A Socratic Rancher 4-5-10 | TheFencePost.com
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A Socratic Rancher 4-5-10

In my last couple columns, I explained that Socratic ranching is a process of discovery that involves asking difficult questions, the kind that sometimes have no answers. This probably explains why the City Fathers of Athens sentenced Socrates to death for asking such questions. Fortunately, we live in modern times when, instead of a death sentence for asking Socratic questions, the typical punishment is to be ignored as if you’re a corpse.

In any event, in the coming months, I will continue to provide more examples of Socratic ranching questions, such as the time I was hiking up to Wild Cherry Lake in the north Sangre de Cristos and came up behind a large black bear using the same trail.

Unlike a prior column’s question, regarding a beaver’s right-of-way to stick timber and bumicky up a Forest Service road, there was really no question here as to who had the right-of-way. I prepared to yield to the bear.



The wind was in our faces, which may have explained why I smelled the bear before she smelled me, but at the moment of contact, my only concern was how best to communicate my subordinate position. We stood, with 50 to 60 feet between us. I knew it would be a mistake to turn and walk, or run, from whence I had come, nor did I want to make a big fuss and scare the bear who, until our paths crossed, enjoyed a pleasant afternoon in search of ripe raspberries. So I stood, keenly examining the bear.

The bear looked at me with matching keenness, her nose doing circles in the air.



Then, in a move that startled the daisies out of me, she dashed off into the woods to the north and disappeared. I heard twigs cracking and branches breaking for a short time followed by total silence.

My dilemma at that point was whether to continue up to Wild Cherry Lake, or call it a day and head down the trail for home, pronto. I decided that if there was a danger here, it was probably the same which ever direction I chose, so I headed on up to the lake.

But I kept looking back, wondering if the bear was following. For the remainder of the hike, many rocks and trees along the trail resembled a bear, and gave me a startle. As did the faintest rustles among duff, leaves and twigs. As did every errant gust of breeze picking its way through the forest. The truth is, I felt the bear was following me.

When I got to the lake, I took a nap with one eye open, soaked my feet in the cool water, ate a bite of lunch, and then headed down to the trailhead. At the last bend before reaching the parking lot, I looked back, then up, as I had been doing ever since encountering the bear, and to the north I saw the bear, high in the rocks, standing, looking down on me, her right front leg propped against a nearby tree – in other words, striking the pose of a stealthy gumshoe tracking a suspect.

Had the bear actually been following me?


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