Turns out Fran’s bringing a Marine Magnum, Model 870 Remington 12 gauge pump action shotgun. Fran’s planning on using 3 inch magnum “slug” projectile shells, 6 rounds in the magazine and 1 in the chamber. I’m not exactly sure what all that means, but it sounds pretty bad-ass to me.
It was time to have a conversation with my mother. I don’t know where I got my love for being outdoors, for hiking, for spending days without seeing another human being, for letting my feet keep rhythm with the thoughts in my heart. But you can be guaranteed it wasn’t from my mother. It’s not that mom isn’t a remarkable human being and a wonderful mother. She is. It’s just that the outdoors isn’t her thing.
Years ago, when I started hiking alone in the forests, beaches and grasslands of the Point Reyes National Seashore or heading to my beloved northern Sierra to get my altitude fix, the antidote for the urban malaise that comes over me, Mom would worry herself sick about all the horrible things that could happen out there, in what she considered to be wilderness. Eventually I sat her down and explained that if I died on the trail, from a fall or a mountain lion attack or even something dastardly, she needed to find comfort in the fact that I died doing exactly what I wanted to be doing, that I died exactly the way I wanted to die.
The emails about the bear fence definitely meant it was time for a refresher conversation, but I didn’t want to over play my hand. Mom is in her 90s now, and she has breathing and heart problems. If I rushed straight at it, she’d probably hyperventilate at best or pass out from an arrhythmia at worst. I decided to not mention the bears straight away; she was nervous enough about the trip already. Instead, I took the casual, we’ve-had-this-conversation-before, approach. When she started questioning me about the trip, clearly leading to a list of possible hazards which would end with an expression of disbelief that any sane person would put themselves in such peril, I cut her off at the pass.
“Mom, this is a trip of a lifetime. I can’t believe that I get to go to the largest wildlife refuge in the country. That I am being included in an incredible mix of fascinating conservationists. And I couldn’t be going with a more experienced group. Fran has been in the Refuge for decades, Jeff has been on a dozen or more expeditions there, and Bill has backpacked all 800 plus miles of trails in Sequoia and Kings Canyon, the largest wilderness area south of Alaska. I’m in good hands, and I’m going to do everything I can to make up for the fact that I am the least experienced member of the party: get good equipment, train to be strong and fit, and prepare myself mentally by reading everything I can get my hands on about the Refuge and what to expect.
“Remember what I told you about being killed by a mountain lion? That I would have died doing exactly what I wanted to be doing? Same goes here, in spades. This is a dream come true for me, Mom. So if I die in a rafting accident, or bear attack, or whatever, it is exactly what I wanted it to be. I’d much rather die that way, than be hit by a San Francisco Muni bus. There’ve been a total of 3 people killed by bears in the Refuge in over 5 decades, SF Muni kills an average of 25 pedestrians a year.”
You gotta give Mom credit. She didn’t pass out. She just had to sit down the rest for of the day. She hasn’t thought yet to ask how we’re going to contact the authorities if something bad does happen, and you can bet I haven’t told her. She’s not going to like the answer.