The Bell and the Bear
A Centennial Trail Saga
Story and Photos by Michael Stubbs
When the black bear appears opposite us, we catch our breath and watch. The bear is running fast. The bear is running up a steep canyon. The bear is flying through brambles and fallen trunks and branches with ease. It is running, I believe, because of the bell.
Tom Klein wears the little yellow bell on his black-and-purple backpack. Its jingle, loud and persistent, is designed to alert bears to a human presence, to prevent hikers from startling ursine scavengers, perhaps even to scare them off. By six p.m. on the first day of our hike, the day before we see this bear, the bell already has driven me mad.
We meet the bear by midmorning on day two. Our trail has followed Silver Creek uphill toward its origins. We have watched this creek split into a half-dozen side canyons from our start up Coxey Creek earlier in the day. At first, the bear is just a sound on the wind. Branches snap in the bottoms of Silver Creek some twenty feet down and to our left. It is dark and shady near the creek. I expect a moose. Tom also knows that something will emerge from the shadows and the shade. We stop and watch. The snapping continues, and then grasses and leaves rustle farther up the hillside.
Now the bell has done its job—or appears to. By bell or by loud chatter, we have scared a bear.