The road into the home site was dusty and full of ruts as it wound through a meadow and down a steep hill into the valley and the moment I saw the little A-frame cabin nestled in a clearing among the Ponderosa pines I knew my spirit had come home. I felt like I had lived there all my life. China Bend was a sanctuary in the truest sense of the word and I immediately responded to its tranquility, a balm to my soul. It was so still; no traffic noise, no chatter of people. The trees, the sky and the fresh clean air filled me with peace. Life was profoundly simple and peaceful in this lovely spot and I was able to spend time in solitude, a luxury I had not experienced since my girlhood. Years of being repressed and under the control of others had taken its toll and I was thirsty for respite. The quintessence of this land, this experience that first year has never left me.
One of my favorite pastimes was taking long walks on the land every day, in the true communion with nature. There was a switchback, the back entry to the property which began near the back to the cabin and snaked its way up to the top where, for a time, our mailbox was located. I loved to walk up to get the mail. Each bend of the road held a special beauty and the view of the river near the top was breathtaking. During the summer, there was and a profusion of different wildflowers, Saskatoon berries, and two abandoned apple orchards along the way.
The orchards were only a short distance from each other and from the cabin; about fifteen minutes walk if I was alone. The first one to see was the lower orchard, which was the smaller of the two, and was located on the right at the bottom of the switchback. There was a huge boulder near the edge along the road that was perfect for climbing on or resting against. The ground was covered with bushes, wildflowers, weeds. Several apple trees stood here and the orchard, perched on a cliff, slanted down towards a little valley to overlook Bear Meadow.
Late one beautiful Indian summer day, the sun low in the sky, I decided to take a walk before dinner to visit the lower orchard. The air was still and fragrant with ripening fruit and the pungency of the Ponderosa Pine. I meandered for a while, just breathing in the peace and enjoying the scenery. I sat for a while on the boulder and closed my eyes. Suddenly I became aware that I wasn’t the only visitor and opened my eyes to see a bear in one of the trees several yards away. He wasn’t very big and looked about half grown. We stared at each other for several long minutes. My heart was pounding. I knew enough not to panic and run but I did stand up very slowly and started to back out of the orchard. After a few steps I turned around and took a few more steps before I heard a crashing and the sound of branches breaking. Was he chasing me? I had to know so I looked over my shoulder. No bear in sight. Apparently he was more afraid of me than I was of him and he had run off. I learned much later that it was in the late afternoons that the bears liked to visit the orchards. I was lucky that he was the only bear; as the story would have turned out much differently had I inadvertently come between him and his mother.
This was my first honest to goodness close sighting. There were others, but not at such close range. The whole experience was probably no more than five minutes but it seemed much longer. I was shaky, a bit afraid and in awe of the beauty and power of the wild creatures that roamed the countryside.