Walk in the woods was no ‘Teddy Bear Picnic’

September 2018

Margot Oxendine

I have been walking in the woods around here for decades; minus, of course, the two years I was “down” with the new knees.

But my new knees are finally cooperating, and I am back at my walks through the woods. Lately, I’ve been doing it almost every day. I am now addicted to the endorphins a trudge down a wooded lane brings. And, I’ve managed to leave about 20 pounds along the trailside. What’s not to love? What’s not to compel one to just get out there and do it?

In all my years in the woods, I have never seen a bear. I have rarely seen bears at all, save for a few from behind the safety of my car windows. My favorite bear sighting: A mama bear and three little cubs, the last cub tumbling end over end down a hillside. It made me laugh out loud with delight. In fact, I am delighted every time I spy a bear. I keep an eye out for them.

I was always glad, though, that I’d never encountered one when it was just me and the bear and Mother Nature. One day last fall, on my particular favorite walk, I somehow managed to freak myself out that a bear was stalking me. Don’t know why that happened, but the thought and the fear overtook my mind, and I couldn’t get out of the woods quickly enough!

You’re not supposed to run from a bear; I know that much. Besides, even a geriatric, three-legged bear could probably outrun me.

Carrying bear spray might help, but I cannot bring myself to do that. I don’t want to get in a pitched battle with an angry bear. I just want to admire him or her, and have us both go about our business of walking.

On a recent evening, I was taking my daily trek down the wooded lane. It was about 7:30 or 7:45. Summer is simply too blazing-sun hot for me to do this any earlier.

I had been alerted by a fellow walker I sometimes encounter that he had spied a bear up near a certain landmark along our walk. He said it crashed into the woods as soon as it saw him.

“Thanks,” I said. “I’m more afraid of the ticks than a bear!”

Still, I kept my eyes open. I passed the landmark with no bear sighting.

Nonetheless, I kept an eye on the woods to my left. On the right is a spreading, lavish meadow with horses, and a 40-mile mountain view.

And, lo, suddenly, there he was: A bear. In the woods not 20 feet from me! Oh geez, I thought. I patted my pocket, only to discover that this was the only day in at least 100 walks here that I’d forgotten my cellphone. I don’t know whom I’d have called, but it would have been a comfort to have called someone — anyone — to come pick me up if the bear decided to chase me.

So it’s just the two of us, staring at each other. Neither of us with a phone.

A sudden plan overcame me: Sing! Yet, I could not think of a single song. So, I quickly made up one and started belting it out as I walked slowly away. (Running triggers a bear’s chase instinct, I’d read.)

I can’t remember the song I made up on the spot, but believe me, at the time it seemed Broadway worthy. It was about a bear in the woods, and a woman alone, without a phone. It had pep, and pathos, and a perfect build-up to the coda, or end.

As I sang, I kept a close watch over my shoulder. There was nothing lumbering after me, thank heavens. I kept going, knowing that once I turned back, I’d be entering the bear’s territory. But finally, I had no choice: It was time to watchfully head back to the safety of the car. I strained my eyes in the twilight, but saw neither hide nor hair of the bear. I sighed with relief when I shut the car door and headed back home.

It’s a funny thing, though. Now that my first open-air bear encounter has occurred, I somehow can’t wait for it to happen again. I’ve got a song ready for him this time. Still, I’ll carry my cellphone, and my old-golf-club walking stick.

To read more of Margo’s adventures, order her book, “A Party of One.” Call 540-468-2147 Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Or email: [email protected]