I was lounging around camp in midafternoon boiling the billy. Had me a relaxation station set up in the shade of a tree, an air mattress propped up against a boulder as a makeshift recliner, and a long view down the creek.
I had pulled my can of boiling water off the campfire and set it beside my lounge chair, and when I glanced up before sitting down, I caught sight of a black bear just before it passed behind a wall of bushes along the creek bank.
I was startled for a second. It was odd to unexpectedly see an animal of that size, a big black beast, so close to me. I’m not accustomed to seeing anything larger than deer when out in the forest around here. It’s not like Sequoia National Park or other places where bears are a daily sight.
I was all alone in that canyon, I thought, the biggest animal around, hadn’t seen anybody in two days. Then seemingly out of nowhere another large mammal suddenly pops into sight. And it was only a short stone’s throw from where I stood and coming directly toward my camp.
I bounded over to my backpack and ripped my camera from its pouch, but when I looked up the bear had already fled back across the creek. It was pushing through the brush and climbing over boulders moving up the slope out of the streambed. It paused briefly several times to glance back down at me as I watched it intently.
It’s only the second bear I’ve ever seen in the Los Padres National Forest. I saw one a couple of decades ago, but just a split second glimpse of its hind end as it charged into the chaparral, after having been surprised by me as I blasted down a dirt road on a motorcycle.
Nearly every time I go out for a hike I see bear sign. Bears seem to be everywhere all the time, judging by the number of footprints I see, but they’re sly and not commonly seen. On this day, however, a bear walked right up to my camp oblivious to my presence.