The Expedition

Part II

The Adventure

The following Monday morning, Bartholomew awoke early to prepare for the “adventure” as Finn called it. There wasn’t much left to do as he had finished packing the night before. He was too excited to sleep anymore. That was unusual for him; he surprised himself. Perhaps Finn’s enthusiasm was catching.

Everyone was to be ready by 7 bongs and they were. Nearly forty of them! It seemed that all of Ballymore wanted to wish the adventurers well and were gathering at his tree. Bartholomew came down early and mingled with the crowd.

At 7 bongs, the Ballymore expedition team lined up:














They said goodbye to everyone, and some blew kisses as they marched into the woods. The residents cheered and clapped until the team had disappeared from view.

Bartholomew led the group northwest. He was not going to take a direct route to the first campsite. His plan was to intercept the creek that ran by it. Then, he would follow it upstream. That guaranteed they would not get lost.

It was an easy hike through the woods. The forest floor was clear of brush, and the ground was mostly level. The shade from the trees kept the temperature very pleasant. For the coming five days, Grenby had forecast nice weather. He had made a special extended forecast for the trip: warm temperatures and partly cloudy skies with a chance of afternoon thundershowers. In other words, it was typical July weather. By the way, Grenby was one of the few animals who had not shown up to see them off, not too surprising.

The group reached the creek around midday. It was a good place to stop for lunch and rest. There were many berry bushes from which to pick delicious fruit. After lunch everyone took a dip in the cool water. Some small fish decided it would be fun to nibble on the bathers’ toes.

After about an hour Bartholomew decided it was time to move on. They walked northeast aside the rocky creek. No other animals were seen except some birds in the trees. Then, they came upon a squirrel sitting on a log in the middle of the stream. It appeared that he was waiting for them. Bartholomew said hello and introduced everyone to the squirrel. His name was Wilber.

Apparently, he spotted them earlier and had been following. He welcomed them to the area.

“It’s very peaceful here. The animals like to keep to themselves,” he said. “However, about a month ago, a bear came down from the north. It’s the first time we have seen a bear. I’ve not met him, but I hear that he’s not very friendly. It’s probably best if you stay away from him. I wanted to give you that warning.”

“Thank you for the information,” said Bartholomew. “We will be very happy to stay away from him if he will stay away from us.”

The squirrel wished them luck, said goodbye, and left.

Shane asked the question everyone was wondering, “Do you think we’ll see the bear?”

Another question could have been: Do you think the bear will see us?

“I’m very surprised to hear there is a bear around. Supposedly, there aren’t any within a thousand miles. Anyway, bears tend to stay to themselves. It is very unlikely that he would approach a large group such as ours. Even if he is curious about us, I don’t believe we have to worry,” answered Bartholomew.

They continued and about an hour later, arrived at a large field carpeted with pink and yellow flowers. Many butterflies flittered and fluttered about as they tended to the flowers.

“Let’s rest here,” suggested Bartholomew.

Some of the butterflies noticed them, flew over, and landed in the nearby grass. They certainly were impressive. They had tan heads and bodies. Their wings were orange with black and white spots. They had red, black, and white undersides.

“I believe they are Painted Lady butterflies,” said Bartholomew.

“Can we catch one and take it back?” asked Robbie.

“No, it is best that they stay here. This is where they live.”

The butterflies watched them, and they watched the butterflies. Eventually, the butterflies got bored and went back to tending the flowers.

Bartholomew looked at his map and said, “I think we are close to our campsite. It should be less than one-half mile further.”

The adventurers picked up their backpacks and continued. They reached the chosen glade within the hour. There in the center of it was the tent, waiting to be setup. In thirty minutes the tent was standing, and a small campfire burned nearby.

It was a very nice site, surrounded by oak trees on three sides and the creek on the fourth. After the long day of hiking, everyone was happy to just lay in the grass, look at the sky, and listen to the creek. They had a light dinner, and the evening passed quickly.

It didn’t become dark until after 10 bongs. The church bell bonged faintly from the distant hamlet. Everyone had just settled down in the cozy tent when an unusual sound broke the quiet.

It was kind of a gurgling growl coming from the woods to the south. Everyone immediately thought only one thing — bear!

They looked at each other.

Bartholomew said, “Everybody please relax and stay quiet.”

They listened. For a while they only heard the breeze through the trees.

Grrrrrr! Grrrrrr! This time the sound was closer. The animals huddled together.

Grrrrrr! Grrrrrr! Closer still.

Wilde and Wilder stood. They were wearing their camouflage outfits as usual.

Wilde said quietly, “We’ll go out and investigate. We will take care of it.”

Everyone stared at them. Only the weasels were brave enough to do this.

Bartholomew said, “Do not any take unnecessary chances.”

It was for situations like this that he had chosen the weasels to be part of the group.

“We won’t,” replied Wilder.

The weasels picked up their new cloth bags and slung them over their shoulders. They quietly slipped out of the tent into the darkness. The first thing they did was determine wind direction. It was coming from the south. That was good because it meant the bear would not be able to smell them. Keeping close to the ground, they crawled to the left side of the glade and scurried behind a large oak tree. There were no clouds in the sky and no moon to illuminate the woods. They could easily hide, but so could the bear.

They had practiced how to deal with an animal larger than themselves, but now it was for real.

The growling continued from time to time but didn’t seem to be getting closer. As best as they could estimate, the bear was about a hundred feet into the woods.

Wilde whispered, “We need to get about twenty-five feet from him on each side, about fifteen feet up in a tree, just as we practiced. You stay on this side, and I’ll get on the other side of him. When we’re in position, we can begin our offensive against the enemy. Good luck.”

“Good luck, brother,” Wilder responded.

Wilde crept off quietly. He followed the edge of the glade to the right. As he moved, he could hear twigs breaking and leaves being rustled. It took him about ten minutes to move into position to the right of the bear, but he still couldn’t see him.

Then, he finally saw him through the trees. The bear looked about a hundred times bigger than Wilde. His heart raced. He found a tree near the edge of the glade and climbed it as quietly as he could. He stepped onto a large branch about twenty feet from the ground. When he stood next to the trunk, he was virtually invisible but had a very good view.

The brown bear was in a small clearing and looking to the north towards the campsite. He knew the group tent was just ahead of him because he had seen the swans deliver it. He sniffed at the night air but couldn’t get any scent. He was deciding what to do. He wasn’t particularly hungry and was on more of a scouting trip for a possible future meal.

Meanwhile, Wilder snuck up on the left side. He also found a tree from which he could see the bear. The branch he climbed out on was fifteen feet above the forest floor.

Now both weasels were in position and ready.

A high-pitched scream pierced the night. It sounded like someone dragging their fingernails across a blackboard but much louder. Everyone heard it, especially the bear. He rapidly swung his head to the left, in the direction of Wilde. He saw nothing.

A second, even louder, scream came from his right. The bear swung around and looked in Wilder’s direction. Again, he saw nothing.

The screams startled the bear (and everyone in the tent) but also let each brother know that they were in position. Every thirty seconds they alternated screams.

The weasels opened their bags, and each pulled out an impressive looking sling-shot. They also took out a bunch of large nuts.

After one of Wilder’s screams, the bear started to lumber in his direction. Wilde took careful aim and fired. The nut shot through the air and caught the bear directly in the rear. He turned, jumped up on his two hind legs, and roared. Then, he started in Wilde’s direction.

Wilder fired. His nut also found its mark. The bear jumped around and roared again. He stood there looking left and right. Wilde then let out a double scream. Wilder did the same. That was the signal for the barrage. Both weasels began firing freely. About half of the nuts hit the bear. In response to the attack, he backed up. He stood as tall as he could with paws flailing at the nuts that he couldn’t see coming— enraged and frustrated. Then, one nut hit him squarely on the nose. Bears have very sensitive noses, and this hit stung. He howled. That was enough for him. He turned and ran south into the woods. He kept running across the creek until he was out of sight and then out of hearing. The weasels had won their greatest battle ever. They packed their bags and climbed down from the trees. Wilde and Wilder met in the clearing, which was now bear-less and hugged.

Wilde said, “Well done, brother. We make a good team.”

Wilder agreed, “We sure do. Bring on another bear.”

They walked back to the tent and announced that they had beaten the bear. Everyone congratulated and thanked them. For the next hour they retold the story several times. Everyone was very excited but eventually settled down. Now, thanks to the weasels, all could enjoy a restful sleep.

The second day went well, and nothing exciting happened. That was probably good. The terrain started to slope upward as they got closer to The Hills. The trees were smaller, and there were more wildflower fields. Now, they were too far from the church bell to hear it. The second camp site was easily located, and they had a peaceful night.

The third day dawned. As they got ready, there was a sense of excitement because today they would reach the cave. After a breakfast of berries, greens, and tea, they set off. Bartholomew advised them to store extra food in their backpacks. The hike would be uphill all day, but it was not a steep climb. The land was open now, and fabulous views stretched in all directions. Their goal was also clearly in sight, the highest hill in The Hills. A mixture of grasses, heather, and large rocks covered the sloping ground that led to its soft peak.

Occasionally, Bartholomew let Finn lead the way until he tired from hopping uphill. Then, he hitched a ride on somebody’s back. Frequently, it was Wilder’s.

Bartholomew sent Branna ahead to locate the cave opening and determine the best approach to it. It only took her five minutes to reach the peak. She landed on a small rock at the very top. A lush, green and blue panorama stretched out in all directions before her. She had seen many similar views before because, after all, she was a bird. So, perhaps, she was not as impressed as you or I might have been. Still, she perched there on the rock and marvelled at the scenery. Branna loved nature.

After a brief rest she searched the north side of the hill, looking for the cave entrance. At first she didn’t see it because it was small and partially hidden by rocks. On her third pass she spotted it. She also noticed that there were more rocks on the west side of the hill than the east side. The eastern side would be the best path to the cave. She returned to the group and reported her observations and recommendations. <