What little I knew about bears sped through my mind. The young had probably been born in February. These two cubs were thick-furred and the color of cinnamon—a common hue for the American black bear—and looked to weigh about 60 pounds. Their mother was undoubtedly nearby, and I knew that she was the only real danger. I considered backing up to reduce the possibility of coming between a she-bear and her young.
As that thought occurred to me, the mother appeared on the trail, just in front of the first cub. She grunted once softly, and the three of them began to walk straight at me, with the she-bear, also cinnamon-colored and weighing a good 250 pounds, leading the way. I'd never been so close to a bear in my life, and when the mother was 10 yards away, I knew that it was close enough. This time, when I turned and ran, it was out of fear.
But I needn't have worried. Looking back over my shoulder, I saw the mother stop and look at me, staring hard, leaning forward, apparently more curious than frightened or angry. The two cubs stood on either side of her, and they were watching me, too.
When I had put at least 30 or 40 yards between us, I stopped again, turned and watched as the mother used her long snout to nudge the cubs into the forest through which the trail was cut. They then sprinted down a slope between the trees. Their mother galloped behind the cubs, and after they were out of sight, I still heard them crashing through the underbrush.
The image of the solicitous mother herding her young off the trail stayed with me during the rest of the run—and through the week that followed. On the very remote chance that I might see the three of them again, I took the same route at the same time on my next long weekend run.
There was no sign of the mother and cubs, but I may have—almost literally—run into the father. I was going down a long, gradual decline about three miles beyond where I had seen the cubs and their mother the week before, when I saw a large, solitary bear about 100 yards away. Even at that distance I was sure that it was too big to be a female. He was walking slowly along the trail in the same direction I was, unaware that anything or anyone was near him. I slowed down to watch, keeping my distance. After half a minute or so, as the bear rounded a bend, I ran hard to close the gap. I wanted to reach the bend as quickly as I could for a better look. I calculated that if the bear kept his lazy pace, I would be within 25 or 30 yards of him when I made the turn myself. Perhaps the bear heard my footsteps, or it might have been chance, but, whatever the explanation, once around the bend, he had turned and started back toward me.
When I saw him, I braked to the fastest stop I've ever made, and even then there were barely two yards of trail between us. I was close enough to smell him. He was huge and handsome, with a thick, lustrous, deep brown coat that had a light patch high on the breast. His ears popped forward as his dark eyes stared into mine.
Though I was too startled to move, my mind was working. I didn't think I was in danger. He didn't seem to be angry or curious, or especially frightened about me, either. On the contrary, to me he looked amused. He gazed straight into my eyes, heaved a great sigh, turned without haste to my left and lumbered off into the trees, over a grassy little hill with a large rotting log on it. The muscles under his coat moved the gleaming hairs the way a field of ripe grain is rhythmically stirred by wind. He didn't hurry, never looked back and was out of sight in seconds. I was alone in the mountains with yet another vivid memory.
The experience that came closest to causing me bodily harm didn't involve a cougar or a bear. On a 17-mile run through some steep, rocky hills near my home in Ashland, I was chased off the trail by a belligerent goat.
Wild goats are highly uncommon in southern Oregon, which is why I didn't believe I was seeing one standing 15 or 20 yards up the trail from me. I was near the end of a climb through jack pines, manzanita and poison oak, and it was warm—at least 85�—and sweat was running into my eyes. For several minutes I had been staring down at the dusty, rock-strewn trail in front of my running shoes, and when I glanced up to assure myself that the top of the hill wasn't far off, there the goat was, bearded, white-coated and impressively long-horned, glaring at me. I wiped the sweat from my eyes, blinked, and looked again. He was still there. I foolishly kept running, unable to comprehend what my eyes saw, and when I was 10 yards away from him, he charged. He sprang forward, landed on all fours, then lowered his head. His horns were at the level of my stomach as he barreled down the hill.