WILDERNESS LIFE AND TIMES -- AND PLEASANT
SURVIVAL [HUNTER GRAY / HUNTER BEAR] DECEMBER 20 2007 -- PLUS, "HE
TRAVELS THE FASTEST . . ." [HUNTER GRAY DECEMBER 22 2007] -- WITH
COMMENTS FOLLOWING EACH PIECE. ALSO, A FEW NORTH DAKOTA FLOOD THOUGHTS
[HUNTER GRAY MARCH 27 2009
See Coming of Age: Sycamore Memoir:
Grizzlies and Sycamore Canyon:
QUICK NOTE BY HUNTER BEAR:
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
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
[I have other suggestions but that's enough from me.
You all can go the rest of the way.]
Hunter [Hunter Bear]
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR]
Mi'kmaq /St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
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]
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.
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.
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
Again, thanks for writing and all best.
Martha Elizabeth Ture:
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.
'HE TRAVELS THE FASTEST . . ."
[HUNTER BEAR DECEMBER 22 2007]
NOTE BY HUNTER BEAR:
DECEMBER 22 2007
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."
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,
"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
phone as children because men would be on the other end saying
coming to kill us. It was not uncommon to come home from school
that we'd be moving across the country in a couple weeks. My
that we need to separate different kinds of organizers--the
light load trail
rider Shane vs. those comfortably ensconced in their settings.
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
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
Yours, Hunter Gray [Hunter Bear]
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
Please keep on writing, it is very inspirational to hear from you.
As ever, D. Lough
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.
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
about your journey to Sycamore Canyon. . . .
Wishing you a
happy season, health, and a wonderful New Year,
Robert B. Livingston
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
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.]
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
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.
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.
A FEW NORTH DAKOTA FLOOD THOUGHTS [HUNTER
GRAY MARCH 27 2009
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.
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
no place the penny can go to escape.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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]
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR] Mi'kmaq
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
Check out our Hunterbear website Directory
[The site is dedicated to our one-half Bobcat, Cloudy Gray:
And see Outlaw Trail: The Native as Organizer: