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Pamela Fagan Hutchins | Bearly a Problem.

When it comes to outdoor sports, I’m no shrinking violet. I can hang with the Granola girls, although you won’t find me crawling through underbrush with a knife in my teeth, trapping and skinning my dinner to roast over a fire I lit by striking rocks together. I have my limits.

Recently I got to show off some of my naturalist skills on a family trip to the “camp” cabin on Lake Mooselookmeguntic in Northern Maine. We had rented canoes but the weather on the lake proved too windy. Eric suggested we haul them to a nearby tree-sheltered “stream,” which ran along the Appalachian Trail.  Note: in Maine, we call rivers “streams,” lakes are “ponds,” and a blizzard is “a bit of snow.” Amputations are a “mere scratch.” (And, yes, Mainers are insane)

Eric mounted the canoes on our rental cars atop a bed of sheets and towels, and he rigged them to the hood and inside the windows with twine and bungee cords. Oh, Lord. Flashbacks to our honeymoon trip to Montana. “No problem, mon. We from de islands.”

The canoes and cars made it to the site unscathed. We lugged the canoes through the woods to the “stream” bank, where we were savaged by black flies and mosquitoes. Good thing I brought bug spray and this:

Indispensable, with a lot of bug spray.

We launched our three canoes and seven humans down Bemis Stream. We soon encountered a mother loon nesting her eggs. One of our canoes got too close and the red-eyed creature attacked, but backed off as they backpaddled. Don’t mess with Mothers in Nature.

The stream was GORGEOUS, and we paddled up it reverently. It got more narrow as we went.

The view from the front of my canoe.

“It’s like we’re paddling to the Heart of Darkness,” Liz’s college-aged boyfriend said, forever endearing himself to his potential step-momma-in-law for his well-read intelligence.

We continued. We came to sections so shallow we had to ooch and paddle-push our way across. But we kept going. By this time, Mountain Man of the Caribbean Eric and I were well ahead of our children and their plus-one’s.

We came to a point where a fallen tree completely blocked the stream. But if we portaged the canoes to the side, we could get back in the clear water past the tree. I volunteered to forge ahead and see whether the effort was worth it, by checking out the stream around the bend and behind some large bushes. Eric followed me, just for fun.

I was immersed in cold water to the tops of my thighs when I heard a “grrrrrrrrrrrrrr” from behind the bush in front of us.

“Eric, what’s that?” I asked, not yet panicked.

“Nothing,” he said.

“No, it is definitely something. It sounds like it’s growling.”

“An airplane, then.”

The noise stopped. I resumed my forward slosh.



“Turn around and walk back to the canoe very slowly,” he said.

As if there was any other way to make it through thigh deep water, but I did my best to disobey his instruction anyway. We hopped back in the canoe and high-tailed it out of there. We met Liz and her boyfriend around the first bend.

“BEAR,” I said, and made a circling motion in the air to indicate they should turn around. Not surprisingly, they complied.

After about five minutes, my heart rate returned to normal, and I grew curious. Could we have mistaken the sound of a small rodent for a bear? If we went back, but stayed in the canoes, might we be able to verify our bear-encounter? Eric, it turned out, felt the same.

We left the rest of the group fly-fishing in the wider section of the river, and we forged back up the stream to a large sand bank just a few hundred yards shy of our possible-bear. We secured the canoe on the sand bar and started poking around. The smell of urine was intense, like a horse stable. Scat of various sizes, some quite large, spotted the sand. Our view of the forest was completely obscured by thick brush and small trees, and blueberries not yet ripe. Deer and moose hoofprints dug into the soft ground. Some were fresh, and others old enough to hold yesterday’s rainfall.

We walked to the edge of the sand closest to the growling.

“Look,” Eric said. He pointed at the ground.

A perfect and distressingly large bear print announced the presence of our black bear friends. The scat and urine suggested we were standing squarely within his or her “range” of territory. I wished we had a camera, but the only one we’d brought was on a canoe long since departed to go back to the car.

“That’s proof enough for me,” I said.

Eric nodded

And, so, somewhat reluctantly, we retreated for the safety of the water, me with a new respect for what lay behind the dark wall of trees in the Maine forest.

Nothing my ass, honey. At least there were no frozen elk  bobbing about this time. Grrrr.




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28 Responses to Bearly a Problem.

  1. As always, your adventures are such fun to read about. Thanks for sharing your story once again, Pamela. Okay, so is Lake Mooselookmeguntic really the name of that place? Man, and people bug me about the name of where I come from in Canada….Saskatchewan. That one is pretty tame compared to that mouthful.


  2. Terri Sonoda says:

    I think Maine must be fascinating. I’m too squeamish to venture as far as you and Eric did, but I love reading about your adventures! I think you two could do a “couple in the wild” type show on the Discovery Channel. I would TIVO it.

  3. –I read swiftly and breathlessly waiting for that bear to arrive!


    Pamela, you are totally a Granola Chick. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

    • Pamela says:

      It was kind of a let down that we didn’t see him. I had a face to face in the wild bear encounter about 15 years ago. In retrospect it was cool. In real life, I was a drooling idiot and backed away so fast it’s a miracle the bear didn’t die laughing at me. He was gorgeous. About 25 feet away, a cinnamon-colored black bear, standing on his back legs with his claws in a tree trunk, front legs stretched out over his head. He made eye contact with me.

  4. Vidya Sury says:

    Maine makes me think of Stephen King. Gosh, Pamela – what you wrote could very well be an amazing story setting. The lake…er…pond, the mystery beyond…. My head is too full of Friday the 13 now. :D. You are one fascinating chick, that’s for sure!

    (See? I can actually comment and not write a counter-post :D)

    • Pamela says:

      I would love to write a book set in Maine. Every time I am up there, the forest just zings in my head. I find myself making note of funny little descriptions, and then, b/c I have no memory at all, I forget them all. But it is inspiring. I can see why Mr. King lives there, and sets his stories there. It stimulates the imagination, for sure.

  5. I hate when they calmly look at you and talk in a “you are a slow and dumb-child” voice like, “Come toward me now darling” or “Honey, get out of the pool” or they stare past you and you say, “What? WHAT?” and they do do that typical MALE thing, NOTHING. What? They think nothing makes you calmer than… oh say, a big fat water skimming hair spider heading your way?? NO. “Nothing” makes me freak just as much as whatever it is because I know that whatever it is that made him say nothing is reallly realllly bad. Or at least he knows my reaction will be. LOVE THE STORY.

  6. Eric says:

    Would love to have gotten sight of him/her but, the last couple of Growls were very close.

    That stream was so beautiful and peaceful and full of life. Would love to go back there early early in the morning.

    After reading some of the Appalachian Trail stories that we have read I have all new respect for black bears who I was always told were just docile berry eating creatures that you did not need to worry about.

  7. Bill Dorman says:

    Ok, so I guess you were able to answer the proverbial question ‘does a bear shit in the woods?’

    If mama bear was growling it was probably a good thing you hightailed it because obviously you were not scaring it away.

    My sister’s fiance has 100 acres a little north of Orlando, Fl and he has black bears on that property as well. If you take the 4-wheeler on the trail or hike the trails, you definitely take a pistol or rifle with you. There have been no bear attacks, but you certainly don’t want to be the first one. Yes, there is bear scat there as well….:).

  8. Eric Hutchins via Facebook says:

    THIS, was a very cool day.

  9. JennyBean says:

    Not a healthy place to be, Pamela!

  10. Eva says:

    Camping and canoeing is so much fun! I bet you have had such a great time there! I wish I could spend some days in our mother nature again…

  11. How exciting! How scary! Sounds like a great trip either way. I hiked Mt. Katahdin in Maine, pre-kids. That hike kicked my @ss but it was amazing. Love Maine’s Bar Harbor area too. Now you’ve got me wanting to go back.

  12. Sandy Webb says:

    I am terrified of bears! I can’t believe you went back to check your instincts. I was thinking of the moose incident when I was reading this….lol

  13. Ally says:

    No, I can’t believe you went back to check either. And I was thinking, really? Bears AND dead, submerged elk? And there it was in your last paragraph. I’m very impressed you agreed to the canoe trip at all after that elk!

  14. Leave it to you two to encounter a bear. I did encounter a momma black bear and her cub in the Sequoias last week. I heard that noise you describe from up the hill while I watched her meander by our car.

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