16 April 2008
"Death Comes Looking" by Marie Taylor (Zen Brush)
The other day I was hiking into my favorite surf spot. I knew it had the potential to be phenomenal. Everything was lined up perfectly. Swell, winds, tides, weather, sandbars. The cosmos was on my side. I cold feel it. Now this spot is pretty secret. I sort of want to tell more people about it but I can’t bring myself to just yet. Obviously, it is best if you discover it yourself and then perhaps we can go there together. As is, I have to surf this place solo.
Anyway, I began the hike through the forest. The hike is about an hour but I timed it so the tide would almost be right when I got there and so I could relax on the beach awhile before my paddling out. About 15 minutes away from path down to the beach I heard a rustling in the woods. I wondered if it was an elk. I’d seen elk here before in the early morning. I started to reach into my backpack to grab my camera in the hope I could get a photograph.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t an elk, it was a grizzly bear. What?! Grizzly bears don’t live around here. I didn’t even have time to put my camera away and put my backpack back on properly. I left my backpack on the ground but for whatever reason, I held onto my surfboard. Trying not to shit myself, I immediately ran away wondering to myself, what is the appropriate response here? Climb a tree? Play dead? Or run like a motherfucker? I chose to run like a motherfucker and so did he or she…
I’d heard grizzlies could run faster than humans. I’d seen Herzog’s ‘Grizzly Man.’ I was convinced the bear would reach out and grab me any second but somehow I was getting away. At this point I had diverged from the trail but I knew I was getting closer to the cliff. I probably ran for about five minutes without looking back until I got to the edge of the cliff. From where I stood there was no obvious way down. Then I heard that rustling sound again. It still seemed distant at this point but I knew the bear would soon be upon me.
Jump or change direction or fight the bear with my surfboard? No time to think… All I wanted was a nice surf session in good waves to dial in my new 6’7” Art Coyler quad. I hadn’t bargained on this life and death shit…. Why me?
The bear was getting very close now. I looked around. Maybe I’d survive the jump into the sea below… Maybe I could throw my surfboard down and then jump in after it and then paddle around to the beach? No, way too high, too many rocks to possibly land on. And then, I noticed a rope, leading down the cliff. It looked pretty secure and led all the way down to the water. Weird. Maybe some surfers had rigged it up as a quick way to get into the line up. Either way, I had to give it a go. But if surfers had rigged it up how did they get their boards down?
I knew I had to throw my surfboard down and hope it made it to the water and that I could reach it when I made it down. I quickly hopped over to a nearby ledge but not before tripping over a tree trunk and landing on one of the fins of my surfboard… damn those fiberglass fins are sharp. Before I could examine the gash in my palm I threw the surfboard off the cliff. It fluttered down the cliff face like a badly folded paper airplane. It took a lot longer to reach the water than I had anticipated. I then realized it was a good job I hadn’t jumped.
I could feel the blood dripping out of my wound onto my feet but I didn’t want to look at it just yet, instead I watched my surfboard land on some rocks and smash into pieces… Fucking Christ. $550 down the fucking drain…
The bear was now so close, my only chance was the rope. I ran back over to where the rope was tied. It looked secure enough to hold my 195 pounds and so I began to lower myself down, as best I could with a wounded hand. As I was about six foot down, the bear peered over the side and let out a horrendous growl that set my heart a pounding, until my rib cage violently shook. Shit, this is going to be one hell of a story…
I slowly eased my way down, leaving a slither of blood along the rope above me. Blood dripped below me and I realized the wound was pretty significant. I knew I had to stop the bleeding as soon as I got down. I could still hear the bear growling above. I took a deep breath to regain my composure. I looked down at my oncoming descent. It didn’t look too far now. A survivable fall at this point… perhaps.
I looked into the clear water, half tempted to simply drop into it. The swell I had predicted was pumping in. Beautiful six-foot waves were breaking off the reef, breaking into almond shape barrels and then reeling into the sand-bottom beach. I briefly took stock in how this day had panned out and how it was supposed to have been. Then I noticed what I thought was a fin slicing through the water below. And then another. What must have been about half a dozen sharks were circling below me. Surely my falling blood had not hit the sea and was now attracting them? If I fell, I would fall right into their vicinity. I then saw one of the sharks lift its head out of the water and appear to look right at me.
The bear was still stomping around up top. The cliff seemed to vibrate with the bear's aggravation. I thought, perhaps I could find a ledge to rest on for awhile, or until these wild beasts were bored with me.
I began to lower myself even further and then I noticed a mouse perched on a tiny ledge that the rope had caught up on, a few feet above me. The mouse began to nibble on the rope. Should I try and sway the rope away from the mouse? I was loosing strength and blood. It seemed too risky. The mouse continued to rapidly nibble the rope.
I took another breath and looked at the cliff face, in an effort to avoid looking above and below.
And here I still am, hanging on this bloody rope, a hungry bear above me, sharks below me and a little mouse about to seal my fate...
Hmmm, I see some berries, in front of me. I think I’ll try one.
Wow, that’s a pretty fucking delicious berry.