A disconcerting afternoon
A large percentage of Bearskin Blogs include a line that goes something like this: “Then the power went out.”
This story is no exception. It was a relatively slow fall afternoon, when unexpectedly the usual background sound mix of computers, coolers, refrigerators, fluorescent lights, and monotonous lodge music abruptly stopped. A sudden deeper silence is always the first sign of a power outage, followed shortly by the fading whistle of alarms reluctantly relinquishing their electrical connection.
Our power outage routine is pretty ingrained by now – send Andy out to flick on switches in various locations around the resort; dig around to find the old rotary dial phone to plug in; call Arrowhead Electric to report the power loss; reluctantly drag out the generator in case power is slow to be restored; and repeatedly tell each other how happy we are that it is not a subzero winter day.
Very little can be accomplished in the lodge office without electricity. I was mindlessly paging through the JC Penney sale catalog, when a very unusual noise broke the silence. Was it a mechanical sound? A system breakdown? A result of the power problem? No, it only took milliseconds to realize the noise originated from something living — and it was screaming.
The deep, pained noises echoing from across East Bearskin Lake were reminiscent of sound effects from a monster movie. It seemed implausibly loud and close; clearly it was not a human. I ran down to the lake, expecting to view a horrifying scene on shore. Every Bearskin employee and guest quickly converged at water’s edge, all of us intently staring towards the source of the sounds across the bay. Nothing was visible, but as the unceasing screams continued we all knew we were listening to something die. It was an excruciatingly long, slow death.
Eventually silence returned, leaving us all a bit disquieted. We rehashed the bits and pieces of the event that we could each recall. Did we hear one animal noise or two in the beginning? Was there a deeper growling at first or did the sound change? Andy had been out checking on the electrical problems when he saw a large, German-shepherd colored wolf duck into underbrush along the shoulder of the service road. He noted the running tracks of a deer or a small moose in the same spot. Kate and Quinn reported a panicked deer running close by staff housing. Guests in cabin 6 paddled along the shoreline, attempting to see what occurred, but there were no apparent signs of a traumatic demise.
The general consensus was that we had probably listened to the death of a moose on the opposite shore. Or perhaps a bear. An animal with a deep, loud death cry. An animal that did not die easily. We returned to the mundane tasks of dealing with a power outage, but we all felt a bit on edge.
After work Ryan decided to walk the Bear Cub Trail in search of an explanation for what happened. With a great deal of exploring, he found the remains of a young deer that had been killed by wolves very near the lake’s edge on the opposite shore. Andy had told us that deer could make a profoundly distressed noise like we heard, but until Ryan located the carcass none of us actually believed that the prolonged death cry reverberating across the lake could have emanated from such a quiet, small animal.
Death in a wilderness environment is a daily occurrence. Studies report that wolves in the Great Lakes region normally consume 15-18 deer per wolf per year. With so many wolves in our area, what we heard must happen around us often. But we don’t usually listen to the pain. The nature of the predator/prey relationship is easier to accept when death is silent, when predation happens in a way that doesn’t disturb or distress us. Listening to a death in the woods was a disconcerting reminder of reality in the wild.