Days can lose their given names when one has no particular thing that must be done or no particular place to be. Every day can be a Saturday or any day for that matter. Lester McClain had managed to put himself in a position where the names of days had little relevance. He had been unlucky in love, a story for a later time, but lucky in the realm of finance and so he had opted for an early escape from the American grind.
Overlooking his remaining days from a fiscally secure vantage point, Les had decided to liquidate most of his holdings and deposited the substantial proceeds into a low-risk mutual fund. He then sold most of his possessions, keeping only what he could fit in his silver 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser and moved from San Francisco to Lee Vining California to take up a quiet life in the mountains. The ghosts and demons that followed him were unwelcome, so as most of us do he relegated them to the dungeon of his mind and went about his life as though they had never existed.
For several years now his routine had been simple, probably deathly dull to most, but mostly satisfying to him. Hike, fish, read, avoid dealing with any personal issues, hike some more, have a drink or three in the evening, sleep, repeat. That much time alone will make a man his own best friend, trusted confidant, or his own worst enemy. And so it was the case that Lester McClain had the habit of talking to himself out loud on a regular basis.
Les sat up blurry eyed on the old brown leather sofa opposite the kitchenette in his tiny cabin. The summer sun had demanded his attention at 5:30am. At that unreasonably early hour, his reluctant body rose to the ritual calling of his morning routine.
“I need some fucking curtains!” he muttered to himself.
Cold, fucking cold, water splashed on his face, mostly to force the eyes into focus. That focus revealed bloodshot blue eyes with a faint ring or yellow around the iris, greying, unkempt blond hair falling in tangles to his collar and a three-day beard. Having finished the unpleasantry of cold water coupled with a mirror prior to 6am Lester commenced a staggerer’s walk toward the kitchen to start the coffee. As he sat on the sofa waiting for the percolation to complete, he found himself regretting that last glass of bourbon, five drinks were not his custom.
“Nice to see you?” he remembered. “Who was that…guy?” Les had, by his own choice embraced a life a relative solitude. He had not, to his recollection, ever met this Shash who joined him last night at the bar, yet the giant had seemed to know him. “Ugh,” he thought, “I need coffee.” He made his way back across the spartan cabin floor, smooth worn pine boards seamed loosely to allow for the breathing of the seasons, to the kitchen counter and poured a tall cup of deep black waking. His hand rested on the chipped white tile countertop as he took a deep, tongue scalding gulp. “Ahh!”
The Land Cruiser engine roared, 6:15am time to be somewhere that was not here. “What day is it?” He thought. “Ah, does it matter? Nope.” He said to the steering wheel. He guided the shift lever into reverse and backed down the driveway. The sound of off-road tires on the gravel had become music to Les; the soundtrack to his comings and goings.
As he drove toward the Narrow Canyon, he remembered the bear. It had appeared way up river as he hooked the last of his three trout the day before. As he worked the line, he had seen out of the corner of his eye the massive shape of an upright full-grown Grizzly bear. He reeled the large rainbow hard but not so hard as to break the line then let it run a bit under the deep bend of the graphite rod, keeping an eye on the fish, using his peripheral vision to monitor on the bear. Les had seen bears before on the river and did not take such encounters lightly. As the fish fought for its freedom, the bear seemed only to watch. Les’ mind wandered to the holstered Browning .45 on his right hip. So fixated did his thoughts become on the gun and bear that he almost lost the fish.
When the fish finally surrendered, he looked directly at the bear. The bear too seemed finished and stepped away from the river, vanishing behind a stand of pines. Les netted the fish and turned downstream. He creek hopped thirty yards or so in the direction of the Land Cruiser then turned to scan for his possible pursuer. Nothing but water, stone, forest, and sky. He took the fish from the net and quickly ran his knife through to end it’s suffering.
“I’m sorry I made you wait” he whispered to the now at peace fish. “Thank you for the gift of your sustenance.”
Les checked again for the bear, no trace. He placed the third rainbow in his creel, secured his fly to the rod anchor and made for the safety of his truck.
Les, not being a superstitious man had not attributed anything to the incident with the bear other than a man and a bear happening by chance to be at the same place at the same time. Following that logic he decided while driving to change course, abandoning Narrow Canyon for a morning at McGee Creek. “No need to go where the bear is fishing,” he said to the dashboard, averting his eyes from the blazing morning sun that careened down the slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The Cruiser slowed to a stop at a small parking turnout adjacent to McGee. Les turned the key and was about to pull it from the ignition when he saw it, the bear. A huge Grizzly bear was sitting by the river, pensively watching the water play across the rocks. As he watched, stunned, the bear looked up. Les thought he saw the faintest hint of a smile on its face.
Continued in Lester McClain and the Bear – III