Oh the adventures a hobbit can have if he will but leave the Shire. Wasn’t that the real message Tolkein had in mind for us? That there are lives to be lived, loves to be loved, and battles to be fought? And who knows how little things add up to bigger things and eventually to the Biggest Thing?
This is a short story about a little adventure in the midst of my part of the Grand Adventure. Where the story begins is lost in the fog of time. I know not all the details that go into what makes me “me”. I know only that I long to be Outside and have a bit of free time between work right now so I decided to take a couple of days early in the week to do some adventuring. I was geared up and after taking care of a few details of life headed for the mountains late Monday morning. I had a particular glen above a particular stream in mind for a campsite.
I apparently have an inner Hobbit, because he kept worrying about whether I had everything I needed and reminding me to get the headlamp out of the glove box. I told him to stop worrying and after arriving at the trail head I checked everything one last time, shouldered the pack, and headed up the first ridge. At the top of said ridge the Hobbit spoke again–“I think you forgot the head lamp.” Ah the headlamp! I briefly mulled going back for it, but the day was bright, the trail beckoned, and Daniel Boone never had a head lamp.
“You’re not Daniel Boone!” huffed the Hobbit.
The walking was fine early in the afternoon and I decided to go a bit further, cross another ridge, and camp on a slightly larger stream than I had originally intended. Plans are, after all, made to be broken. This put me a tad closer to the highest point in the state which I decided needed a visit the following day. It also put me on an excellent trout stream and I and the Hobbit were in agreement that a few trout in the pan would be a good supper (if you want a Hobbit’s agreement, talk about food).
Reaching the area I had in mind about 3PM, I set up camp, rigged my fly rod, and walked downstream a bit to hit a series of runs and pools I knew would have some fish. My first taker was a native brook trout, a male so resplendent with the colors of autumn I just couldn’t kill him. Again the Hobbit agreed, as Hobbits do have a certain sense of art and beauty. So, after a second or two of admiration back in the water he went.
I fished on, delightedly watching as trout rose to the fly, grumbling when I missed the hook set, gleefully admiring the color on another brookie and a rainbow truly worthy of name that I did not miss. The rainbow had a deep scarlet slash along both flanks and cheeks so rosy he seemed to me embarrassed at having fallen for such an obvious trap as the Royal Wulff hanging from his lip. Both these fish were released for the same reason the first one was. The Hobbit was beginning to wonder if we would ever catch one or two that would qualify for the pan because ugly trout are hard to come by. To his relief we ended up with three rather plain rainbows that were perfectly pan-sized. Two for me and one for him.
I will not even bother trying to describe the celestial experience of eating trout fresh from the stream, lightly sprinkled in Cajun seasoning, and sauteed in butter. Even the Hobbit was satisfied. Then it was time for a friendly little fire to crackle and pop at the gathering darkness. Amazing it is how a little flame can defy the turning of the planet. After a few hours of quiet reverie, I turned in. The labor of the day had both refreshed and wearied, and a longer day was coming. There were many miles yet to cover. So I burrowed into the warmth of my sleeping bag and fell deeply and soundly into shadow. With no complaining to be done, the Hobbit had retired right after supper. All was right in our world.
POP! From deep in my slumber, I heard the sound. A limb breaking and falling perhaps? Who really cares anyway? The bag is warm but the night is cool to the point of cold. Limbs break in the woods all the time. POP! Closer now! Something is coming. The Hobbit is wide awake.
“Bear!” he whispers excitedly.
“Just a deer,” I reply. “Go back to sleep!”
Huff puff huff puff…WOOF!
I hate it when the Hobbit is right.
“A headlamp would be nice right now.”
No arguing there. We humans are so sight dependent. Apparently Hobbits too. Light is a comfort in the darkness. To see the beast would help at least mentally, and possibly give me an idea as to whether he was raiding or just passing through. But the only possible light is the now-smoldering fire about ten feet from the tent–coincidentally about the same distance as to the bear.
Huff puff huff puff…WOOF! Stomp stomp WOOF! Apparently the bear sees the tent and is trying to decipher what he is going to do. In his indecision, a bold front is considered wisdom until the situation resolves itself more clearly.
Time to act. Fight, flight, or hide. The bear isn’t going anywhere. The Hobbit is for hiding. I’m not exactly for fighting but a bold front on my part seems the only wise option. I grab my knife and burst from the tent shouting “Get out of here!” at the top of my lungs. Yes, I know…a knife? Hilarious! But it was the only weapon I had.
I would love to have been a third party watching the scene from above. I am not sure what would have been more comical. Myself moving in one awkward roll/crawl to the fire ring and frantically huffing and puffing and woofing the hot coals to awaken the fire from its slumber; or the bear, wondering what it had got itself into, huffing and puffing and woofing as it turned tail and bulldozed its way through the woods. I could still hear it running a few hundred yards away.
It is surprising how fast one can get a fire going in those circumstances, and not surprising at all that at said juncture one loses all interest in sleeping. So there I sat for a couple of hours in the now quiet woods to let the adrenaline subside. The Hobbit of course joined me fireside, wondering aloud if every noise was now a bear and how high hobbits ranked on their culinary list. Eventually, the rush of the moment was gone, a quiet reverie returned, and most importantly the bear did not. So we turned in again, our next realization was of birdsong and the dim light of dawn.
After some oatmeal and a few cups of strong coffee, the Hobbit and I agreed that we were glad the bear had visited. Obviously, while the visit was exciting, it wasn’t really that dangerous. The bear really was more afraid of us than we were of him (this trait has served black bears well, and explains why they are thriving in the midst of our sprawling civilization). Certainly it gave us a fun story to tell when we got back to our Shire. Still, it also made us think of how often we are just barely awake–barely alive even, living as if we are almost asleep. Much better to be bearly awake and bearly alive. Feeling and breathing and fighting and loving the moments in all their vivid and oft-hidden glory, acting in those moments as one has them instead of moments past or moments yet to be. Much better indeed.
Ah, yes, the adventures a hobbit can have if he will but leave the Shire.