in search of tarzan.

in search of tarzan.

Wha?!

Yep. We looked for him. Tarzan is a male black bear living in or around Cookson, OK, last spotted denning it up along a beautiful (seriously – breathtaking) ridge. A landowner named him after finding him in a tree; fitting, yes?

But let me back up. After a glorious morning of hanging out in the woods and cuddling bear cubs, and also after a bite to eat and a small break, we headed back out – to different woods this time – to check in on Tarzan and to find the hollow test tree (more on the latter in a minute).

It was late afternoon, and the sun was beginning to seep through to wash everything in its amazing light.

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We came to the top of the ridge, directly over the den in which Tarzan had been spotted last. Colby, one of the DOW technicians, dropped down to do a safety check – to see if Tarzan was still in the den or to determine if the cave could be explored by us.

Cameras are placed outside of dens when bears are hibernating to find out when they start moving again. They had tried to sedate Tarzan some time before to work him, but the dart had missed; you’ll see the empty syringe that Colby collected in his hand when he’s crawling out. The biologists retrieve any loose supplies during den checks, and they removed the camera on this afternoon since Tarzan had moved on. After they’ve worked a bear, they’ll return within a day or so to check on the bear and make sure everything is ok, as in the case of Bailey in my previous post.

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Since Tarzan had moved on and the den was unoccupied by any other bears, they were curious to explore the  den to see how he had used it and where he had bedded down. 

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Once inside, they worked themselves so far back that I could no longer even hear them. They said that it went back about 25-30 feet and had multiple rooms, but where Tarzan had hibernated there was a bowl of leaves that he had bedded down in.

Sara’s hairdo after coming out the den. I reminded her that there have been a lot of brides who pay big money to have nature-hair like this for their wedding day, to which she said, “I have no idea how many times I’ve checked into a hotel looking exactly like this…I wonder what those people were thinking?!”

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A little snow wash after crawling around. Holden was able to nearly stand in one part of the cave, but parts were definitely hands-and-knees passageways.

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The ridge went on for quite a while. Colby told us that during hibernation, they’d have two or three bears in the caves, with typically about 100 yards in between them.

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The moss looked like clumps of broccoli, and the snow melt made tiny waterfalls everywhere. Magic. 

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The Golden Hour. How anyone can claim to not know God when they see this, breathe this…it’s a mystery. I could have stayed here forever. With pepper spray. :)

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Doesn’t this felled tree look like a dog shadow puppet? 

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And now the story of the test tree. Sara had found a tree den earlier in the season, but when they lowered the camera to check on mom and her cubs, the mom batted at the camera. They realized that even if they could sedate her from that angle (after having climbed the hollow tree and shooting down into it), that they still had to figure out how to pull the babies and work the mom. Colby remembered a hollow tree in the wildlife refuge area, which became…the hollow test tree. He cut a panel out of the tree (very similar to a breaker box panel, but a little larger), and removed the panel to fit a small person (think Holden-sized or a little bigger) inside. When it came time to check the tree den, they sedated mom, then quickly cut a panel out of the tree to do their work. When they were finished, they replaced the panel and secured it.

By the time we reached the test tree (not bear-occupied, mind you), it was too dark for photos, but Holden was able to squeeze inside and look around with a headlamp on. He got in fine, but getting out was trickier (it took two of us to pull him out – he was a little short). Hilarious.

After this last excursion, it was time for Holden and me to move on in order for the team to get ready for their last day checking bears. Their final day is a really big and important one – one for which the Wildlife Commissioner and other bigwigs fly in to see their work. And this last part that I tell you is in no way intended to embarrass Holden, but rather to try to leave you with how very powerful this experience was. As we drove away that night, he wept. He sobbed for about 20 minutes (very unlike him) into our three-hour trip to our next stop in Oklahoma, and it was as if this enormous release was fighting its way out of his little body. Through his tears, he talked about this being “the best day of his life” and how he wished we could just stay longer. We were out that day from a little after dawn until well after dark, just in the woods exploring and walking and listening and being. Every which way that we turned there was something new and beautiful: deer, elk, bears, birds, crunchy leaves, wet moss that you could peel off the rocks in sheets, rabbits, sticks, tall trees, rock outcroppings. It was so alive. It reminded us both to walk more intentionally, touch what you see, feel the ground under your feet and smell the air.

Be where you are.

Because where you are, is very powerful indeed.

Here’s to your own experiences out there.

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