There are trails near the timberline, connecting between the ranges, whose purpose is known to very few, because they are not part of the trail system used by humans. Known as bear roads, they tunnel through the krummholz and slide alder where most people stop, baffled, unwilling to get down on all fours and crawl, unsure of their welcome in that hedged darkness. They are roads of ancestral knowledge, passed on from the mother bear to the cubs, imprinted in the brain to be recalled later, perhaps some years after the cubs have dispersed, maybe long after the siblings have gone their separate ways. Mothers and cubs might meet again on those roads, and recognize each other, and pass each other by without doing harm.
One road, of many such, crosses rock slides where the shale is packed into the interstices between great fallen blocks of limestone by the coming and going of padded feet. Here a hole in the path marks where a boulder the size of a small car was grappled and shoved out of the way, and sent rolling down the mountain like local thunder. This road winds across avalanche chutes, over the flayed trunks of old-growth trees that can be three feet or more in diameter, trees that lived for a century or longer before a winter avalanche finally called them to account, leaving their bones like giant pick-up sticks between the boulders, the trunks now scarred by claw marks. Here and there will be a drift of snow, insulated by a layer of broken shale that fell, piece by piece, from the precipice high above earlier that spring, as meltwater loosened the rocks, so in the heat of summer there are still places where the traveller beast can stretch out and rub its back and cool off in the icy slush for a moment below a boiling of frustrated deer flies. The bear road curls through a mossy gulch now and then, where a brook purls down the mountain to form a pool of icy water in which a bear may stop to bathe its hot, cracked footpads in the mud
while slaking its thirst. And if, later, you came upon the spot by chance, you might think that a huge man had stood barefoot in the mud; you might wonder if the stories about Sasquatch are true, and then you might note how the mud is punctured at the end of each toe pad. And this fact will make you stand up quickly; it will make you turn around, and listen, and listen.
In the old-growth forest, where the deep layers of duff and moss sometimes serve as the flimsy roof over a rock crevice, a place to be sniffed at and passed by carefully, or else out on the flatter lie of a bog, the road is marked by tracks a foot deep and a foot or more long. These tracks were made over the centuries by the padded humanoid feet of bears that journey between mountain ranges; each has put its front foot and then the corresponding rear foot down in the same print the first of its tribe made here centuries before. It may seem as if this were a trail made by human footsteps, but you will look in vain for any other sign of their habitation or resort. There are no axe blazes, no fire circles or rusty tin cans. The road may be grown in with fresh green moss as if it had been unused for years, but it has not been forgotten, and won’t be as long as bears are allowed to live.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Black Grizzly of Whiskey Creek by Sid Marty. Copyright © 2008 by Sid Marty. Excerpted by permission of Emblem Editions, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.