We joked about the cave as we sat in the 4WD mule and looked up the rock face. "Nice spot for a bear, ha ha ha!"
The game-camera had already caught an image of a bear (a black bear! alive!) nosing around the beaver pond, so there was some basis for the comment. And my sister and I have a small history with bears.
In an earlier era, my sister was a Maine river-raft guide. While visiting her one Christmas, we startled a bear from its nap, the creature exploding out from under some brush in a mad flurry of snow and branches crackling as we three –– her big golden-retriever was walking with us –– stood frozen in shock.
As I remember it, the bear bee-lined it over a nearby hill and out of sight like a cartoon road-runner. And the dog, bless his golden heart, commenced barking then as if he –– and only he –– had saved us from the danger. Perhaps he had.
I don't know if I was witness or audience, but another time, at the municipal dump in rural Maine, one of my sister's Mainer pals refused to drop his box of Triscuits. It was a thing to do of an evening: drive down to the dump and watch the black bears sort through the leftovers. That night, one bear (it was the size of a sofa) was in the mood for Triscuit crackers. My sister's friend was likewise craving those woven wheaty snacks. There followed a longish moment of hectic excitement as everyone demanded that the Triscuits be sacrificed ("No way, man, I am STARVING! These are mine!") and the bear lumbered ever closer and closer...
Back at the Would-Be farm, the rock face cave turned out to be empty. It was a shallow little ledge, but with stone formations interesting enough to us that we cut along the base of the cliff to explore on foot.
"There's a path here," Sarah announced from a dozen feet ahead of me.
It was: a narrow strip of clear ground, the hard dirt not holding prints. "Game-trail," I agreed, savoring the tough, Land-Rover flavor of the word.
Twenty feet farther, I stopped to admire the tenacity of a tree growing out of the rock. Sarah was peering around. A gamey, musky scent hung in the air.
"It smells funky," she said.
"It smells like carnivore," I said, inhaling a big sniff. I turned downhill. "Maybe it's a bear."
My sister laughed, and then took a few more steps along the game-trail. "Ooh, do you see this?" she said, and then, noticing that she'd gotten into burrs, she began plucking at her fleece jacket.
"See what?" I called over my shoulder as I navigated down the rocky slope.
"A hole in the rocks," she said, tsking and plucking at her sleeve. "And it really stinks!"
"Sis, why don't you come down here? Like, now."
Catching something in my tone, she looked up from the sticker-burrs.
I found myself speaking carefully, "Maybe. It's. A. Bobcat."
Our sainted Mumsie used to say that it wasn't so much "Fight or Flight" as a response after she'd reached a certain age, but "Pee and Flee." This was one of the thoughts that flitted through my mind as I watched my sister back away from whatever she'd nearly stumbled into and then scramble downhill to me.
"You could've told me you were getting out of there," she said.
"I didn't think I needed to," I answered.
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