The natives of the Congo prize their basenjis as hunting companions who chase small game into nets. Some say these fearless twenty-five pounders chase lions and other big game also. I have no idea how true that is, but I can tell you about the day our pair treed a bear.
We lived north of the University of California, Santa Barbara, a block from an open stretch of country known as Ellwood Mesa that stretches almost a mile along the coast—a perfect place to take. Rocky and Willy to run free. It wasn’t unusual to encounter wildlife—rodents, skunk, an occasional coyote—but this particular morning I spied a large black shape on the ridge of eucalyptus that divided the mesa. It was too far away to make out clearly, but I thought to myself, “If I was in Montana, I’d say that was a bear.” However, I was not in Montana; I was in urban Santa Barbara County, and was about to decide it was a large dog, when Rocky and Willy took off, heading straight for it.
I whistled frantically, the animal disappeared into the trees, and the dogs came back. So much for that. They never would have come back so obediently if it had been anything more interesting than a dog.
Then a neighbor who, like me, took her dog on early morning runs, emerged from the trees wide-eyed. “I don’t believe this. A bear just ran past us!”
“So it was a bear,” I exclaimed.
“At a dead run!”
Neither of us quite believed it, still, but I decided it was time to leash my pair and head for home, where I shared my mystifying experience with my housemate, Joyce. Together we shook our heads. There were no bear on the mesa. By the time I returned home from campus after a day of teaching paper-grading, and meetings, the episode had returned to the imaginary. Some trick of the mind.
Until we turned on the news and there he was “Bear treed on Ellwood Mesa.” They speculated that the drought had driven him out of the mountains, across the freeway to the mesa, but had no idea who or what had chased him into the tree.
Our fearless basenjis, of course.