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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Liere: The Wonder of It All

Nov. 30, 2022 Updated Wed., Nov. 30, 2022 at 8:14 p.m.

By Alan Liere For The Spokesman-Review

Editor’s note: Alan Liere’s weekly fish-hunt report will return next week.

I have a tendency to view the world as giant play. When I am not hunting or fishing, I am but a spectator to this drama, but when I take up a shotgun, rifle or fishing rod and venture afield, I become part of it. I like becoming a part of it.

I have witnessed some wondrous things – fantastic things – played out in what a friend of mine calls “The Big Outside.” These aren’t things many folks would choose as a topic of conversation, but they are much more exciting to me than sitting at Starbucks with a laptop and wondering how one can gain 2 pounds by eating a 6-ounce muffin.

When I was hunting chukars in Hells Canyon many years back, I witnessed a red-tailed hawk plunge out of the stratosphere like a meteor and absolutely explode into a covey of quail. Later that same week, I witnessed four long-tailed cock pheasants perched on a telephone line 50 feet above the ground. They were comical to watch – adjusting and readjusting, pitching forward and then back again as they tried to maintain their balance on the swinging wire. Each time one of them moved, he upset the equilibrium of the next pheasant, and the effect was like a ballet in which the movement of one dancer determined the actions of the others. I’m sure not many people would take the same delight in such a spectacle because not many people would realize how unusual the event is.

In the spring of 1999, while fishing for trout along the creek that pours into Rock Lake, I saw hundreds of suckers fighting like salmon to ascend a series of waterfalls. They were stacked up a yard deep beneath the largest falls, and my springer spaniel Sundy was like a brown bear in the midst of a chinook run. Each time she dunked her head under water, she came up with a squirming fish. While I watched from above, she practiced her comical form of catch and release.

Years later and much farther away, I was salmon fishing along a river in British Columbia when a brown bear followed by two cubs ran out of high grass beside the water, charging by me so close I could smell the fish on her breath. The big sow ran into the water, grabbed a large sockeye, and ran back by me into the bush. One of her trailing cubs stopped and stared at me, and as quietly as I could, I shooed it after its mother; I didn’t want her coming back to see who his new friend was.

Another time, I encountered a huge black bear in Oregon while hunting mountain quail in a blackberry tangle beside a river. Fortunately for me, the bear was on the opposite side of the river. When he spotted me, though, he plunged into the water and came toward me, and only the depth and the current allowed me time to find a good-sized tree to climb. The myopic bruin turned back at my yelling when only 20 feet away, and I can only surmise he originally thought me a particularly homely elk calf.

In the late 1980s, I threw all my rods and reels and every firearm I owned into a pickup truck and headed for Alaska. Newly divorced and jobless, I had emptied my checking account of everything I had left – just about enough for a freelance, drop-off caribou hunt on the Alaska Peninsula. My intent was to hunt and fish until money ran out, and then get a job that would allow me to keep hunting and fishing.

I was rattling along in a cloud of dust near the Tangle Lakes hoping to see a flock of ptarmigan when ahead, I saw a large Alaska husky lying on the side of the road. He was on his belly with his legs tucked under him, but his head was up, and he eyed me calmly as I slowed.

Knowing he was hurt, I stopped my vehicle across from him and rolled down the window. “Are you gonna be OK, fella?” I asked. At the sound of my voice, the “husky” labored to his feet and stood unsteadily facing me. It was a huge timber wolf!

Without any thinking about consequences of dumb behavior, I grabbed my camera and jumped from the truck, intent on getting a close-up of this magnificent animal, composing captions for the picture that would wow my friends and persuade a magazine editor to go over his budget. When I was within 12 feet of him, he turned and began to limp off into the bush. Foolishly, I followed, trying to parallel him while clicking off shots. It was then I became aware of a presence – nothing I had seen, but rather something that raised the hairs on the back of my neck. A female wolf – smaller than her mate – had materialized from behind me and brushed my leg as she ran by. “Back off,” she was saying. “This is my man.” Quickly, gratefully, I complied, beating a hasty retreat to my truck.

I could go on and on – the river otter chasing brook trout beneath the ice in a crystal-clear beaver pond; a pair of Kansas foxes sunning in a snowy field, their noses tucked beneath their white-tipped tales; the specklebelly geese executing rolls and flying absolutely upside down as they joyously approached my decoys in an Alberta snowstorm.

It sometimes makes me sad that more of society will never witness the wonders I have seen in “The Big Outside.” Perhaps, though, their presence would have minimized the opportunities I have enjoyed, and I know my life would be diminished if I couldn’t always be there, sucking in the wild freshness and interacting from my front-row seat.

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