As a young teenager our oldest daughter once said, while watching a horror movie, It is so stupid that when people hear something go bump in the dark that they say, ‘Hello?’
Twenty years ago when we first moved here this farm site had been abandoned for nearly forty years. The house had been moved into the nearest town. The yard was completely overgrown. The bush came to within twenty feet of what would become our house.
In those days I set up a clothes line just off of our front porch, between the house and the dense brush.
One morning our daughter who had been hanging up the wash came rushing in the door, eyes wide. What’s wrong?, I asked. There’s a bear in the bush!, she blurted out. Where?, I continued. RIGHT THERE!, she pointed at the woods just on the other side of the hanging clothes. What happened?, I enquired, stepping to the door. Shaking all over she replied, Well, I was hanging the clothes up and suddenly I thought I heard something big walking quietly through the bush. And I looked up and the bushes were all moving really close. And then the bushes stopped moving and everything went totally quiet. And then what did you do?, I asked.
The rest of us laughed til we cried.
Last night I stepped outside our front door. Glancing across the yard a black hulk stood just inside the bushline. It was a bear. It was a boar. He was very, very big. He was magnificent.
He just stood there, motionless, seventy-five yards away. Yesterday I had hauled some dirt and dumped it just inside the bushline on a pile of soil that I have been collecting there. He was standing on top of it all. I silently called my wife and we stood and watched it without saying a word. And then like a fish that motionlessly sinks back into the depths without making any movement at all, he seemed to just fade away and was swallowed up by the bush.
Over the years many bears have come here. The experiences are simultaneously unnerving (because they are so unplanned and unexpected) and reassuring (because by their very presence these animals still affirm that we are a part of something that you can neither plan nor expect). But mostly there is just something transcendent about them.
Almost forty years ago I became friends with a First Nations artist. One day he volunteered, Your spirit animal is a bear. People think bears are fierce and scary, but they are actually shy and thoughtful and reflective and don’t come out in the open very much and others don’t see much of them, but they have real power.
And then he gave me a painting.
I was deeply moved, deeply honoured.
Last night was deeply stirring. I walked out there at first light because it occurred to me that he might have secretly denned in that mound of dirt over the winter, but no such luck. Nevertheless, he is welcome here.
I will carry him with me today in my heart.
I am going to have to read Faulker’s The Bear again.