“Residents are encouraged to refrain from any unnecessary involvement with the bear.” So declared my local newspaper. New Jersey residents are having encounters with bears. Allegedly, one county has more of them per square mile than anywhere else in the nation. Sadly, a bear killed a young hiker a week or so ago.
I had an almost-involvement with a bear. My aunt, her three daughters and I were camping with our families at Twin Lakes in the Cascade Mountains. Mt. Baker is guardian of the place. We climbed up to a high meadow from which you could think you were standing directly across from the mountain. Mt. Baker is blue and white magnificence, particularly from that perspective. It’s also frightening. I stared at that inanimate beauty and knew in the nano particles of my being that human survival is of no importance to Mother Earth. Then I smelled something. My aunt and I looked at each other and nodded. I don’t know how I knew I was smelling bear, but my hunter aunt had the experience to know. She didn’t have a rifle that day. Wanting no encounter with the bear we hurried my cousins back to camp.
When I was living in the foothills of the Cascades I had no idea I would some day live in New Jersey. I certainly wouldn’t have anticipated bear involvement, necessary or non. I grew up assuming bears wanted nothing to do with us; but we have taken over much of their territory, so now they’ll open screen doors and walk right into our kitchens. I imagine them sitting at tables, holding forks and knives, waiting to be served. Perhaps banging the flatware on the table to speed things along.
A favorite story, “Brilliant Silence” by Spencer Holst, tells of bears trained to do tricks in a circus. Through a series of mishaps they are left on an island off the coast of South America. They breed and their offspring, generations of bears, know all the circus tricks, including dancing. In a sparkling white crater made by a meteorite crashing into chalk they dance paw to paw to unheard music in a pool of moonlight, perhaps reminded of a circus spot light. It is a poignant, beautiful image.
There’s a moral in my rambling. For bears. Avoid involvement with humans. Be wary of raiding bird feeders and garbage cans. Stay away from our kitchens. Our planet doesn’t care about your survival anymore than it does that of humans. And we humans fear nature with tooth and claw—and we have guns. Find some humans who will take you to a place, perhaps an island, where you can live as you want, without threat. I wish for you a safe home, one where we humans can imagine you dancing paw to paw, to your favorite songs, in a pool of moonlight.
Spencer Holst. “Brilliant Silence.” James Thomas, et al, editors. Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories. W. W. Norton. New York, 1992.