My mother had laughed, then questioned, then screamed. That wouldn’t have been particularly noteworthy accept that she was in an outhouse at the time, and that outhouse was in the Rocky Mountains.
For many of my childhood summers my family would pack up the minivan and head west, leaving the lakes of Minnesota in order to move across the Great Plain as fast as the speed limit would allow. The first glimpse of the mountains was a relief, even though those first sightings would mean we still had hours and hours to travel. Once in the mountains, life was different. The mountains were high, the rivers were swift, and there were rattlesnakes. Pretty much paradise.
My grandparents cabin was nestled up to the Gallatin River, which could lull you to sleep at night and try to take your life by hypothermia by day. The slightly listing outpost which we occupied for a couple weeks each summer stood between a camp and the national forest, and we shared the plot with a variety of animals large and small.
One key feature of this summer oasis was the outhouse. Dug into the side of the mountain and furnished with a large window to give it light, records were kept and broken every summer for how long you could go without going. When you finally did break down and took a trip to the “Chateau,” as it was fondly named, the first step was to clear the cobwebs. The second was to shut the shades.
It was in the vulnerable moment of having lost a battle with the call of nature that we heard my mother cry out, “I see you. Stop messing around!” And then our names. And then the scream.
As the story goes, the blinds had not been shut enough to block out all the happenings surrounding the Chateau. While trying to move through the necessities as quickly as possible my mother had seen one of us creep along the bottom of the window in an effort to scare her. The problem, however, was that the rest of the family was inside the cabin. Following her frantic naming of each possible culprit, she realized there may be another offender. Upon exciting the loo she realized that a bear had evidently taken a number and was awaiting his turn. Slightly embarrassed by the whole deal, and possibly because the shades had not been fully drawn, the bear quickly made his exit up the neighboring pine tree.
Everyone filed out to see the large beast and comment on his slightly flushed appearance, but no one really wanted to see him come down. Except my dad. And it was at this moment that much of my character as a runner was formed.
He looked around and said, “I don’t need to be fast to get away from this bear. I just need to be a little faster than you.”