Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Trap is Gone, & other news from the woods

My neighbor stopped by the store yesterday to pick up her rice and flour and beans. Once a month the bookstore suddenly becomes a mass of other activity, as the huge truck from the center of the state arrives with our monthly cooperative order, and people from 20 or 30 families unload the bags and boxes and jars and crates of fruit and find what they've ordered. The truck drivers, who are more used to having to unload their pallets themselves, have always enjoyed our quick fervor.
There is a moment of great activity, and the center of the store is, for a time, blocked with boxes and bags and milling people calling "did you see the raisins?" and "oh no, it looks like the chocolate was out of stock!". We've been doing this for decades now--first at the foot of our hill, with just a few neighbors--now at our shop, with many families from all over the area.
Anyway, this is the neighbor whose orchard was harmed by our friend the bear. Her husband had called the federal agents, who had placed traps.
And for weeks, as we've dealt with the bear damage and caught glimpses of the bear, I've worried that he might end up trapped and dead.

"They took the trap away yesterday" she said. She hadn't had sight of the bear for a couple weeks, and they figured the bear had moved on at last. We saw the bear last week--but not since then, and...well of course, he has traveled joyfully and safely on. On to the far branch of the river, past the oak woods, up to the higher mountains. Perhaps we will see him next year, and perhaps next year he will simply pass through, stopping perhaps for a dip in my garden bathtub under the clambering rosebush.

It was good news. And I continue to think with great fondness of this bear. Today we spent most of the morning continuing the cleanup efforts. I noted for the first time which books the bear had, in his eagerness to explore our cabin, flung out the torn open walls: Gandhi's Philosophy of Nonviolence. Some Virginia Woolf (To the Lighthouse, and Mrs. Dalloway). Henry James--Wings of the Dove. A great stack of early Roman history from my partner's shelf.
And I picked up the enamel tin in which I once stored raisins: bright yellow and orange, a kind of tacky thrift store find. In his eagerness for sweets the bear had crushed it with his strong teeth--at least I think those amazing gashes through the crumpled metal are teeth marks. Could be claws. Either way, the sheer strength of this--and the lust for sweetness--is astonishing. I sat and looked at it a long time.

And then I looked at the light through the trees, changing green, gold.

The family of turkeys came up and watched me as I cleaned up piles and piles of oddments. When I traveled in Europe I greatly admired the estates with peacocks wandering the lawns. And in fact, when my daughter was tiny, there were escaped peacocks in our woods, a source of wonderment. They've gone, but as I watched the turkey flock I thought they were, in their way, as beautiful. And their voices are sweeter. Tiny calls, to let each other know all is well. Little liquid warbles that mean--well, I don't know what they mean, but I think they might mean "this is lovely, this world, look, we have food and bright air"
They are spectacular when they decide to rise into the trees at night with a great rush of wings.

I continue to thank the bear, for he's given me an inescapable excuse to be often in my woods. We have months of repair to do, and certainly weeks of cleanup. I've rarely been so delighted.

Today, as I worked, I remembered how earnestly I prayed as a little girl. One of my most frequent prayers was that I somehow be of use in this world. It was probably a strange thing to request--today I wondered why I didn't ask for great beauty or wealth or fame or something a bit more spectacular. But, well, answered prayers being what they are, I did get mine...And a lot of what I do at my shop is to hold a center, in a very small way, for some who wouldn't have one. The battered and grieving veterans who struggle with a zillion demons of the heart and mind; the young travelers, the momentarily deranged. I accept the collect calls from jail and the emergency calls from hospitals. I try to help make contact--the lost family member, the hurt soul. It isn't anything spectacular, it isn't really all that difficult. Some of the guys see me as a sister, some of the kids see in me a mother. They know that here, for a moment, they are safe and won't be judged. I am grateful beyond words that I can do this. Small islands of peace in the world are maybe a tiny thing--but each tiny thing, added to another, might make a difference.

Or so I tell myself. And yesterday I had a call from one of the veterans who believes someday he'll make it rich in Vegas--I've let him use my address for years, so that he can get his benefits. Heart attack, helicopter flight: "but darlin', just tell everyone I'll be back--or maybe I'll die--but I had to tell you" And another of the older guys fell down again while drunk and smashed open his head. And the kid who likes scifi came by with news that he'd gotten probation and community service--a good thing, because after his long years in a mental institution he hates the walls.
And the young woman who needed shoes got them.
And in one day--how odd--two people, separately, came by to say basically the same thing. "when I was in trouble last year, you...[did something very small]...and I came back to say thank you."

And customers who needed books, or maybe a touch of literate conversation, got that too (and that was indeed fun).

The town side of my life has been increasingly full. I am of use indeed, and drawn into committees and meetings and improvements of the community, and late night decompression and the making of impromptu meals for travelers.

In the woods...all this washes away. Just for a while. My heart is refreshed, and somehow, even if I am repairing walls, I am not tired.

I thank the bear for making this possible. Sometimes we need to be brought up short, perhaps. Taken out of the busyness for a time of retreat. Or, well, a different sort of busyness.

I think I need the balance--I always have. Perhaps it is something writers in general need--a lot of stimulus and being in the world--and a nice dose of being away, with the turkeys and bears.

How very lucky I am.