I saw a bear

This is like my bear. Only it was more just the bum that I saw, as it fled.  Photo: Canadian Wildlife Federation 

This is like my bear. Only it was more just the bum that I saw, as it fled. Photo: Canadian Wildlife Federation 

I saw a bear, and it was some kind of magic.

I live three blocks away from the forest; it separates my home from my day job. About .05% of the population of workers walk to work, and about 5% more might use the trails regularly. 90% of people who are "from here" don't go on them at all.*

Fine. That means more trail for me.

There are "Warning: bear may be in area" signs. It's appropriate: we should be aware of our surroundings. But people are afraid. Afraid of the unknown: seems human. But what if--what if--we thought about our fears with curiosity?

When I moved here, I heard about the bears. I saw evidence of the bears. And I am not, nor have I ever been, Grizzly Adams. I didn't walk on the trails from about June until November, fearing that bears may be on the move and I might see one. And if I saw one, what would I do? But I love these trails. So, one day in 2007, I decided to study the black bear like it was my job. I read about habits and behaviours; about ranging areas and food choices (did you know that they eat dandelion roots in the spring?); I learned what to do if I ever saw one (hint: it involves thinking quickly).

And then I waited.

I walked the trails with my dog, daily, for years. Recently, I started walking to work through the trails. And this summer, I saw a bear. I was on my way home from work. It was a hot, sunny day, and I had noticed that the cranberries were ripe. I came to the creek-bridge that I cross every time, and noticed ripples in the water. There's a new beaver dam close by: I thought I'd see a beaver that day. The second I stepped on the bridge, I heard a slap on the water: just like a beaver would. Still calm and curious. And then I felt a rumbling out of the water and up the bank on the other side. I saw the butt end of a black bear. And in those few seconds while I frantic-flipped through the catalogue of my bear knowledge, it had bounded three times and dove into the woods. I can't say that I didn't feel fear. But more than anything, I felt a sacred moment. A bear cooling off: a human walking home. We coexist, somewhere between fear and curiosity, respect and utility.

I saw a bear, and it was some kind of magic.

*Clearly, these are not verified statistics. They are wild guesses based on observation.

(originally published on September 4, 2012, at my now defunct former space borealtrim.com)