free.  Dircaless.  Margaret, the resident DEC lock tender, saw me coming and came over to chat.  I showed her my leatherwood photo.  She didn’t know it either.  I’d have to go back to Gary for further instruction.

       I showed her the weapon I had crafted from an old hatchet head kicked up in camp, cleaned up, sharpened, fitted with a hand carved striped maple handle, wedged for tight fit, “Adirondack Outlaw” engraved into the handle.  It’s sturdy, rustic, longer handled and heavier than commercial hatchets, smaller than an axe.  A great camp utility tool.  My desperation defense against bears.

My “Adirondack Outlaw” Hatchet

Close Quarters “Outlaw Bear” Defense”

      I was fairly tired from my trek, and  somewhat dehydrated, something I have to pay particular attention to.  I sat on a rock on the snowmobile trail above the locks, where Margaret told me she gets her best cell service – and called RJ to come and get me on the Star Craft.

  “Middle Saranac Lake Ferry Service

Can’t Beat It!

     While I awaited RJ, I talked with Margaret about bears. She told me they’d been active up by Weller Pond, and on the upper sites around the lake. She related a recent incident involving three men in a site  just above us on the lake.

“Three pretty big guys”, She said. 

Apparently the bear ambled into their camp right in front of them while they were sitting around their fire.  Tore into their cooler.  Stole their beer. Not intimidated by their presence one bit.

I shared with her our  strategy- be big with noise, with fire, spray ammonia, do bear dances.  She chuckled, shrugged and agreed.  That’s the best we can do- try to convince the bear to be somewhere else. And if that doesn’t work, just get out of the way.

     RJ showed up with the boat. I rode back to camp.  It was too windy to fish.  We gathered wood, built a fire, cooked dinner, enjoyed time in camp.    

     Monday night, Tuesday night- Bear dances, ammonia, bonfires, no bear.

     Wednesday came.  We broke camp.   I ferried RJ and Carrie to the walk in, took my pickup to the State Bridge, rode back with RJ in his Jeep, and  returned to camp to finish loading the Star Craft, navigate down through the river, the locks and Lower Saranac to the DEC Boat Launch to link up with my brother, who was in Plattsburgh at the moment.

     It was 1pm. I didn’t expect Ray until 3.  I was tired, a bit hungry.  I decided to go have a picnic nap with my Dad.  I drove into town, up through the gates of St. Bernard’s Cemetery, parked my truck, set up my feeding pole, hooked up my tube and settled in against an ancient white pine next to the head stone of Dad’s grave.

     “Hi Dad- How do you like my new truck?  Gary says “Hi.”  I went to see him like I promised.  He made me a bow drill.” 

    “Fishing wasn’t bad.  It got windy. RJ caught two big pike.  He’s got a girlfriend now.  Doing well at Paul Smith’s.  Chelsea spent the night, so did Abby.  Robin came in with Mom one day for steaks on the grill.  All good.”

    “We had a bear in camp.  About 200 pounds, a  juvenile I think.”

    “RJ and I broke camp today.  Ray’s in through the weekend.  Going back up on Saturday with everyone for a chicken barbeque.”

     Report and lunch finished, I stowed my feeding gear in my pack, and stood by Dad’s headstone for a few quiet moments.  It’s different without him.  I miss him. We all do.

     “We love you Dad.  Thanks for everything.  Rest Well.”

Thomas R. Monroe

“Husband, Grandfather”


      Dad brought us here, to this place, these mountains, this life, shared and solitary.  He brought us here  to this moment in time, where I camped with family, made fire without a match, caught fish with my brother and son, saw eagles, towed a canoe, heard loons, searched for leatherwood, stood alone in the starlight, and danced with a bear.


Part III:

The Bear Dance

“Our Camp Crew”

“Monroe Camp Chef”

     July 28th-8am: My cell phone rang. It was Ray.

  “Hey- got a call last night from my neighbor- he’s camped on site 66, just above us. 

“My neighbor said “BEAR!”

“Call came in about 4am.”

He says they tried yelling at it, but it completely ignored them.   So  they shot fireworks at it. That’s all they had.  He said he thought there might be two.  They saw the small one.   I’ve got the chickens and the pontoon boat- what’s the plan?”

     “Robin, Mom and I will meet you at the State Bridge at 11.  We’ll go cook chickens.  Anyone staying with you tonight?  You’re gonna have bears.”

     “Yeah- I know.  No volunteers yet.  I’ll be OK.  Lots of people coming. It’ll be fun.  I’m not worried.  See you at the dock.”

     RJ and I had broken camp Wednesday.  Ray was still in.  His plan had been to do the cookout today, spend the night, then break camp, load gear, and head out in the morning.  Our site reservation ended at 11am the next day.

    11:00 am:  Robin, My Mom and I drove over from Watertown and met Ray at the boat launch on Lower Saranac, packed for a planned day trip chicken barbeque to celebrate Ray’s birthday. 

The day’s planned  itinerary played out in my head as we drove.  3 hours of grilled smoke wafting up though the woods. Bears 3 sites above us. Ray for the night.  I shifted uncomfortably in my seat.  I was under packed.  I sighed to myself.  I’d deal with that later.

     Ray had the pontoon boat, a Yeti full of chicken splits, four bags of charcoal,  and three gallons of our family’s Cornell Chicken marinade.

    We had a bacon wrapped, onion stuffed venison pepper roast I’d  pre-cooked the night before, a tray of my Mom’s deviled eggs, and all the fixins for a berry infused whipped topping birthday dessert.  Plus a surprise gift for my brother, unveiled at the ramp.

     We’ve done many camp barbeques through the years.  No matter the menu or season, one factor is constant dining “Chez Bull Rush Bay” – the wind.  It’s a culinary camp challenge.

I did not have enough fingers to count the number of times a planned mid-afternoon “food’s on” gone late, or later, while hungry guests waited and watched while we battled wind.  I’d designed a solution.

     Several years earlier I had crafted my brother a 3’x3′ grill grate designed to fit the fireplace at Bull Rush Bay.  Hardware cloth grill surface, reinforced mesh re-bar,  sturdy wooden handles hewn from walking sticks the kids had cut and carved in camp and I’d saved over the years. 

The wood handles charred a bit more each use, but stayed cool to the touch so that the grill could be lifted from the front, allowing cooks to tend fire.  It was ruggedly rustic, built to meet Camp Chef demands for any Bull Rush Bay feast.

     My answer to the wind was a 3’x3′ grill cover; half inch plywood, bolted ironwood sidebars, a big grill glove friendly hand grip cut into the fron.

I’d free handed :

“Bull Rush Bay 2018”

“Bears- Wind- Fish”

“The Monroes”

across the top with a Dremel in my shop . It would hold smoky heat and keep out the wind.  Ray hugged his approval.  We loaded, boarded, and headed up the lake.

     We met Margaret at the locks.  She gave a bear update:

 “Yeah- They’ve been busy.  Up around Hungry Bay they think they saw 2- big one and a smaller one.  ECOs came in, but they didn’t spot any.  I heard shots last night, fireworks, maybe? Sounded like they came from up near 67, over that way.”

     We traded further bear info as she helped us man the locks.  We invited her to our barbeque.  She smiled and passed. We reached camp, moored the boat, and waded ashore.

     It was shortly after noon.  We got right to work.  We had pre-cut a good stack of hardwood splits.  We started the fire- a bed of wood coals, augmented with charcoal. Our grill blend.

     Family and friends arrived in small waves.   Ray ferried some.  Others came on their own.  Chickens went on at 2, along with the roast.  Somewhere along the way, a tray of sausage stuffed zucchini boats and cheesy stuffed mushrooms were added to the mix.

     Our new grill covered worked great!  My Robin was camp sous chef, lifting the cover while I tended chickens, slathering on layers of smoke sizzling sauce at each turn.  My Mom, camp matriarch, supervised and sampled my grill work from her camp chair behind me.

    People came, wine corks popped, the table filled, spirits flowed.  The venison roast appetizer came off at 3:30.   Ray came over and helped turn chickens between trips.  He added charcoal, painted chickens, chatted up guests.  We watched smoke waft up through the woods.

     “You’re gonna have bears tonight.”

     “Yeah- I know.”

     “Any takers yet?”


     I turned and nodded to Robin; “You got one now- I’m staying.”

   I wasn’t packed for a night.  I’d only brought feeding formula enough for the day.  Ray’s wife Patty hadn’t walked in yet.  He got her on the cell.

     “Hey- can you grab Dick four canned Starbuck’s?  I think there’s some on the shelf.  He’s staying the night but doesn’t have enough formula.”

     My Sister in Law Doc and loving RN wife protested my choice of nutritional supplement.  I laughed.

     “I survived 8 weeks and a Fort Benning wake up on nicotine and MRE canteen cup coffee.  I think I’ll survive the next 24 hours on Starbucks in a can.”

     Ray left to get Patty  and another boatload of guests at the walk in.  I turned to Robin.

     “You aren’t mad if I stay?  I can’t be who I am and leave my brother here alone.”

     She nodded.  “I knew you were staying the minute we left the house this morning.  He’ll have bears tonight.  You’re his brother.  Here- take my hoodie.  You’ll need it.”

     WORLD RECORD!!!!  At exactly 4pm, Mom sampled the chicken and declared it done.  We were eating on time.  My grill cover came through.

    We plated off the grill.  People ate in waves, corks popped, spirits flowed.  At some point folks played water volleyball in the bay.  Cake came out, candles lit, a “Happy Birthday” chorus rang through the woods.

     Dinner and a show-While evening began its slow descent and guests enjoyed cake- I performed my best bear dance to much cheering applause. 

It got late.  Those who boated in boated out while the lower locks were still open.  I said my goodbyes. Ray ferried Mom and Robin down to the state bridge.  They took the grate, the grate cover, all the garbage.  What was left of the chicken would walk out with Patty.

     I mounted my rock and took imposing stance- Soaring Eagle, Startled Cougar, One legged Bow Hunter- Blew the air horn, long and loud.  People cheered, people laughed- all agreed.

     “You guys are gonna get bears tonight.”

     A small group remained.  The last wine glass got filled.  As twilight descended guests demanded an encore performance-  I lead a sing along bear dance.  Armed with dog dishes, pots and pans, we danced, pranced  and sang around the fire.

     Then they all left.  Ray ferried the last guests and family across the lake to walk out while I cleaned up camp, sprayed ammonia, set early warnings, built a bonfire, prepared for the night.

     9:30 pm:  The wind had subsided.  Night settled in.  I spotlighted Ray while he moored the boat.  We armed air horns, set “bear bombs” next to us outside the lean to, threw  logs on the fire, settled in.  I manned the spotlight.  Ray read by headlamp.

         Something scampered across my chest, down my arm past Ray’s  head.  I hit it with the spotlight- a scurrying mouse. 

I remarked to my brother;  “Mouse just ran across my chest and down my arm.  I bet if we took a survey- folks would rather face a bear than that mouse.”

     NOTE:   I would later be most emphatically proved right.  Post camp surveys on the Hierarchy Of Fear clearly showed –  MOUSE! trumped BEAR!  Just for the record-so did BIG SPIDER.  Although- I do wonder…..I’ve never taken refuge in Ray’s  living room in response to BIG SPIDER.  Or MOUSE.   

     At 10:30 pm I scanned camp with the spotlight.  THERE!  Right behind my big rock, overlooking the coolers – two green circles peeking out at us from behind the trunk of a big hemlock.

     “Ray- Bear.  Up there on the hill.  Behind the hemlock.  Watching us.”

     Ray got up and stepped out from the lean-to.  “Yup, got it.”

     The bear didn’t seem much concerned.  I don’t know how long he’d been there watching us, waiting, biding his time above the coolers, plotting his next move.  Ray tried to take a picture while I held the spotlight, but it was too dark.

     Spotlight on him, the jig was up.  The bear stepped out from behind the hemlock on all fours, standing on the rock where I’d performed not much earlier.  

     Ray grabbed a cedar bough bear bomb, I manned an air horn.

     “Okay- Ready?” 


“On the count of three.”


     Ray bear bombed the fire.  I blasted the air horn.  One startled black bear danced off into the night.


Until our trails cross again:

Live In The Day You Are In

Be “Forever Wild”

Dance With Bears