Just before 5 a.m. I woke out of a dream where a bear was coming through the trees at the edge of our land, suddenly as large as life in front of me. It was surprised to find me there and of course I was surprised too. Though perhaps I shouldn’t be. The bears are awake after a cold winter and although I haven’t seen one yet, I know I will, maybe sooner rather than later. Was it a bear who dragged the bird feeder down from the Kwanzan cherry late last week? Probably it was, though there was no trace of it when we came out early to go for a swim. No scat. No ripe scent in the morning air.
One year, about this time, we watched a sow moving down the bank into the old orchard, twin cubs in her wake. They nosed around, eating soft grass. In spring, when we walk up on the mountain behind us, we often find boulders overturned by bears for the ants and grubs hidden away from the light. The bears in the photo are a mother and a mostly-grown cub, probably about to be sent off on its own so that the mother can mate again.
Where we live, bears are part of our wild community. Their lives are adjacent to ours, mostly compatible with ours, or ours with them, because they were here first. We’re the interlopers. Mostly I love to see them passing through. Sometimes a young one will repeatedly tear apart the compost boxes and then I’m less happy about it. For the past two years, a bear has busted one of the garden gates to get into the vegetable garden but then it’s left again without doing any damage. Maybe just curious? If you pay attention, you learn how to stay away from situations that might be dangerous. (Many years ago I wrote an essay about this process of attention.) We keep our garbage in a shed after an incident more than 20 years ago when a bear became a problem after it discovered foil that had been wrapped salmon for the barbeque. I no longer use foil on the barbeque because I think that even a shed door would not be a deterrent. If we cook fish, John scrapes and burns off every remnant.
Yesterday we stopped at Brickers to pick up some cider and to have lunch on our way back from errands in the little town down the Coast. John’s not much of a cider drinker but I love it and sometimes I have a gift card courtesy of one of my children. It’s a good place to have lunch when grandchildren are visiting because there’s lots of seating outside, at picnic tables around an old woodstove, and a big area where the little kids can run. The food’s really good too. A proper ploughman’s lunch with good ham cut from the bone, crusty bread, mature cheddar, Brie, pickle, mustard, etc. and a west coast ploughman’s plate, with a fillet of home-smoked salmon and a tangle of shredded apple, capers, the cheeses, coarse mustard. The graphics on the bottles are wonderful.
The bear on the bottle of Brickers Original reminds me of autumn, when bears always climb the old crabapple tree to feast on the small scabby fruit. Up and down, branches cracking under their weight. This guy spent most of a week in the tree, taking his ease in the little pond where he’d bobbed for the crabs that had already dropped.
The other bottle of cider is West Coast Scotch. The description says, “BC fresh pressed apples fermented dry and then aged for 5 months in Ardbeg scotch barrels. Ardbeg, from Islay in Scotland, is famous for its peaty and smoky flavours and this cider represents that with abundance. Hugely peaty on the nose with a light salty finish, this cider is designed to be a sipper…” I don’t know how much of this is true yet. I love Ardbeg, love the Islay single malts with their riff of seaweed and peat smoke (reminding me of the turf fires I burned when I lived in Ireland). I’m saving this bottle for a summer campfire, a few of us around it, bears and owls in the woods, the old stories of boulders on Mount Hallowell, scats in the berry patches, a sow and her twins ambling down to the trees we planted in the early days of our residence here, and maybe starlight. As Gary Snyder wrote of bears, “As for me I am a child of the god of the mountains.” Me too.
P.S. P.S. One of these guys must’ve heard me saying that I hadn’t seen a bear yet this year. In the wee hours this morning, one of them raided the bins where we keep old wire, vacuum bags filled with dust, and paint rags until we have enough to pay a visit to the dump, usually twice a year. Absolutely nothing to eat! It dragged stuff out and then wandered around for a bit. I was moving some plants from greenhouse to deck when I noticed this by the fig tree…