Editor's note: This is the second installment of a four-part story from the Middlinville Chronicles by Ron Flewelling.
So Notch-Nose wandered, becoming bigger and meaner with each passing season. A sour disposition that germinated when he was a cub became a full blown case of nasty by the time he'd approached maturity. He went where he pleased and when it suited his fancy and heaven help any living creature that got in his way.
Other bears and wolverines were known to detour miles out of their way just to stay out of his territory. Birds and small animals cowered in terror in his wake long after he'd passed. He would even, on occasion, smash a small tree into oblivion simply because it happened to have the temerity to be growing on a spot where he'd wished to walk.
Yes, Old Notch-Nose did what he pleased, and terrorizing all living creatures pleased him very much.
Not following the norm of any other bear, Notch-Nose roamed far and wide, leaving behind a legend larger than life.
It was on one of his sojourns when he happened upon the Ford.
Doon Lawton, on that particular morning, found himself exploring an area north of the Ford where over the years, the River had cut a narrow channel through the rocky bluffs. Over the eons, the fast moving water had carved through the stony, flint-like soil until the result was two towering banks paralleling the River's course for a half-mile or so to the point where the constricted water finally broke out into an open area. At this point, the River's frothing current slowed it's velocity considerably, forming a deep, eddying pool where, after regaining it's breath and regathering its momentum, resumed its journey in the direction of the Ford.
This narrow channel was filled with crashing rapids and foaming whirlpools, and was near the spot where Obadiah Peck's raft had met its untimely demise.
A few weeks previously, Doon had reconnoitered this area and noticing some interesting rock formations, had returned to make a more detailed inspection.
On that same morning, Buttermilk Sykes was headed for the pools below the rapids with a fishing pole over his shoulder. He'd spent the previous day mucking out Homer Pierson's stable and with his earnings, had bought himself a new straw hat and a bottle of Stone Creek Tavern whisky.
The sun was shining, the fish were biting, and the bottle made a comfortable bulge in his pocket. With the new straw hat canted jauntily upon his head, Buttermilk Sykes was definitely a contented man.
To get to the rock formation, Doon had to work his way through some particularly heavy thickets. The mosquitoes were buzzing in his ears as he labored his way through the thorny underbrush and soon, he'd managed to work up a pretty good sweat.
He began to wonder if the whole thing was worth all of this trouble, but he was pretty sure what he'd spotted previously had been an outcropping of pure granite.
As Doon neared the River, Doon heard a strange thrashing noise coming from a dense thicket to the side. Curious, he parted the clinging vines to see what all the commotion was about. Suddenly, a humongous grizzly reared up in front of him, its considerable bulk nearly blocking out the sun.
It was Notch-Nose.
Notch-Nose had spent the better part of the morning stripping bushes of goose berries and the only thing that upset his stomach or aggravated his disposition more than half-ripe goose berries was to be bothered by some damned meddling human being.
Though startled, the aggravated grizzly paused just long enough to debate whether he wanted this nosy meddler mauled, mangled or pulverized before cutting loose with an enraged gizard-petrifying roar and charging.
When Doon discovered himself face-to-face with the grizzly with the scarred visage, it was only through super-human efforts that he was able to control his bodily functions. His hair, he was sure, was standing straight up on his head and had turned instantly white. His reflexes, however, as well as his instinct for survival were pretty darned sharp and he was well on his way out of the thicket while the echoes of old Notch-Nose's angry bellow were still hanging in the balmy air.
The gait of a nearly half-ton grizzly running at full tilt might be considered almost amusing to some disinterested outside observer, but Doon, being the object of the race, could find absolutely nothing even remotely humorous in the whole thing. Although a bear might look awkward and clumsy, the truth of the matter was, they were pretty darned fast and in no time at all and in spite of his head start, Notch-Nose had nearly caught up with the fleeing Doon Lawton.
Doon could feel the bear's hot, foul breath dusting the seat of his pants as he ran for his life. His endurance flagging and his breath coming in gasps, he spotted a young tree a few yards ahead. Without a moment's hesitation, Doon scrambled up the tree, doing pretty darned good for someone who hadn't climbed one since he was ten or so.
Behind him he heard the clash of teeth as Notch-Nose took one last lunge at his retreating posterior.
For a moment, they stared at each other, Doon eyeing the angry bear from his precarious perch while Notch-Nose glared balefully at him from the ground. They were both puffing and panting from their monumental sprint out of the goose berry thicket.
Then, in the throes of a tantrum, Notch-Nose bellowed out a roar of frustration and gave the tree a shattering blow. The ensuing vibration nearly pitched Doon out of his leafy haven.
The tree that Doon had chosen was a young one and although sturdy, was not up to a mauling by a half-ton grizzly bear suffering the slings and arrows of frustration. Notch-Nose ripped and smashed and generally pounded away at the tree with a dedication that was nearly fascinating, at least it would have been if the tree hadn't slowly started leaning over.
Doon Lawton and Notch-Nose were about to meet close up and personal, an event not looked forward to by Doon as he scrambled to retain his grip on his slowly descending perch.
For his part, Notch-Nose, sensing victory, redoubled his efforts at splintering the offending tree.
One thing old Notch-Nose did know for sure. this was a lot more fun than eating sour goose berries.
Continued next week.