There are a thousand reasons, I suppose, we are obsessed with the bear.
He’s beautiful, for one. Big, and healthy, with a full shiny coat that makes you wonder if he spent any time hibernating this winter. (He sure doesn’t seem to have lost any poundage.) So often the bears that emerge in early Spring look more haggard, hungry-looking, sometimes with fur that’s patchy and dirty. Not this guy. He’s thriving in the wild, clearly thriving, and something about this feels powerful, primordial. Oddly appealing.
He’s calm. Controlled. Not holding back, exactly–more like he just doesn’t find any reason to get too excited. It’s fine, people, he seems to say. It’s all fine. He moves slowly, deliberately, not over-reacting. In fact, the couple of times he’s made it onto our deck (we don’t encourage this) he moves along like a slow vacuum, hoovering up the sunflower seeds dropped by the birds while showing not one bit of interest (as yet) in the feeders that hang just above his head. It is rather shocking, this behavior, it being a much more typical practice of the bears to rip those suckers down in a short, hot minute; to devour the contents; to inadvertently destroy them.
And he drinks from the bird bath, have I said that? He drinks from a bird bath that’s attached to our deck railing, and he does it in a rather (dare I say it) well-mannered way. Not sloppy, gigantic gulps that would splash and drip and then spit-stream down from his muzzle. No. This bear is more delicate. Gentile. Refined.
(Could this possibly be a female? We thought surely so, and then we saw that big head.)
Most specifically, this guy seems to like us! Or at least tolerate us, willing to co-exist in a socially distant sort of way.
Here’s what I mean when I say that.
He’ll come to call, then when we see him and we discourage his proximity, he’ll lumber just far enough away to stop, take a seat, and wait.
And like any sweet animal who feels relaxed, who feels at home, he’ll lie down, resting his head on his gigantic paws.
I SHOULD SAY THIS, and I want to be very clear as I do: We are keenly aware this is a 350-pound Black Bear, king of this particular wild blue ridge, and in no way is he our family pet (even if it sometimes feels that way). This mountain is his purview and we honor his dominion over it. We do not nor would we ever feed him (or any wild animals) because that spells disaster–for him, for us, and for our (albeit distant) neighbors.
Still we take total delight in his presence. Maybe it is because seeing a bear is remarkable. Or perhaps it is simply because we feel so alone on this mountain. We have been here 40 days and 40 nights and in that time we have hugged not one family member, welcomed not one guest, relished none of the joy that comes in the simple anticipation of sharing a place or a time or an experience with people you love.
And it still feels crazy. Right? Otherworldly? We just keep marching through, like all of us do, making our way one minute, one day, one week at a time. Month by lonely month. People need people, this is what we know, people need people like plants need soil and water and sunshine. And when either of us starts to wilt–whether it’s Tim or it’s me–the other will say, Hey, where do you think that bear is right now? or Do you think he’s gonna come by tonight? or Did you hear that? Gotta be him, don’t you think? And we go to the window and look, and we wait and watch and hope, and sometimes there he is, and sometimes a while later he comes ambling along and catches the look in our eyes (I swear I believe this is true) and he decides right then and there the very best thing he can do–the kind thing, really–is to just have seat and hang out a while, with us.
And so he does.