The way out here

The tale of Gary the Grouse and a lumberjack bear

By HUNTER HILL
Posted 11/24/21

One of the little joys of living out here is the sharing of tales between friends. One outdoorsman to another, you will find there are uncountable tales, some fictitious, others just a small stretch …

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The way out here

The tale of Gary the Grouse and a lumberjack bear

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One of the little joys of living out here is the sharing of tales between friends. One outdoorsman to another, you will find there are uncountable tales, some fictitious, others just a small stretch of the truth. Regardless, the only real purpose in them is to entertain each other. So to that end, why not sprinkle a little extra for the good of your audience?

When I was a young boy I often visited our neighbors, who were retired. Mr. Morse was the name of the gentleman there and he took advantage of the gullibility of my story-hungry mind. He had several tales that, of course, featured himself as the protagonist and wherein he would confront outlandish excitement at the hands of fantastic woodland, and even aquatic, characters.

At the time I took the stories as factual as gospel, but in my late teens, it was only in the retelling of these stories that I began to see the holes in their plausibility.

Believable or not, there’s something to be said for those who weave fact and fiction together for young people.

As an homage to Mr. Morse, one of his stories went something like this.

One day while hunting, Mr. Morse was high in a tree, and along came a bear who decided to climb the tree he happened to be sitting in.

Nearly halfway up the tree, the bear suddenly noticed he had company and decided to rid the swaying conifer of the company. As the bear climbed higher, the tree swayed further and further from side to side.

It became clear to Mr. Morse that he would have to decide between nature’s two great options: fight or flight.

Seeing as how Mr. Morse was not a very big man, and the prospect of fighting a bear in a tree appealed little to him, he opted to seek an escape route. As the tree swayed further and further, Mr. Morse managed to jump from his stand to a neighboring tree as the tops bent close together.

Upon seeing this, the bear appeared to lose interest and left the tree. Before Mr. Morse could scale his way down, however, the bear returned with two beavers as if directing them to the tree in which his interloper was perched. As the two beavers began to gnaw the trunk from either side, the bear looked up into the boughs, determined to finish what he had started.

With all this suspense, how could a seven-year old not be hooked?

Well, as it turns out, beavers don’t like the taste of pine trees very well, and they decided it wasn’t worth the aggravation. Not willing to climb the compromised tree himself, the bear also left, barking his distaste as he lumbered away.

Although it was enthralling to a young mind, as a considerably more experienced woodsman now, I of course can tell the fabrication of just a few of the details in Mr. Morse’s story.

On the other hand, we adults do love a good story, and sometimes it’s the little things that make it truly compelling. As it turns out, my best friend since I was a kid recently had a personal experience that escalated into a week-long saga that he shared with me via social media.

My friend Jeff works on the oil pipeline and has a remote office out in the woods closer to some of the areas that he inspects. Being that it’s out in the sticks, so to speak, he’s told me about a few times when nature got pretty close, if not downright friendly.

A handful of co-workers, who shared the unique experience, corroborated his story.

He tells me that one day, while standing outside of the office trailer discussing work things, one of them noticed a ruffed grouse hunkering down beneath the edge of the building. Seeing a ruffed grouse here in Pennsylvania isn’t a novel thing really but it’s gratifying anyway. So it was all the more special when they began to see the small grouse the following days.

Where the story really begins is when the grouse started to become more and more comfortable with everyone coming and going. Jeff began to send me pictures at this point of how close he could stand to the animal without frightening it. Within days, I received a photo of Jeff holding the grouse, who by now had been named Gary, under his arm like a housecat. He hadn’t trapped the bird or cornered it, he simply bent down and picked him up.

When I asked him why he picked up Gary in the first place, Jeff told me that Gary had let himself in the front door of the office. Apparently Gary had fully assimilated to his newfound featherless flock. Over the next day or so Jeff told me that Gary was found trying to sneak into the office several more times, sneaking into the back of some of the workers’ trucks to nest among their tools. He even jumped into Jeff’s truck interior once as if to say, “Take me with you.”

Unfortunately, the tale of Gary the grouse came to a sad end when I received a text from Jeff saying that someone had accidently run over Gary, who had been sleeping under one of the rear tires during the day.

The way out here not all of our tales have happy endings. But to have known Gary the grouse is just one of the blessings of living out here.

As a side note to any of you who may fancy domesticating a wild animal, unfortunately, this is the kind of thing that tends to happen when an animal becomes too comfortable around people. So while great for stories, it’s not always so great for the critter. And who knows, Gary could just as easily have been friends with a bear in the woods and this story could have gone a very different way.

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