Roadside creature alert!


The other night we were returning to Missoula from Hot Springs, Montana, site of the Homesteaders’ Days Festival and Rodeo.

It was the best rodeo ever. A wild-cow milking contest was the featured event. It got pretty intense.

But anyway, I was behind the wheel around 11 p.m., my usual partner in crime riding shotgun. I was not going terribly fast, because I was afraid large animals would leap in front of the vehicle. (We had seen a huge buck deer a little while before.) Soon we passed two cars going the other way, both blinking their headlights wildly, which we know is the automobile equivalent of throwing your arms around and shouting, “Danger!  Danger!”

“Either it’s a cop ahead, or a large animal,” I said.

“Why would there be cops out here?” Partner-in-crime said. True.

We rounded a curve and there to the left saw a large something floundering around on the ground. For a split-second, I thought it was a person who was either very drunk or injured. Then it put its hands up on a low guardrail and hefted itself upright.  It looked straight into our headlights, eyes aglow; then jumped over the rail, and was gone.

Although details were impossible to make out on the dark highway, we both noticed its bulky shape and big rump, and that’s when we knew what we were seeing. It was a black bear – although I can see how, if one were not expecting to see such a thing, one might think it was an unidentified creature along the lines of a Sasquatch. Despite my initial impression, it was not a human, nor a human-like monster, rolling around on the side of the road; it was a running bear on all fours.

In my possession is Jeff Meldrum’s Sasquatch Field Guide. In it, Meldrum goes to great lengths enumerating the differences between a Sasquatch and a bear. I am not surprised that this would be a fairly common misidentification.

I’ve seen bears from time to time in my wanderings around Montana, and have often been amazed how human-like a bear can appear in its movements. I have also been surprised (and a little embarrassed) at how bear-like an ordinary tree stump can appear — especially if you’ve just seen an actual bear and are already feeling a bit jumpy.

What’s the moral of this story? Watch your eyes.  They can play tricks on you.