Wildlife in the field

Did you know that the banana slug is the official state mollusk of California? The pacific slug is also the largest terrestrial slug species in the world. Fascinating, right? Yah, we saw a ton of them. We hung out with them, did some laundry, surveyed a couple of reaches, went on a picnic, watched them mate (which actually makes you want to throw up), accidentally stepped on them, accidentally grabbed them – you can do anything with your slug buddies.

Deer were pretty frequent, though usually in just ones or twos. Elk on the other hand were always in herds of at least 20, standing just off the road. They were huge creatures, often with a large group of females and just one or two bulls proudly displaying their immense antlers in warning.

And, finally, I saw a bear. We had split into two teams with Jamie and Paul further upstream and Chris and I downstream. We had just finished surveying our section and were measuring a particularly large wood jam on the side of the creek. Some bushes upstream and to the left of me began to stir and I stared inquisitively for a moment, wondering how Paul got so hairy, before realizing it was a small black bear. I have seen bears before and been much closer to them, but for some reason I completely panicked. I caught my breath and began just shouting “BEAR! (ohmygod ohmygod) BEAR!!!!!!!.” In my shock I hadn’t been able to recall my coworkers name, but mid-scream I finally remembered and switched to the more effective “ CHRIS! BEAR!!! CHRIS!” Oh my god, I thought, it’s already mauled Paul and Jaime and now it’s coming for us and we’re all going to die and I wonder if my wader boots are thick enough that I could withstand a bite of that nature. I had been standing at the base of this 12ft high wood jam, but in perhaps record time while I was screaming, scrambled to the very top – still pointing and screaming. Finally, Chris recognized my cries of panic and walked over. His eyes widened as he looked toward where my finger pointed, but instead of joining me on my little perch, he made some sort of “Oh, cool” remark and ran to get a better look, the whole way making jesters as if he were shooting the thing. I stayed where I was until I could no longer see the bear, who seemed just as freaked out as I was by my screaming. Jaime and Paul came downstream and met up with Chris to begin swapping their bear encounter stories. I finally bundled up the courage to leave my wood jam and joined them, only to be ridiculed for not remembering that bears can climb things and I was probably less safe so high up. Whatever. Later we would share this story with the campground host. He listened carefully, asked what stream we had been in, and then smiled at us saying that that was just ol’ Brown Face. Apparently many of the bears are named around here (at least by this guy) and each of his random ceramic bear lawn ornaments represent a friend he has lost.