Saturday, October 23, 2010
Bear in the Woods
The phone ringing in the kitchen woke me up. A bleary glance at the clock told me it was after 9:00, which meant the call wasn't going to be good news. I'm an early-to-bed-early-to-rise person, and all my friends know that. No one calls that late unless they have to.
"Debbie, it's Courtney. I wanted you to know there really is a bear. We got pictures this time and caught him in the neighbor's garage. Be careful when you're walking Toby."
Courtney is one of my favorite people in the world. Twenty something, she lives in the neighborhood below us, a group of lovely homes strung out along the river farther along the small peninsula where Toby and I have our adventures. Because she's been our critter sitter since she was eleven, she knows our routines, and she loves our animals.
She had mentioned the possibility of bear on the peninsula before, but there was no real evidence and there were lots of other possibilities to explain the knocked over garbage cans and noises in the night. That neighborhood is full of dogs, for one thing. Plus there are raccoons, opossums, coyotes, deer, and bobcats here. The likelihood of the culprit being a bear seemed slim.
Her last message was not welcome news, and for days after, I found myself frozen with fear and frustration.
The thought of losing my walking route with Toby was deeply upsetting, and made me realize how much I treasure every bit of the trail and every minute I spend there with my dog. It's my church and my meditation and my best entertainment. Whether it's spotting my beloved eagles or allowing the sound of the river to soothe my heart or simply soaking up the beauty of Toby's unfettered joy - the best part of my life happens on our walks.
I was left with a huge dilemma. There is clearly a bear in that area and he's probably been around for a while. We've walked there for over two years without incident, rabbits and deer the only four-legged life we've encountered. But now knowing about an ursine presence changed everything.
My first thought was that I couldn't risk walking there again. You can't un-know a thing, and now if we did run into the bear, and Toby got hurt, it would be my fault. Toby hurt under any circumstances would be difficult to endure. Toby hurt because I was wrong would be unbearable (pun unintended but perfect).
I spent hours and hours going back and forth in my mind exploring reasons on both sides of the argument. I decided that it was silly to give up the trail. The bear had never been seen that far up the peninsula. I looked up black bear scat, and knew I'd never seen it anywhere Toby and I walk. I know bears are shy and will run (unless cubs are involved, and that's not the case here). Even at that, I found reasons not to walk for several days.
The fear was a real and physical force and it was not going to let me move.
So yesterday, I moved. Toby and I returned to our trail, without incident. I stayed aware, not letting myself drift inward at all, kept him a bit closer to me than usual. Fear kept me company, but her voice was a whisper, not the heart-stopping scream of days before.
I'm not certain I'm making the right choice. All I know is that I can't let fear of anything choose for me. I can appreciate her concerns without allowing them to be the only voice in the room. I'll stay informed and alert and careful. And later today I'll thank fear for her help, and head out with Toby for another adventure in the woods.
photo from firstpeople.us