Meridian Star

January 17, 2014

Places that we want to be

By Otha Barham
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — Traditionally, most folks seem to group themselves into two categories when it comes to their favorite geography for visiting, vacationing or calling home; beach lovers or mountain lovers. You are likely to be either a beach person or a mountain person.

    I enjoy fishing the Gulf and its marshes and brackish waters. I like scenery that features a beach shoreline of gleaming white sand. I thrill at the sounds of shorebirds. And I am soothed by the steady whispering of timeless waves lapping against the beach.

    But when I am in the mountains, something fills me up from the inside that causes a certain tightness in my throat; the same manifestation I feel when I experience other deeply inspirational emotions. I love the mountains.

    One fall, I was fortunate to visit both the Rockies and the Smokies. And, for the first time, I was able to catch both near the peak of their autumnal beauty. The aspens of Colorado were at their most brilliant when I accompanied my brother on an elk hunt there. Then later, I hunted wild boar and deer in Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest with my friend Tom Crowe. The deciduous trees were in the early color stages, and up high where we hunted they were breathtaking.

    Things happen for me in the mountains. Stimulating things. Memorable things. I have written here about the grand trophy bull elk my brother got on our Colorado trip. That hunt will remain in my memory as one of our finest. The herd bulls were shrieking their eerie bugles that echoed from canyons where outlaws once hid out and where freezing to death was one cause of passing on for early settlers. Vistas of distant mountains sheared by glaciers, gouged by avalanches and furrowed by rushing streams. Miles of juniper and red rocks where the low, sandy spots show tracks of bears and cougars.

    This country moves me.

    Tom Crowe and I missed our connection with the Smokies forest ranger who had promised to guide us to where throngs of wild boars tore up the ground. So we joined many other hunters in the Cherokee National Forest who were on their own searching for deer and hogs during a three-day early black powder season. We saw neither a deer nor a boar, though we found hog sign in several gorgeous places. It must not have been a productive season for other hunters as well, because even though we saw a lot of hunters, in two days we didn’t hear a single muzzle loader fire in the vast forest.

    But, as usual, I had an experience that made that mountain hunt worthwhile. We found a long mountain trail that the Forest Service had planted in lespedeza and clover. This was the only green forage we saw in miles of mountainsides except for occasional weed patches along roadsides.

Before daylight one cool morning, I took a stand in a bend of that planted stretch so that I could see a hundred yards both left and right. Just after sunrise I heard something crash through the thick, dry underbrush above me that grew intermingled with small pines, so thick that nothing could walk through them without breaking brittle limbs from their wrist-size trunks.

    I readied my Knight .50 caliber rifle, expecting a deer because we were very high up the mountain, far from the hog wallows we had seen in the creek beds below. What emerged was a big black bear. He was some 50 yards from me and when he got into the planted plot, he sniffed where Tom and I had walked up the trail. Then he started toward me.

    I got to view the shiny black beast for a minute or so at a range of 40 yards before his suspicions suggested he find different territory. He spooked. He broke large limbs while tearing off down the mountain.

     If you have never seen a black bear up close, it is hard to know what the color black is. His coat was as black as the blackest ink; as black as the inside of a closet on Halloween night. His fur was long and thick and shiny.

    This was another welcome, but not unusual encounter. But it's the somewhat unforeseen that always seems to happen to me in the mountains. I hope to return many more times to see what will happen next.