Monday, November 12, 2012

Bear Bait (part one of two)

"A life unexamined is hardly worth living," my friend reminds me. She and her husband lounged at my dinner table last night. And she hugged my bear. My black bear. In fact, she took so much to the furry stuffed object that we grew animated with its implications. Snugged up against her, like a child, or a pet, it did not reciprocate, respond, wriggle, writhe or judge. It did not of itself move. It had no life. Yet it engendered from most holders a warmth, tenderness, and sense of care endearing to watch, especially if not given to scoffing. Even my manly friend, veteran of sports and an inveterate campaigner of 'keeping things real' was at pains not to mock. It was, after all, the old story of my once shooting a black bear after a hurricane that had brought about having this present. 

Nakina, Northern Ontario, autumn, 1977. Food was scarce for the bears. My wife at that time (nurse to the one-horse town) and I had a rented log cabin beside Cordingly Lake, three miles out of town. No phones. No electricity. An outhouse. No running water. And the small two-roomed cabin had a 15 degree slope to the floor. Heat was by a wood stove. Mice were frequent. Even chipmunks vied indoors for potatoes that rolled. But we did not quite expect the bear to come inside. Still, the local game warden warned me, "A bear comes through a window, panics, and goes through a wall." So I got a bigger rifle, a World War Two Lee Enfield. Besides, in my condition then, with a full plaster cast from my waist to my neck, as well as my wearing a silver-wired neck brace, and holed up day after day in the isolated cabin, I was rather a sitting duck, if you'll pardon the expression.

It was about three in the morning when, consternated, I hobbled forwards in the dark. The bear at the garbage can was very noisy, very bothersome. My wife stood behind me, five or so steps from our cautiously opened front door, directing the flashlight around the corner of the cabin at the ghostly black thing, and I, a trained marksman, hefted the .303 and fired a quick shot into the ground. A growl and a roar! I clunked at the antique weapon's reload bolt. Shot closer. The bear barked, eyes blazing. My wife dropped the flashlight! Bolted! And an enraged animal and I were left in the dark. I heard the sounds of crashing, too near, directly at me, and I raised the rifle and fired and the bear groaned and took off, crashing through the bush. And I was angry that a wounded animal might be loose out there. But by 8:00 a.m. the thing was back, or perhaps even another bear, for at the low-slung window of the cabin, right between our two single beds, the bear scratched with steely-sounding claws at our window pane. And as I rolled awkwardly out of bed, pyjama bottoms and great white body-cast foreign in its cognizance, it scrammed. Or perhaps it recognized my take up of the rifle. But its hurtle took it around the corner and in front of the cabin. Hurdling the fallen trees or ducking under them slowed its headlong flight, and at about 40 yards from it, in a small clearing, I connected the sights of the rifle with the spot just behind his ear. Kaboom! He dropped without so much as a twitch. Anne Liman, the local trapper, came to fetch it in her old truck, skinned it, and froze the meat. We had hindquarters steaks from it. The skin was preserved and now, 40 years later, lives with my young friend, Sean. And there was not a mark on the bear. Through the ear, out the far eye. The army had trained me too well.

But that's not the whole story behind getting the stuffed bear. And it is not the story I retold at our dinner table. Instead, we gave the toy hugs and cuddles, and we spoke of there being no fear it would reject us. A life is examined, ours, but not that poor old bear's.

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