My dad was a storyteller. Early on, those campfire stories taught me about the captivating power of a tale well told. And they weren’t the expected stories… the ones about the maniac wandering the woods in search of his missing hand – these were stories of nature: impossibly tall grizzlies and old moose and young men in the Montana woods.

Before I discovered Ray Bradbury and Vladimir Nabokov… before my high school English teacher John Kruzan told me that I already had my own writer’s “voice” at the age of 16… there were my dad’s stories at the fire.

I’ll share just one of them. “In a line of smoke-eaters trudging to a fireline, the guy carrying the two-man saw was always last. It was understandable: a too-fast turn with that thing, and somebody would get hurt. 

“The guy with the saw, last in line, was so bent over with the weight of the thing that he rarely saw anything but the ground or a glimpse of somebody’s heels up ahead. So. of course, my dad, carrying the saw, was somewhat surprised seeing feet run past him down the trail, back the way the team had come. One set of feet – whoosh. Then another. And another. Whoosh whoosh whoosh. 

“Thinking that it might be a good idea to check what was causing the mass backward migration, my dad straightened up just enough to see what was on the trail ahead: It was a huge grizzly, maybe 10 feet tall. Standing on his hind legs, which is grizzly body language for “Hello, I’m not in the best of moods right now.” Not the most welcome sight for a man burdened with a very large two-man saw. A man suddenly alone.

“Grizzlies being notoriously bad-tempered creatures, my dad was faced with several interesting-if-unappealing choices: Run (grizzlies can run very fast). Throw the saw and run. Fall down and play dead. Stand fast and wait for bear-boredom to set in. 

“In the end, the bear might have chased my dad. Or he might not. Witness a 19-year-old man setting the Olympic record for sprint-and-tree-climbing. While carrying a heavy two-man saw.”