It was warm for the start of September and Adam and I were on a mission. The night before we had decided to pick as many black berries as possible and to give them to Mr. and Mrs. Thompson before the elderly couple headed back home to Alhambra, California.
Our idea centered on making sure they had enough berries to make at least two cobblers over the winter while we awaited their return. It was our way of saying thank you for the cobble pie Mrs. Thompson had made for our family and for the couple taking us boy’s fishing during their visit.
The Thompson’s had been coming to Camp Marigold since before our had moved into the house on Redwood Drive. And each year Mary and Russ Thompson’s preregistered with the camp ground for the space right behind our home.
With summer of ‘71 coming to a close, salmon season on the Klamath River ending and school starting in a couple of days, we grabbed the four wooden buckets Mom had bought at Ben Franklin’s in Crescent City for each of her children. However our sister’s weren’t coming with us as we headed down the street towards the pasture below our neighborhood.
After a few minutes, we came to the hillside that held bush after bush of black berries. It was only yards from the old baseball field we played on and we knew that the bushes on the backside of the patch held the best pickings.
We each slipped our way through and around the dense brambles, with their wide leaves and large thorns. It was well-known that if you wanted to get the ripe and plump berries, you’d have to endure a little pain from an accidental run in with a thorn or several.
Before we knew it Adam and I had all four baskets filled and we were eating berries as we worked our way out of the thicket. That’s when we heard a noise that caused us to stop in our tracks.
It was a heavy foot-fall, followed by a grunt and a gruff sigh. Still clutching our baskets, we quietly freed our selves from the brambles only to come face-to-face with a black bear.
The confrontation left the three of us startled as each of us backed away from the other. While Adam and I continued to put distance between ourselves and the bear, the bear had stopped and was sniffing the air.
“Adam,” I said as flat and unexcited as I could, “Take off running as fast as you can. And don’t look back until you made the road.”
“But Tommy…” he began.
“Run! Now!” I growled.
Adam took off as I stood still, holding my two baskets of berries and facing the bear. My heart was pounding in my throat as I slowly set one of the baskets on the grass in front of me and began backing away.
After walking backwards for several hundred feet, I turned and sprinted in the direction Adam had gone, hoping that the bear wouldn’t follow and would instead stop to feast on the bucket of black berries I’d left behind. It was a great relief to finally reach the safety of the road, where Adam was waiting for me.
We sat on log at the side of the road and watched as the bear made a quick meal of the berries, then played with the basket by flipping it into the air and swatting it as it came down. Once he grew bored with the game, he turned and ambled across the pasture, waded through High Prairie Creek and disappeared amid the alder trees lining the far bank.
“You wanna go get the basket?” Adam asked.
“Naw,” I answered, “We’ll come back for it tomorrow.”
“Yeah, if that bear doesn’t come back first and eat it,” Adam chuckled.