Earlier this week, while I was walking into work around noon, a small brown bat landed on my head. For a moment I wondered if it was my destiny to become the next Batman. I went so far as spending the next hour speaking in a raspy testosterone-soaked whisper even though my voice kept cracking. I saw someone throw rubbish in a recycle bin and I came within a bat whisker’s length of delving out some serious vigilante justice. I went so far as google black spandex outfits that make you look buff.
Besides my brief Batman fantasy, I didn’t think much of the bat’s odd behavior. Shortly thereafter I had a number of weird and memorable encounters with wildlife. In all likelihood there was something wrong with the bat, but it got me thinking.
Years ago, a raven landed on my head for a moment during a windy fall hike on a ridge above town. It glided next to me afterward and gave me a sheepish look. I shrugged, it bit its beak and we went our separate ways — two strangers in the wilderness. A short while later I ran into a pack of five wolves.
Another odd moment was with a grizzly in the Arctic. The day before I found a lost, starving and inadequately clothed man wandering the opposite direction of where he wanted to go. Weird, right? It gets weirder. After giving him food and my extra clothes, I offered to walk with him on the two-day journey to his village. Gradually, I realized he was transporting drugs. A day and half later he got picked up by village search and rescue on four-wheelers. That night I woke yelling as a grizzly woofed in terror and fled — it took the shortest distance to safety which just happened to be over my tent.
What are the odds?
My summer gig mostly involves taking folks to gawk at brown bears. The day of the bat — may it be immortalized forever hereafter — I sat with four folks on a salmon stream on Admiralty Island. The watershed doesn’t see much people, so bears tend to give us a fair bit of space, so I was surprised when a young female came over and lied down next to us. She was a beauty, the sort of bear you want to protect from the darkness of the world. After a 30-minute rest she wandered off and an adult male crowded us as it fished for salmon without going so far as acknowledging our presence. The day was exceptionally “beary,” something which we were all, oddly, very grateful for.
After a variety of strange events that I’m not going to get into — let’s just say don’t ever put on a Batman costume without assistance, pliers and lube — I made it home at 11 that night. My old lady had skipped town, so I was single parenting Fen, out golden retriever. I told her about my day and wardrobe malfunction as we walked beneath a giant blood-red full moon.
All was going well until we began climbing the stairs above Sandy Beach. We were two-thirds of the way up when a bear burled through the brush and came down the hill. I leashed my dog and positioned her behind me.
“Don’t worry I’m a bear guide,” I told Fen as she quivered against my leg.
I yacked as the bear came closer. I told it I was sorry its mother had abandoned it when it was as vulnerable as tadpole in a blender. I apologized for all the times its dad tried to eat it — talk about an Oedipus complex. I apologized for how hot the weather had been — and tried to build a case with it by pointing out that I, being big and hairy, suffer in a similar fashion.
“You and I we’re the same,” I said. “We’re brothers. Or, maybe you’re my sister. I can’t tell in the dark.”
All my interpersonal mumbo-jumbo wasn’t getting me anywhere. The bear was too close now. I wondered if it wanted to swipe my dog. The two species share a mutual hatred for each other. At five feet it acted like it was going to head off, but quickly changed its mind and veered back. At what had to have been less than a yard Fen and I roared in glorious unison. Even though my voice cracked, the bear leapt away and headed down the hill to make more bad decisions.
Maybe I’m reading too much into that bat — it probably thought my head had lice or some other bugs to eat. Trying to be rational can only get you so far.
• Bjorn Dihle is a Juneau writer and is the author of “Haunted Inside Passage: Ghosts, Legends and Mysteries of Southeast Alaska” and “Never Cry Halibut: and Other Alaska Fishing and Hunting Tales.” You can contact or follow him at facebook.com/BjornDihleauthor. “Off the Beaten Path” appears in Outdoors every other Friday.