This post is part of the Annie Justin series by Thea Marx. The great-great granddaughter of Justin Boots founder H.J. Justin shares a part of her busy life between tending to horses, attending board meetings, and fixing dinner for her family.
“OOOh, you little bugger,” I growled at Ted as he blasted my shoulder with a snowball, showering me with the icy stuff, a good portion of it down my neck, drops of the ice cold water running in rivulets down my warm skin.
I ducked again to avoid another assault, grabbed a handful of snow, mud and dead leaves and flung it at him with all my might. Missed! Ugh!
I chased him up the trail, the girls yelling encouragement. “Mom, Get ‘em! Mom Watch Out!”
It was a beautiful fall day, crisp and clear. The Houlihan trail boasted only a short stretch of level ground before a steep incline began and the rugged sidewalls of the canyon shot straight up. I felt sorry for the pack string that had gone up before us. This trail was a tough one. I was panting, gasping for air from running up the mud hill chasing after a 12 year old boy that had just finished his cross-country track season.
“Was I crazy?”
Apparently so, because I hadn’t given up yet, though my hands were crimson with cold and I was sweating despite my earlier snow shower. Aspen stood next to me insisting that I put on gloves while I regained enough oxygen to resume.
“Mom, she scolded, “Just look at your hands! Stand still while I get your gloves. Stop moving, are they in the outside pocket…… Watch Out!!!”
We both ducked just in time to keep from getting a snowball facial, but poor Julia, who was right behind us, got it on her shoulder with a resounding, THUD.
“OWW!” She yelled at her brother and promptly punched him when he came to observe his handiwork. That gave me the perfect opportunity to lunge at him, wrapping my arms around him to keep the last snowball from being flung.
We looked at each other in surprise. That was not a kid or dog sound. It was a BEAR sound. We all stood stock still, the melee of seconds ago gone. We peered into the forest surrounding us, straining to see the big carnivore. The furry, hungry thing could be almost anywhere amongst pines and the trees that stood mostly bare, their colorful leaves and patches of snow carpeting the earth at our feet.
Four dogs stood, alert, ears perked, ruffs up: sniffing. We waited silently for the crashing to come through the trees, my right hand crept to the bear spray on my belt, my left released the latch on my holstered .45.
He was close. Earlier we’d seen well-defined black bear prints on the trail. We had obviously surprised him and he let us know. Why on earth was he still here when we were making all this noise? If I were a bear, I wouldn’t be within 10 miles of this noisy crew!
I caught Sam’s eye and he nodded to me. “Sing” I told the girls in a whisper. They looked at me in astonishment and started in on, “Row, Row Your Boat” at the top of their lungs. Ted wasted no time lugging a wad of dirty snow at me as he ran way.
“Come on Ginga Ninja,” he yelled to me, running up the trail. “Let’s get to the top!” Ted was as competitive as I was and I wasn’t going to let a bear scare me off the trail. The rest of my crew was pooped from the steep gain in elevation over the last several hours. Sam agreed to stay with the girls and I took off after that snowball throwing boy. I was going to be all mud by the time I got home, this trail was steep. I caught Ted and we made it to the top, legs burning and our lungs praying for oxygen at the high altitude.
I yelled as I plunged back down the trail in a slipping, sliding run! We needed to cover 3 miles and drop 3000 feet in elevation to get back to the trailhead. There was after all a bear out there that I didn’t want to meet in the dark.