Thunder Nearly Gets Us Killed by a Bear (The First Time)
This is the story of the first time Thunder treed a bear and nearly got us both killed.
This would not be the last time. Not even close.
In the summer of 2019, Thunder and I were hired by Sequoia National Park as part of the mule and horse packing team. We were charged with the care of 100 head of horses and mules, whom we would pack full of supplies like food, fuel, shovels, chainsaws, and sometimes even dynamite and take these long pack trains of mules deep into the backcountry over the rugged Sierra terrain to resupply the trail maintenance crews. Bears were all too common, but on the trail, Thunder didn't mind them. He would just casually stroll by, minding his own business, and the bears would mind theirs. Sometimes the horses would huff and puff over the bears, but for the most part, they weren't too big a problem.
However, within the camp site was an entirely different story. Where ever we set up a camp, if a bear came wandering too close, Thunder would turn into Satan's spawn and charge them like hell's fury. This is the story of the first incident we had that summer. There would be many more.
I will let Thunder tell the story in his own words:
I had killed critters of a range of size and species. I had killed big marmots before, but this one stood tenfold bigger than the largest among my kills—a challenge that I too readily accepted.
I smelled it before I saw it. The mules too became restless. I went snooping along the edge of the campground and came upon a lumbering mass of brown wiry fur, like an overgrown marmot with claws like hay hooks, curiously picking its way along the perimeter of the campground of which I stood guard. This infraction would not stand, and as the perimeter was both my own creation and in my charge (marked amply by my pee spots), it was up to me to see that all things, man and beast alike, respect it and first answer to me before crossing. I took off after the mammoth hulk of hair, baying skyward with all my might and indignation, headlong toward the predator, a show of unflinching courage that stopped the bear in its tracks and sent it careening backward to the refuge of a tree.
I treed that bear but I needed to alarm the encampment further so I continued to bark and bay until Dev came over. Emboldened further by the presence of my friend, I moved closer, barking, as Dev yelled at me to stop and get away. But I know better than him—after all, I have seen a lot in my humble 70 dog years of life, and he, at a mere and sophomoric 30, was surely just mistaken, for I had challenged and killed large critters before, and I was certain this one would succumb in much the same way.
Suddenly the bear turned around in the tree and ran down straight at me, reaching the ground and swiping within inches, lunging at me with those giant vice-like jaws, its mouth a primordial machine capable of such imponderable force as to know no clemency—a weapon forged over millennia of evolution, so efficient in its purpose of killing and maiming and masticating as to predate even man and all his ancestors. The bear charged but at the same time Dev came sprinting forward at the bear shouting like some demonic lunatic drunk on fear and wild with menace and madness. The bear turned toward Dev as I loped around back of it, and for a moment it seemed the bear might charge but Dev was so slathered in his unholy malice,so reeking of adrenaline and fear and charging with unfathomable disregard for his own safety as he had just nearly watched me killed, that the bear must have sensed in him the tumultuous trappings of a madman who sought but one end and that being his best friend’s safety, and in these calculations the bear thought it better to flee again up the tree. He returned to his tree and Dev came and grabbed me, shaking in terror at the near loss of his best friend, and we left the bear to his own devices.
So was that day, a common day among others, turned raucous and eventful—Thunder trees a bear, the bear attacks, Dev charges a grown-ass bear with reckless abandon in the hysteria of watching me nearly killed, and luckily the bear retreats again up the tree. And that is how a normal day like any other almost killed us both. All cuz I thought a bear was just a giant marmot.