A Message to the Bear
When the great floods came to the river in my first year there, I incautiously refused to move till the last moment, not wanting to miss the opportunity to see the river at full flood, carrying away giant trees, surging golden and dangerous and beautiful in the winter light.
I tend to run into danger, not away from it, with a crazy trust.
And when life comes and batters my little world, usually I am able to look up with some odd delight at the power of the contact.
My hopeful heart has been an annoyance and an amusement to those who love me. Early on in my relationship with my partner of a quarter decade he presented me with a cartoon from the New Yorker. (sometimes I wonder how many communications have been opened with New Yorker cartoons). It was titled Pollyanna in Hell. There, amidst the flames and demons, a brightly smiling woman commented to her partner something like "Isn't this wonderful? So warm. We won't need our winter coats!"
Now that the bear has come my partner looks at me in disbelief. We survey the damage--first one cabin wall taken out, and books scattered on the forest floor--then boards removed from another--then another.
The bear has been on our hill a few weeks now. He's calling me back to the woods, and I am so happy for this. For the past couple years, while my partner has traveled back and forth to the rustic cabin, our youngest and I have remained in town. We are fortunate that we have some private rooms in our store building, and are adaptable. Gabe had grown frightened--and with cause--that the trees might fall on the cabin. Indeed, some have fallen pretty near. And his health has been better in a warmer, more insulated space.
And Champ, the rescued pitbull, needs very controlled supervision. Thus, bit by bit, I went into a quasi exile from my home. We do whatever we must do; I knew my partner would try to keep my home gardens alive, and that he'd treasure the woods on my behalf.
I also knew, alas, that I was probably surrendering my cabin to disarray and clutter, for my dear is someone who piles papers he might read someday, and things that may be useful somewhere, sometime, all around him.
Reports of the condition of my homestead from my eldest son, who would go out fairly often, were so dire I began to wonder if I could stand to return--oh yes, I knew I should somehow manage it, but in my complex life where was there time?
And then the bear arrived. My home is actually within a wildlife corridor; the bears go to the ocean in the springtime and then in late summer, after they mate, they wander back to the mountains. Usually they pass through fairly quickly, unlike the mountain lions, who have settled in some years to raise their kittens near us, and very unlike the deer, who roam the hills freely, or the little foxes who live by the creeks.
I knew I needed to go home to check the damage and start planning the rebuilding process. Suddenly there were ways to arrange this. My daughter could look after her little brother; there are hours in the early morning before we open the shop; we can close a day or two a week.
Last week my partner and I went out for a day of clearing and assessment. Yes, the scene was pretty bad--walls torn open, things scattered everywhere. It's a big task. That day, as I cleared the main room and talked with the dogs--Buddy, who travels back and forth, my aged laborador, and the lovely Mai, the fearful and yet strong protector of the homestead--who took my reappearance with calm "of course you are here"--Paul ran into the bear. Bear was sleeping near my herb garden; Paul was getting water from the spring. He backed away, and the bear backed away.
The bear has been ranging the hillside. A neighbor's orchard is demolished. Other neighbors are in fear for their lives--for black bears are strong. As I marvelled at how my hazel trees have grown I caught the scent of bear--but couldn't see him.
I figure he is a young bear, in his first year without his mother, a little confused, a little uncertain. He has found that at our house there is water, and Mai's food, and he comes back at dawn and dusk to check things out.
The next time I went out--a couple mornings ago--one of the windows had been smashed open. Glittering shards of glass lay across the windowseat, over the floor.
I picked them up, carefully, and swept the floor again, and continued with the sorting and clearing and assessment. We will need new walls, at least one new window. The roof needs patching.
I stood in the middle of this horrible mess, smiling with joy. "Isn't this a wonderful opportunity?" I asked my dear, who looked at me with bleak disbelief.
"We've needed to fix this place up--now we can, we can think about what we need now, how to make this lovely again, and comfortable"
He scowled and walked away. I remembered Pollyanna.
And the bear--to have such wild force close by. It's innocent force. The bear has no evil agenda or hatred--he perhaps thinks of my cabin as a very large log, full of tasty things.
Sadly, his days are probably limited now. Fish and Game officers were called in by the orchard owners, and a trap has been set. I thought it was a humane trap. I thought bear would be taken somewhere safe and distant--but now I have been told that's not how it happens: bears are caught, and when caught, they are killed, because they have shown themselves dangerous.
So, I have been trying to send messages to the bear: go on, over the mountain top, down to the east branch of the river. Please go. Ignore that trap in the orchard, and go fast, before they know you are there. You'll have to pass up the goats at the hilltop, and I know that might be hard--but do it. Go on.
And thanks for your demolition project--you've given us quite a few puzzles to solve. But more, dear bear, you've brought me back to my home, where my children were born and grew up, like you, running through the woods, eating berries, delighting in the beautiful abundant world.