See Coming of Age:  Sycamore Memoir:  http://hunterbear.org/coming%20of%20age%20[western%20memoir.%20htm.htm

Sycamore Trek:  http://hunterbear.org/sycamore_trek.htm

Grizzlies and Sycamore Canyon:  http://hunterbear.org/grizzlies.htm




This isn't a lecture and, apropos of the religious talk on political tv, this isn't a sermon either.
But as I watch yet another frightened and hypothermic city family [Sacramento] happily rescued from the snow-covered wilds, I do have a few thoughts.
Whenever you go into the Wilds, be prepared. That's the old saw from the Boy Scouts, but it's a solid one.  I was never much at all for Boy Scouting -- seeing it as far too regimented [albeit with that dimension well motivated in a paternalistic sense.]  I did have some fine experiences with the thoroughly informal Explorer Scout troop out of Flagstaff [Ariz], and high school level and mostly Mexican-American, that was sponsored by Monsignor Albouy and was pretty much a just plain and pleasant hiking club.  The Monsignor, older and rather frail, never accompanied us -- a couple of older parishioners took that on -- but we were free to chart our own course.
Just fine with me.  I'd been going, ever further into the Wilds, ever since I was seven years old and a fugitive from third grade.
And I was -- and still am -- Prepared.
Traditionally, I've always been the lone hunter type -- sometimes a friend or two, occasionally a family member -- but mostly by myself and on my own.
Once, at 17, I went with several friends -- we were barely out of high school.  It was late September, first day of deer season, and some snow had just fallen.  My companions were basically town kids and quite unfamiliar with the setting I recommended:  in and around Turkey Butte which is only a few miles east of my Special Turf -- Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Area.  We headed out very early in Marvin's car -- the roads were wide dirt at that point -- and at Turkey Butte we split up.  I immediately headed westward to the Sycamore rim country and was soon tracking a buck deer.  I found him, thoughtfully heading right toward the vast canyon to his winter range, but I missed my shot.  An hour or so later, still in the same general area, I heard a cluster of shots. Curious, because other hunters virtually never got even to the Sycamore rim, I slipped over in that direction.  And there I found Marvin with a buck he'd shot.
His first words to me were revealing.  "This is really a good view of Oak Creek Canyon!" he said happily.
 I sensitively and quickly explained to him that That was Sycamore Canyon and added that Oak Creek -- a tourist attraction even then -- was many miles away to the east.
Worried that lions or bears might get his deer -- he wasn't inclined, even with my proffered help, to take the deer to vehicle-accessible Forest Service roads-- he asked if I'd watch it until he was able to round up the others and try to make it in close.  It was obvious that he didn't want to stay there by himself. I readily agreed to "protect" the deceased buck.
And then Marvin confessed he was "kind of lost."
I had an ink pen with me and found an old letter in my wallet.  Using my gun-stock as a writing desk, I wrote out rudimentary directions for Marvin -- that would take him back to Turkey Butte.  He left, assuring me that they'd all get to me no later than late afternoon.
So I waited.  By 6 pm or so -- not surprised to see no one -- I rustled up some old fallen cedar limbs and built a small fire with the matches I always packed -- along with rich chocolate bars and a water-filled canteen.  I wasn't worried:  I had my rifle, an old Winchester 45/70 lever action, and my J.C. Penney denim coat with a blanket inlay. At that point, I didn't need a hat but I had my wide-brimmed special.  When evening came and with it colder and colder darkness, I simply built the fire higher.  I listened to the pleasant coyote howls and, around midnight, heard a bobcat yowl.
It was a great night, sort of existential in a quasi-mystical fashion.  Did a lot of increasingly deep, reflective thinking.  Slept now and then -- and easily stayed warm.  In time, the eastern sky lightened and then I could once again see my surroundings in incipient sunlight.
Around ten a.m., I heard yells.  I yelled back.  And there they finally were -- in Marvin's car which had somehow gotten down a bare trace of a road to a not far-away point.  It turned out that, frightened as all hell, they had gone into Flag to the Coconino County sheriff's office that night and asked for what amounted to a "search and rescue" operation.  The deputy in charge had heard of me.  "You don't have to worry about that kid," he told my desperate friends. "I've heard of him and he'll be OK." [I've always treasured that one.] The officer gave them a USFS map and that, plus the directions I'd written out for Marvin, provided the route to me.
We went back to Flag and our homes. [They never went back into that specific area.]  But I didn't stay home beyond grabbing a bite to eat.  I took my ancient Model A and my rifle and was, in due course, back on the Sycamore rim to one of my own very special places. [The Model A was better than a contemporary Jeep and could take me right in there on what amounted to a high grade game trail.] A few hours later, I had a buck deer and the only possible danger I encountered was a dazy skunk wandering around under the high sunlight -- unquestionably rabid.  I avoided It and, after a bit of wandering, was home by dusk.
Whenever you go into the Wilds in any fashion, take matches.  You can start an enduring fire under any circumstances -- even in heavy snow.  If it's a wet situation, helps to have some paper to go with the matches.  Always take some water and at least some rudimentary food rations. And a knife. If you're in a vehicle, some blankets, hatchet or axe, and a shovel can be great friends.  Always helpful at every point to have a firearm.
In the desert [which can get cold at night] always take, in addition to matches, plenty of water, a wide-brimmed hat, salt tablets, and a snake-bite kit.
But always matches.  They'll keep you warm -- and, if you're really trapped, they're the key to a Smoke Signal that'll eventually be spotted.
[I have other suggestions but that's enough from me. You all can go the rest of the way.]
Hunter [Hunter Bear]

Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
 and Ohkwari'



John Salter:

Good tale. What I see is that you remained calm, which seems paramount to survival. I got lost in a cornfield in Iowa City and found that screaming and running didn't accomplish very much  [JS]

Hunter's response:

Well, Iowa City [known as the Berkeley of the Midwest], is all rather strange. You wouldn't have yowled and run in the Real World -- wild or otherwise. As I recall, you offspring often wandered off into the woods around Tsaile [Navajo Nation] and that, of course, is known for its Skinwalkers


 Myrna Hill writes:

Thank you for this.  I walk my dogs in a wildish county park in the Southern California foothills, and wonder about in what circumstances to worry about the coyotes we see.  Another dogwalker told us a young male tried to snatch his chihuahua.  Several of us, including me, have spotted lone males.  One dogwalker told us the time to watch out for coyotes is when the pups are suckling, so that the young males are kicked out to fend for themselves and are trying to figure out what to hunt.   Is there a book you could recommend with such information?  Thanks.  Myrna Hill

Hunter's Response:

Thanks, Myrna.  I have never at all been worried about coyotes.  We have much on our website about those and mountain lions as well. And lions have never bothered me one whit.  There are several of them around here -- along with many coyotes.
I had a companion coyote for two years until he left me for a lady coyote. http://hunterbear.org/KAY%20OH%20TAY%20GOOD.htm
And another of our coyote pages is at  http://hunterbear.org/coyotes_and_coyote_talk.htm
If you feel troubled at some point, just keep your dog leashed.
But again, coyotes and lions and bobcats et al. have never bothered us or our dogs and cats.  My late -- and truly great cat -- Cloudy Gray, was one-half bobcat.
An older, but very good book on coyotes is -- J. Frank Dobie's, The Voice of the Coyote.  Easily found in most good libraries.
Again, thanks for writing and all best.



Martha Elizabeth Ture:

Hi, Hunter,
I used to write an outdoors column - only woman outdoors columnist in the state at that point - and I always told people my rules for going Out.  the first was always tell someone when you are leaving, where you are going, where you will park, when you expect to return.
One day I got lost - even me - following a deer trail in thick woods.  Wound up just above a sheer granite drop of about 100 feet.  Scrambled back up hill through brush.  Got to where I thought I ought to see a certain sign and didn't see it.  Climbed a tree.  Got my bearings.  Made it back to the camp.  I was never so glad to see an old tin can in all my life ..  .anyway, got back to the city and told my pal that for a minute there I was glad I'd told him where I would be parked.  He said "I forgot all about it.  You'd have been dead by now if you were counting on me."
I never forgot that.  It was a funny thing for him to say, and I did laugh, but we were lesser friends thereafter. I require a level of seriousness when it comes to life and death and Cater didn't get it.  City boy.
Happy holidays,





I've written this as an addendum to my quite recent post: "In The Wilds: Be Sensible" which is now on our website as "Wilderness Life And Times -- And Pleasant Survival."  http://hunterbear.org/wilderness_life_and_times__and.htm  I pass it along to a few lists.  And I obviously plan to do much more personally and directly In the Wilds.
In a sparky discussion on The Organizer, my oldest son, John, aptly remarked:
"Speaking as the son of a lifelong organizer, I can say this.  We never
owned a new stick of furniture.  We weren't always allowed to answer the
phone as children because men would be on the other end saying they were
coming to kill us.  It was not uncommon to come home from school and learn
that we'd be moving across the country in a couple weeks.  My point being
that we need to separate different kinds of organizers--the light load trail
rider Shane vs. those comfortably ensconced in their settings.  Great topic,
though!"  -- John Salter [Beba]
The Rudyard Kipling quote of yore, "He travels the fastest who travels alone." has stuck faithfully with me since early childhood.  As I am prone to note, I've always been a lone hunter, trapper, hiker -- and, as an organizer, a "highway sailor."  And to Kipling's observation, I'd simply add, "And who travels the lightest."
On a one day junket into the Wilds, I'll take only the rudimentaries.  Always good boots, wide-brimmed hat, adequate coat, maybe gloves, usually a gallon water canteen.  Always a knife and often a snake-bite kit -- and, if circumstances warrant it, a good rifle [and cartridges] or perhaps my revolver.  A chocolate bar or two.  And usually a hunting knife -- and matches, always matches.
I've camped by myself since mid-childhood. My hunting camps --  simply operational-base in nature -- could hardly be more basic. This held true even for my very favorite setting of yore:  a yellow pine-surrounded and secluded setting only a few yards from the rim of vast Sycamore Canyon [the Wilderness Area well to the southwest of Flagstaff.]  There I had a rudimentary lean-to arrangement which, during inclement weather, I covered with an old green tarp.  My bedroll of choice has always been the great wolfskin robe -- made from the skins of three large timber wolves killed in the Moosehead section of Northern Maine, ca. 1865, by my g/g/g uncle, Louis [Lewis] Annance, a well known St. Francis Abenaki woodsman and guide -- who raised both my great grandmother and my grandmother.  The robe was passed on to my father when he was a small child and, in due course, to me. [I've given it to Maria but I'll still use it whenever so inclined.] The robe covers me totally -- I'm just a bit over six feet -- and, if it's wet [say, from rain or snow], it always smells a little like a damp canine.  But, bottom line, it's warm.  On a hike that goes into the next day or several days, I take two light blankets as a simple bedroll tied above a backpack.
Hunting camp equipment [reduced, of course, considerably for overnight hiking junkets]:  Light coffee pot, light frying pan, a couple of aluminum plates and cup, and basic eating utensils --  and coffee, cans of beef stew, tins of roast beef, and canned peaches and, for sure, a good can-opener. I'll usually have a good double-bitted axe and a small gun-cleaning kit.
And always one of my fine firearms:  a Winchester or Marlin big-bore lever action.  Maybe a revolver.  Two or three water canteens -- gallon size -- are always very relevant. [At the Sycamore camp, I could fill-up at a large spring half a mile down inside the vast canyon -- great water and  pretty reachable via game trails.]
There's always a bit more, but you get the idea. BTW,  I don't like cell phones in the outdoors but they do, I suppose, have their uses.
And Beba is absolutely right when it comes to our household possessions.  The great, late American economist, Thorstein Veblen, who intricately dissected and bitingly attacked the "conspicuous consumption" of the "leisure class" would find no fault with us.  Aside from my firearms and Eldri's spinning wheels and a loom, we have nothing shiningly contemporary.  We may get some new clothing and such but we are heavy patrons of thrift shops and yard sales.
Even our faithful Jeep is now more than a decade old.
But we do have, if I say so, a truly great collection of Native American arts and crafts.  And that we always treasure.
And, too, we have Ourselves -- a fast-growing and far-flung extended family characterized by solidarity -- and no secrets.
Yours, Hunter Gray [Hunter Bear]



Steve McNichols:

Substitute an AK47 and a switchblade for the firearms and it's roughly the same equipment I would take before leaving the house in my old New York neighborhood.
Steven F. McNichols
San Francisco, CA 94104-3503

Dawn Lough:


Please keep on writing, it is very inspirational to hear from you.  As ever,  D. Lough


David McReynolds:
What neighborhood is that? I lived on East Fourth in the 9th Precinct (think NYPD Blue), with the highest
crime rate in Manhattan and I've never felt overly fearful (though yes, I was mugged twice).
Used to go out every night at 11 or so to get the early edition of the NY Times - alas, no more early edition.
David McReynolds
Robert Livingston:
Dear Hunter Gray,

I am so pleased to hear again from you, a kindred spirit, especially
after a new year has rolled by.  I am still looking forward to hearing
about your journey to Sycamore Canyon. . . .

Wishing you a happy season, health, and a wonderful New Year,


Robert B. Livingston
San Francisco



Steve P.:

Hunter, thank you for including me as you send out your dispatches.  I have always believed that I was born in the wrong century, probably the wrong ethnic group.  I admire your untiring efforts in addressing causes that should have been resolved decades ago.  It must be the nature of man to reinvent bigotry and discrimination in new and creative ways.  The hot political debate about "illegal immigrants" makes me ill; Caucasian arrogance has always bothered me.  I wonder if the indigenous people of the Americas ever considered walling off the Black Hills or the whole damn continent for that matter.  Ah, hindsight.  Please take care of your health. 
Best regards,
Steve P.


John Salter:

Really been enjoying the latest stuff, Arizona and the woods, etc




Jyri Kokkonen, from Finland:  [This pleasant exchange with me sent to our several discussion lists.]
Dear Hunter,
Christmas greetings to you and yours from our family here in Finland. We have a welcome Christmas break. Though shops are still open on Christmas Eve until 4 p.m. it's a holiday in all other respects. Christmas Day and Boxing Day are both public holidays. Combined with the preceding weekend, it's a nice 5-day break, which I, for one, really need. 
Unfortunately, only three of us to celebrate at home this time, our eldest boy being at his army base until after Boxing Day. Not for disciplinary reasons, though, he's just off the holiday roster. But he'll be home for New Year's and then back to the base for a couple of days for his official discharge on January 4.
I read with interest your notes on wilderness life. I could almost picture myself somewhere under the sky by a fire, sipping coffee, rolling a smoke, listening to your stories.  Maybe offering a yarn or two myself.
Matches and a knife, absolutely. There's nothing wrong with the cellphone It's  fine for emergencies (assuming there's a signal), and newer ones are coming on the market with GPS global positioning functions, which can be very handy, but people forget that phones can be dropped in water or snow, stepped on or lost and batteries can go flat. The device itself and the attendant technology, services etc. are simply too complex to trust 100% and they are definitely a poor substitute for one's own wits. An old-fashioned watch can be much more useful if only to show where North is. Can you "read" North from the lichens on bark over there? It works here in most places. And I remember learning as a kid  that matches can be waterproofed by pouring molten candle wax over them, so that you crumble the wax off them when when the time comes to use them. I've never tried it. Might not work with modern-day match-heads.
I still haven't managed to analyse the Russian elections, but I haven't stopped trying. Maybe I'll come up with something yet.
In the meantime,
All the best
Comment from Hunter Bear: 12/24/07
Well, we do join Jyri in extending our Christmas -- or Holiday -- greetings to the Four Directions.  We can read lichens and moss generally on the north side of many of our rocks and tree friends. In Arizona, there is usually not that much actual rain -- only in the northern part of the state in late summer and fall -- so we have dry "powder" or matches. Southeast Idaho is usually pretty dry. My sense of direction has always been good.  Our faithful Christmas tree [purchased, as I noted a few days ago, from K-Mart the night before X-mas in 1997 for $2.50], is in Its element with an intriguing cache of gifts under its plastic branches.  Eldri and the Family Others have done their usually top flight job in combining their work with that of the Good Spirits.
If Eldri and I were in a position to travel abroad, I'd pick Mongolia [the old Peoples' Republic] and she Norway, and I the Scottish Highlands -- and we would both vigorously agree on Finland.  We'd hit all those places, since we prefer, of course, to travel together. 
Cameron is off early this morn to assist his grandfather, Lin Whitworth and other family members, in preparing their usual massive Christmas dinner to all who wish to partake.  The Episcopal Church always makes its space available for that pleasant repast.   H.


Mary Ann Hall Winters:

Enjoyed reading this bit of family history. Particularly enjoyed the reference to Thorstein Veblen, conspicuous consumption  in the leisure class, etc.

Last gave considerable thought to  these sociological terms back in the day with Dr. Borinski.

Hope that you and the family had a Happy Holiday Season.  .  .
I'm planning to retire 12/12/08. I'm looking forward to it .
Love and regards to everyone.
Mary Ann



Kwe Kwe Prof Gray,
Boy you are a good writer...and that piece you wrote so informative.  I especially liked the bit about your ancestor & Ross..haha good one.  Hard to outwit the Mohawk.
Very interesting about the Red River...don't mess with Mother Nature.
Well it's always great to hear from you & hope you and yours are well.
Jeannine [Quebec]

So fascinating I'm sending on to my brother and sister. Living here in New York, where things are hardly flat, it is just hard

to understand what you make clear - that Fargo is a penny sitting on a table top and if a glass of water is spilled there is
no place the penny can go to escape.
David [McReynolds]


Amidst the array of profoundly disturbing global news -- including the not unexpected deepening U.S. involvement in Afghanistan -- is, of course, the Weather and its ramifications. In the past few days, no one, at least in this country, can escape the countless reports of catastrophic flooding in the Red River country of North Dakota and Minnesota.

The prognosis for Fargo and its Minnesota sister city of Moorhead is extremely grim -- with hopes now that overflow might be at least partially contained vis-a-vis local neighborhoods. Both cities have begun evacuations which will undoubtedly increase today and tomorrow -- as the Red begins its ultimate crest in that setting. This is set in the crisis context of flooding and probable flooding not only via the Red itself, but in much of North Dakota generally, and in western Minnesota.

We lived in proximity to the Red River for sixteen years -- at the down river town of Grand Forks. [One goes "up" the map from Fargo to the Forks, but the Red flows north and down into Lake Winnipeg.] The entire region is a land of extreme temperatures -- 90 degrees and higher in the summers; often 30 or 40 below in the winters -- with wind-chills sometimes dropping to 90 below zero. Snows and ice-storms can be very heavy. And things generally are wildly unpredictable.

We -- Eldri and I -- have four children: Maria, John, Peter, Josie. And there are, so far, eight grandchildren [with a ninth on the way via Josie and Cameron who live near us here in Idaho.] Although only one now, John, lives with his kids in the Red country [and a good ways from the river, fortunately], you can bet all of us in our family, wherever we are presently located, are watching the current situation -- surrounded and invaded by our vivid memories of the catastrophic flood of 1997.

The Red River Valley is, in a word, an archaic swamp. And it's as flat as the Mississippi Delta or one's table-top. Historically, until the Europeans came, there were no known permanent settlements there. [Well to the east in Minnesota are the timbered forests and lakes; to the west, the land becomes broken, eventually shifting to the vast North Dakota Badlands.]

But towns like Fargo and Grand Forks should never have been built in that setting. In the 1840s, fur entrepreneur, Alexander Ross of the Hudson's Bay Company, noted in his diary that the then flooding Red River had produced a lake 40 miles wide.

[I cannot resist adding this: Ross, of course, was a sworn antagonist of our direct ancestor, John Gray [Ignace Hatchiorauquasha] who in 1824, with the other Iroquois and some Abenaki fur hunters, forced Ross to cut the price of company trade goods in half and re-do his books to reflect the change. That was out here in our Columbia and Snake river country. Ross referred to John Gray as a "turbulent blackguard" and a "damned rascal." The next year, Gray and his band successfully took on Peter Skene Ogden, another HBC antagonist, on pricing issues just south of here in the Bear Lake setting.

http://www.hunterbear.org/GRAY%20LANDS%20AND%20GRAY%20GHOSTS.htm ]

We often recall the late summer period in Grand Forks where, in the evenings, the mosquitoes were so thick on our windows we could scarcely see out.

And we well recall, too, that -- even a few days before the '97 flood hit and subsequently wrecked the Grand Forks area [there were also, in conjunction, serious fires], many people remained convinced that it could never happen. For whatever reason or reasons, I had never trusted the Red River and, a few years before, relocated our family far to the west of town. We also spent the month immediately preceding the horrific flood stockpiling food and water. The flood stopped 300 yards short of us. We shared food and water with others, served as one of several command posts, helped as best we could.

Following all of that, Grand Forks and neighboring East Grand Forks [across the river] erected huge dikes -- which are a bit more than sixty feet high. Essentially, they are modeled after those at Winnipeg [and that's good] but built by builders and contractors from this country [which makes one thoughtful.]

They were costly and Fargo now blames Grand Forks for using up all of the available Federal monies in that genre -- leaving Fargo et al. to their own devices and luck.

As the Red proceeds toward Grand Forks, other towns, and ultimately the Winnipeg area, it will swell much, much larger. Expected to crest at Fargo around 43-44 feet, it will be, at the minimum, about ten feet above that when it hits the Forks.

But it could be higher. And the dikes, whatever the quality of their construction, have been subjected to more than a decade of extreme temperatures and some heavy river pressures.

And the river pressures are now going to be tremendous. I understand that many people -- maybe most -- in the Grand Forks setting remain pretty sanguine about "things holding." Rightly or wrongly, they trust the dikes.

Well, we can hope. And hope hard. But if we were still there, we'd have started stockpiling food and water weeks ago.

When the realization about this crisis struck the people in Fargo something more than a fortnight ago, people rallied -- people from far and away -- and they've been working like hell right to this present moment. That tremendous outpouring of human solidarity has been noted around the world -- and quite rightly so.

This is not unusual in any rural/small town/ small city setting -- when Disaster is involved. It occurred very commendably at Grand Forks a few days before that horrific flood of twelve years ago -- but too late.

And it has to be noted that, in the weeks following these disasters, there is inevitably some significant social disorganization -- characterized, among other things, by personal depression, crime, violence, departures, even suicide. [We ourselves left Grand Forks in July 1997 for a very high hill here in Eastern Idaho.]

And in all of these situations, then and now, there are many, many indeed who never take out the relatively inexpensive flood insurance. [Floods, as a rule, are not covered by conventional homeowners' policies.] Son John reported earlier this morning that, despite several weeks of a veritable flood of advertisements, commercial and not-for-profit, pleading for folks to get that insurance in timely fashion -- it has to be gotten at least 30 days in advance -- a very, very large number have not.

They're demanding a kind of Federal bailout -- a waiver of the 30 day time limit. It doesn't look, at least at this point, that they'll get it. [FEMA could possibly be of some help later on in covering some property damage losses.]

But when one cuts to the bone, and you and your family and your community face life and its challenges -- big and small -- you do have to be prepared and willing to "kill your own snakes."

As I've said, we were there in that country of wild weather, natural disasters, mostly friendly people, for sixteen years. And then we returned to my native Mountain West.

Now, when I see on television the unfolding tragedies encompassing our former region, I occasionally look out our window to the reassuring view of close-by Idaho mountains. No flood can reach us up where we live; we can handle any brush or timber fires. Crime is minimal up here [but I have firearms] -- and the creatures of the wild [even rattlesnakes] are seen by us as friends.

[And that's likely mutual.]

But we do keep our earthquake insurance paid up faithfully. And we always, always stockpile food and water.


Hunter [Hunter Bear]


Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
 and Ohkwari'
Check out our Hunterbear website Directory http://hunterbear.org/directory.htm
[The site is dedicated to our one-half Bobcat, Cloudy Gray:
And see Outlaw Trail:  The Native as Organizer:  http://hunterbear.org/outlaw_trail1.htm