(The poet carries a scar from the experience described below upon her forehead to this day)
Tail of the Bear
In midst of one of those series of sudden changes by which our personal worlds are cracked open to new possibilities, I found myself in deep consultation with my spirit guides late one night in the woods outside of Leadville, Colorado ~ asking what actions I should take to maintain right relationship with the couple with whom I’d driven cross country from Oregon, and been, for the past few weeks, sharing a camp.
“Time to leave,” Spirit said, “unless you want to start undoing all the good work you’ve done with and for these two people. To be on cosmic time, you’ll need to be on the road at dawn tomorrow.”
“Dawn tomorrow?” I asked in dismay. “If I do have to go back out into the wide world all on my lonesome, can’t it wait just a day? There’s money owed to me coming into camp tomorrow ~ I wouldn’t have to leave penniless…”
“Dawn tomorrow,” came the implacable reply.
So dawn found me on the road.
The safe ride I was apparently there to meet slowed down to pick me up.
“Where you headed?” asked the driver.
“Good question,” I replied. “Where you headed?”
“I am going to Frisco, where I work.”
“Ah.” I cogitated for a moment. “Is there a coffee shop in Frisco?”
“Yes,” he told me, “there is.”
Then that’s where I’m going,” I said. “To the coffee shop in Frisco.”
And that’s where he dropped me off.
I used two of my last six dollars to buy a cup of coffee. Then I found a piece of cardboard, got out my felt tipped pen, and made a sign:
“Psychic Readings by Donation”
Within two hours I had earned a few more dollars along with the loan of a tent, sleeping bag ~ even an air mattress ~ and directions to nearby federal land., close enough to walk to.
That tent turned out to be an old fashioned fabric two-man construction suspended from half hoops held together at the top by a cross piece ~ which, however, along with half the tent pegs, came up missing.
Tying together two forked sticks, I managed to brace the thing up adequately during the day, but midnight winds blew it down leaving my slumbering head snugly tucked into the tent corner at ground level.
While it might be the first hour of day outside of an old fashioned fabric tent, inside of one you still can’t see much.
I awakened in the murk to a sizeable animal muzzle repeatedly nuzzling its way into the side of the tent near my head.
Being befuddled with sleep and thinking it belonged to a tourist’s dog from the walking path just up the hill, I raised my hand to bat it casually away.
Right through the tent wall, and with unbelievable delicacy, speed and precision, I felt the tooth of a lower jaw just touch the top of my scalp, while its corresponding upper tooth nipped me neatly between the eyes.
The psychic energy coming through that tent wall felt a lot like this:
I sat up. in doing so, my shallow head wound, typical of the type, showered every nearby surface with blood. I sat still for a moment, disoriented and unsure of what to do next.
While I was considering my options, an enormous paw batted the side of my tent ~ about three feet above the ground.
”’Kay,” I thought to myself, “that’s not a dog.”
Grabbing ye ol’ trusty vial of pepper spray, I prepared to leave the tent. (Fortunately, its door was located on the opposite side from the one I had just seen imprinted by that huge paw.)
Exiting at a crouch I gave the canister a little squeeze, just to make sure it was working properly.
With this in mind, I made my standing up process involve two or three large steps away from the location of that huge paw.
Then ~ taking a deep breath ~ I turned around.
Sure enough, sticking up from behind my tent ~ was the head of a seated black bear.
That head tilted from side to side with a quizzical expression which said as clearly as words ever could:
“Don’t you want to come play?”
My first, and overwhelming, sensation was wholehearted love for that bear. That, and a deep sense of honor that this truly wild representative of the animal kingdom would have braved all the entirely justifiable repugnance which stood between our respective species to come to my tent and issue me that invitation.
At that moment, I recalled Native American legendry about the woman who met the bear in the berry patch, married him, and went off to his cave to live.
I wanted, I so wanted, to go and play with the bear.
At this point reality began to intrude ~ in the form of concern for the bear.
Because it had bitten a human, I reasoned, this wouldn’t be a safe place for it to be much longer.
On the heels of this thought came the realization that it probably wasn’t such a safe place for me, either!
With an enormous sense of disappointment, I realized we wouldn’t be able to play together that day.
Against every personal wish I said to the bear, “It’s time for you to go now. You go.” And I pointed the way back to the trail and the forest behind it.
After gazing at me for a moment it began to walk away.
That tent being a good three and a half feet tall, and the bear’s head having even in a seated posture reached well above it, I now found myself looking side-on at surely the biggest black bear God ever made ~ at least five and a half or six feet from nose to tail.
I caught my breath in absolute admiration.
“Magnificent creature!” I thought to myself.
The bear paused again to look at me.
I could feel it thinking: “It’s time to hibernate. There was a freak freeze here this summer. I’m desperately hungry, food is very scarce, and you are looking and smelling just great to me…”
I gently shook my head at it. “You’d better keep going,” I said regretfully.
And it did.
Stopping only briefly to warn the other camper in the area (another solo female), I hot-footed it to the head of the trail and human companionship before I could go into shock.
When I arrived among people they took one look at me and drove me straight into town.
I don’t know how I looked at that moment, but I do know that the emergency room receptionist jumped visibly when she saw me come in.
Even after being stitched up, when I did glance into a mirror, the image confronting me looked like something straight out of the movie “Carrie”.
The Forest Service paid me a visit at that emergency room. They wanted to know about the bear.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “You’re not planning to hurt that bear, are you?”
Looking a bit uncomfortable, they mumbled something about needing to relocate it, anyway.
I continued to be cooperative ~ but I didn’t give them any more of the bear’s distinguishing features.
This must have impressed them ~ for not only did they give me a ride back to camp, but ranged the woods to collect my possessions (with which the bear had in the meantime had a mighty field day), collected them all in my now slashed and mangled loaner tent and took it all back to the head of the trail so that I would have my possessions in hand.
They also took up a collection amongst themselves, presenting me with $20 to buy food and whatever else I might be needing.
I remember them grouped in a semi circle around the back of the pickup truck in which I was sitting.
“That must have been a terrifying way to wake up,” one of them offered.
I thought about it.
“Actually,” I replied, “that bear was very considerate.
“I’ve had much more terrifying awakenings at the hands of human beings.”
After they dropped me back at the trailhead, two different camera crews showed up, asking for interviews.
Friends and acquaintances saw this news story as far away as the west coast.
While the cameras were still rolling, a fully involved Chevy Blazer came rolling off the freeway and ~ after its driver had hopped out just in the nick of time ~ finished burning to a crisp right before their whirring lenses.
Following this, a few drops of rain fell ~ whereupon a perfect double rainbow arched directly over the tiny parking lot in which we all stood and into the rocks beyond.
One of the television cameramen commented on this unlikely progression of events.
Welcome to my life, I told him.
As it happened, there was a future moment when I would find myself just as close to another black bear as I’d been on that day…
Nearly fifteen years later while I was camping on the land of an old friend (sans tent, at that point), a slightly smaller and much chubbier bear passed within one or two inches of the foot of my bag, in perfect silence and without disturbing me in the slightest.
A few days later, while walking the road back to that campsite, this same animal made deliberate noises in a clearing as I passed, so I would look over and make eye contact.
Once again, the expression of the face and full bodily stance spoke more clearly than words. They said all these things:
“How I wish that you and I could be closer. However, I know that the differejce in our strengths and appetites would make it, sooner or later, dangerous for you, so I will not attempt it. But I do want you to know ~ you are loved.”
“Hey, buddy,” I replied with equal regret…
… and then, perforce, continued upon on my own human way.
Among us, poets are ill paid. In order to continue her work, this one currently lives in her minivan, on an income of a fraction of our nation’s poverty level. If her work has moved, enabled or uplifted you, your contribution to this effort may be made at: https://www.gofundme.com/kx4xka-are-you-a-patron-of-the-arts