Miners’ cabins in the gulches and hunters’ shacks on the mountains were buried in a night and the occupants had to tunnel their way out. Deer fled from the slopes down into secluded glens which had been their safe refuge from Sierra storms before, but the white death followed them and softly folded its feathery wings about them. In the spring the dead deer were found in hundreds where they had “yarded” safely through many winters before the big snow. Warm weather before the storm had brought the bears out of their holes and set them to foraging for grub. The snow fell lightly and no crust formed for some time, and bruin could not wallow through it. The best he could do was to get under the lee of a log or ledge, take another nap and nurse his inconvenient appetite. Being a philosopher, bruin did the best he could and trusted the god of the wild things to do the rest.
Upon the long western slope of a big sprawling mountain in Sierra county a Grizzly dam and two gaunt cubs of the vintage of ’89 were caught in the big snow miles away from the deep gulch in which they had passed the winter. No doubt that dam was weatherwise enough to sense the coming storm in time to have returned to the den, but neither beast nor man could have guessed what a thick blanket of white the gray clouds were about to lay upon the land. When the flakes began to fall thickly Mother Grizzly quit digging roots and turning over rocks, and sought shelter. The long slope was smooth and bare, but down near the foot was a fallen pine with upturned roots, and into the hollow where the roots had been, under the lee of the matted mass of fibre and dirt, Mother Grizzly led her babies and there made her bed for the night. It was a longer night than the old bear expected. It lasted until the next day’s westering sun made a pale, bluish glimmer through the upper part of the drift that covered the fallen tree and filled up the hollow. The warmth of their bodies had kept an open space around the bears, and the upturned roots of the pine had prevented the snow from piling high directly over them, while causing it to drift and form an enclosing barrier in front of the shallow pit made by the uprooting of the tree. Mother Grizzly arose and struggled toward the dim glimmer of light, but she could not break her way out. The snow was light and dry and would not pack, and her buffetings only brought a feathery smother down upon her and the cubs. All she accomplished was to let down the frail roofing of the den and get a glimpse of the sky. She tried to climb up the drift, but sank out of sight and had to back out of the smother. Digging was futile, for the snow offered scarcely more resistance than foam.
So Mother Grizzly gave up her attempt to escape and busied herself with making the hollow as comfortable as possible for a long stay. She scraped down to the dirt and packed the snow about the sides of the lair, stowed the cubs against the back of the den and curled herself in front of them and waited for better times to come.