Numbers are weird.
The math department down the hall likes to talk about the objectivity and precision of numbers, but in typical English department fashion, I think “Yeah, but what about how they feel”
How numbers feel is completely subjective and personal but provides important meaning to numbers outside of a simple measurement.
Two is a number of miles. An exact, precise distance. But life doesn’t exist in precise distances with no context. Two miles on a freeway can be a blink. Two miles from camp is a story.
Last weekend my buddy Ryan and I ambled down an old logging road being slowly choked shut by alders, then exited onto a tidal flat. We checked the wind every so often to make sure it was cooperating and eventually set up on the grassing top of an otherwise muddy bank cut by a river that had lost its momentum as the elevation flattened.
Back and forth we looked, slowly glassing the edges of the flats looking for a moving black hole. Rocks, stumps and the end of logs look like bears. But bears look like none of those things.
We were fooled again and again by the same bear-looking features but eventually something moved.
It was in the back of the flat a long way away, especially since there was the direct path which represented one number and the path we would have to take which would be a number three times larger. Not that it mattered.
We walked the edge of the creek as it zigged back and forth until we had closed to 500 yards. Not exactly, but anything over 400 doesn’t really matter since it’s too far to shoot anyway. Between us and the bear was a long flat of grass guarded by a creek, the depth of which was very important.
Precision is vital when crossing water since the consequence is flooding boots. That’s not life or death, but the destruction of comfort can lead to a premature end to the hunt.
We charted a path that looked the shallowest and walked with calculated care. The water was higher than our boots, but not by much and not for long.
At 120 yards we peaked from behind a stump, all but invisible to the poor, nearly blind bear. The wind was good and we watched. It disappeared into the texture of the grass flat, then remerged. We watched as it walked slowly into the woods.
There was no pang of missed opportunity or regret. The hunt ends when the trigger is pulled and as is often the case with spring bear hunts, it’s more the exercise of camping, glassing and doing everything except pulling the trigger. Something doesn’t have to die to make it a good trip.
The bear walked back out and fed its way down the edge of the timber to a spruce where it then stood on its hind legs and used the tree to scratch. It dropped, then rose again.
We decided to close the distance even more when it turned its head. Eventually, it had eaten and scratched enough and returned to the safety of the forest. I couldn’t guess at the amount of time we watched. It was one of those blissful moments when time does not exist in an organized, numerical way.
By the time we made it back to camp, packed up and started the skiff ride home, we had only been gone for roughly 24 hours. But it seemed like more. It seemed like we had spent an entire weekend out. As though we got a full charge in half the time.
Numbers are important, but they never tell the entire story.
• Jeff Lund is a freelance writer based in Ketchikan. His book, “A Miserable Paradise: Life in Southeast Alaska,” is available in local bookstores and at Amazon.com. “I Went to the Woods” appears twice per month in the Sports & Outdoors section of the Juneau Empire.