I’d just woken up when John said, There’s a bear in the crab apple tree. He was standing by the window I now think of as the wildlife window because every few days I pause in front of it and see a bear or elk or deer where our driveway meets the track we call Wood Lane.
I’d been dreaming of a meeting, some sort of planning meeting, where developers were talking about the lake where we swim. They wanted access to more waterfront for houses. Our local government people were asking for questions and I stood up to ask if they’d begun creating an archive of human and non-human history of the lake. The planners looked puzzled. I detailed our own family’s experiences over 40 years: the time John and I camped where the little park is now, deciding whether we wanted to try to buy land in the area; the big jugs we’d fill with drinking water while we were building our house; the summers of swimming, picnics on the little island we call White Pine (though the pines fell in storms decades ago), the winter fishing, the weeks of regular visits to take a census of the fall-spawning cutthroat trout in the creek leading from one lake to another (a science fair project), later visits to the same creek to sample aquatic insects to test for water quality (another science fair project); and so on. The planners didn’t know what to say so I explained I would make a motion to create such an archive—summer students could be hired—and that was when I woke up. To John, saying there was a bear in the crab apple.
It was the same bear I saw the week before last, just standing by the tree. Maybe it had tasted an apple and decided they needed a week or two more to ripen to its taste. But it remembered the tree and this morning it was up on a branch, feasting. John called out to it and by the time I’d gone out with my camera, it was ambling down the driveway. Not running, not in a hurry, but also not bold enough to stay once it knew we were wise to it. There wasn’t enough light to take a photograph. But it was big, with a good black coat.
Each year there’s a bear. Some years we see one (or more), some years we wake to broken branches and piles of scat, dark with salal and shredded apple. I know that bears have very good spatial memory and I’ve also read that they pass information about food sources from generation to generation. (They are quick learners as a species too and once one has figured out how to open a garbage can or car door, the information is quickly passed to others.) We’ve had bears in the past who were so accustomed to eating their fill from the crab apple tree that they would never have climbed down at the sound of our voices. This one for example who ate and then slumbered in the warm grass for hours afterwards:
It might have been one of the young I think of as the orchard family because we’d see the sow with 3, then 2 cubs, crossing our old orchard in spring two years ago.
You might be wondering why we don’t pick the crab apples and it’s because they’re small and scabby. We have enough fruit as it is and these are not easily accessible for picking. Not for us, at least. The tree is one given us by John’s mother nearly 40 years ago. There are two actually and I think of them as the bride trees for their beauty in spring, their pink blossoms loud with bees:
Maybe it wasn’t an archive I was suggesting to the planners and developers in my dream. Maybe it was a psychogeography: “The study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.” The bears remember and return. They’ve been doing this forever. I remember them and look forward to seeing that they’ve survived (some nights in late fall I hear gunshot in the area), that their young have grown, that they sometimes come to me in dreams in a place up the mountain that I approach with both fear and careless courage. That I look out a window and see them, all the years present in that moment of recognition.