"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

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

17 comments:

Linda Hoye said...

Good post, Deb. Too often I see people letting fear control their lives and missing out on living in the process. No doubt we need to walk with wisdom, but never with fear.

deborahjbarker said...

Ah eb, this post reminded me of a column I wrote a few years ago when I used to take my lurcher into the woods (same woods where I now take Flossie and Keano. I had been used to walking around the woods in all weather, at all times of the day but mostly in the morning. I had heard that there had been some incidents of a man accosting women there (none hurt) but paid these reports no more attention than any other.

One day, while I was actually walking in the same area, this man attacked a woman who had been cycling through the woods. He dragged her from her bike and threatened her. Thankfully, she managed to escape and raised the alarm.

Someone had a mobile phone on them and the police were called. I was quite shaken by knowing I had been within a few yards of him. I don't know if they caught him but I remember feeling as though my beloved walk had been ruined for some time afterwards. I didn't like going there alone and although I told myself it wouldn't make any difference. It did.

Now, years later, I walk those woods again with my current dogs but I am always slightly nervous if I hear footsteps closing behind me and I am very aware of what else might be lurking behind the trees.

Fear has given way to common sense overall though I suppose. I hope you continue to enjoy your walk and that the bear 'moves on'.

Lilith said...

I'm much more scared of men than I am of bears and that fear keeps me off the river valley paths at times.

Kathryn Grace said...

I have to admit it is fear of predatory men that keeps me from walking alone in the woods. Too many close calls. I am more confident in my ability to stare down an animal with love than to stare down a man intent on harming women. Animals seem to get it when we mean them no harm. Not sure I've learned to convey that to men who look for the vulnerable.

Jerri said...

My concern for you dances with admiration for your courage and determination.

I know you'll be careful--with yourself as well as Toby.

Cheryl said...

Ah Deb, I felt your fear. We are fortunate not to have large dangerous animals in our bush, though the fear of snakes and even leeches puts many off. I think I'm with the other comment makers - I find men the scariest proposition. I understand your fear for Toby, but can't help thinking how amazing to see a wild bear. Great to hear about your writing project via your comment on Scrubby Bush - fantastic news!

Barb said...

I have had several close encounters with bears, all when my old Golden was alive and by my side. The bears in our area are Black and should be shy but become acclimated to humans by coming into the neighborhoods searching for food (birdseed and garbage). Standing tall but lowering my eyes so a threat was not perceived - my experiences were benign. The bears all moved away from me - some of them at an amble and some at a run. I am always alert in the forest in the seasons when bears are most active. A grizzly would be a totally different story. Take care, but keep walking Toby.

Wanda..... said...

Deb, I just experienced this very thing last week in my woods, where I walk alone...seeing the back end of something myself, very black and rounded...only to hear of possible bear sightings a few days later. I've been staying closer to home, because of the 'bow' hunting season, at least I think that's my reason! :)

Carrie Link said...

Fear is TFBS!

Jessica Nelson said...

I think you're doing the right thing. It's silly to live your life in fear, esp. when it's a big IF that you'll even see the bear, let alone get mauled by it. Anyway, the bear is probably used to your scents since you've been using that trail for so long.
Now that you're forewarned, you can be forearmed. :-)

kario said...

We have a black bear roaming our neighborhood and Bubba is pretty fearful of what it might do, but considering he's been around here smashing compost bins and birdfeeders otherwise benignly (is that a word?) for several months, I find his presence a gift.

I hope that you and Toby continue to walk mindfully (as I know you do) and find gifts in your walks.

Terri Tiffany said...

I know that I've let fear rule many of my choices and I hate it. I was asked to teach at a conference this spring and the fear is already keeping awake at night but I wanted to say yes,and did. My first time to ever do it. I figured the worst that can happen is I faint.

LauraX said...

Hard choices. We stopped letting our kitties out this summer after we saw a momma fox and one of her kits walk right next to (I mean next to) our house...But it's true you cannot allow fear to rule you life. Learning what you need to know about how to behave IF a bear crosses your path and walking with awareness (not fear) is wise.

enjoy your walk today.

Katie Gates said...

Oh wow. First of all, that photograph is positively beautiful! Bear or no, it celebrates nature in a profound way. And what a post. I love your reference to fear's whisper and how you wrapped up this piece. Everything has a flip side. (I often say, because I am living proof, that a stubborn child is a tenacious adult.) Regarding fear, the flip is intuition, and if you embrace that, you'll be at one with your surroundings. (And I'm guessing that Toby -- like many animals -- already knows how to do that quite well!)

Bernie said...

I admire your controlling of your fear but I can't say that I would be able to do it. Fear is one of my biggest sins as is my lack of faith when I need it.

Guyana-Gyal said...

You're so right...after a while, you have to make a choice. Life or Fear?

Kathryn and Lillith are right though...the bad men out there [we have a few] are scarier than animals. I would not walk on our seawall before dawn or too late at nights, and it's not the jellyfish that scares me.

So I guess the right thing to do is to take stock of what you can and should not do.

M said...

Fear can be such a paralyzing emotion...and I can so deeply understand how you found yourself for those days trying to make a decision. I think you made the right one. Substituting awareness for fear is always the best choice.

I love you
Mark