Last night, just as it was getting dark, I heard a noise outside that I couldn’t immediately place. I went out into the garden, then around to the front porch. The sounds were coming from right inside the woods’ edge, and hard as I looked, I couldn’t see anything. But as I listened, it became increasingly obvious what I was listening to: bears. Probably the mother with three cubs that my mom saw up by the vernal ponds last month.
We’ve had this same mother bear around for about six years now, but she has yet to become habituated to us, which is probably a good thing. People are bad news. She might well be the same bear who, as a yearling cub, alerted us to the death of her sibling with her loud bawling one beautiful October morning around 10:00 o’clock. It was throatier than the bleat of a fawn, with an uncanny keening edge to it. We looked down from the front porch of my parents’ house and saw two black shapes in the springhouse lawn, not more than twenty feet away from where these bears were now.
The one that had been bawling retreated into the woods when we approached to examine the carcass – a half-grown black bear with the shaft of an arrow protruding from the middle of its back. Someone had shot it from a tree stand down in the valley, most likely, and it had gotten this far before giving up the ghost. We posted a $500 reward for any information leading to the apprehension of the would-be poacher, but nothing ever came of that – people just don’t like to rat on their neighbors. Still, the local paper picked up the story and the word went out: leave the bears the hell alone in Plummer’s Hollow.
The surviving cub was obviously pretty traumatized, but if this is the same bear, she must’ve found our end of the mountain to be a relatively hospitable place to raise a family, with three litters in the years since. I briefly considered walking over with my camera and trying to get a flash picture of a charging bear, but decided I wasn’t quite ready to risk a mauling just to get a good blog post. I stayed on the porch listening until the mosquitoes drove me back inside.
Right at dusk the mother bear
leads her cubs down to
the edge of the woods
& stops, hearing a screen door
ease open, smelling trouble.
My grossly unequal nose picks up
nothing of her musk or
the sweet milk oozing
from well-bit nipples.
My primate eyes are made for
the colors of day, not shades
of darkness. I peer
into every shadow between the trees,
each clot of night.
The space between us fills
with explosions of breath:
I hear claws on tree trunks
& small things running through the brush.
When the mother clacks her teeth,
I hear the dangerous size of her
in that hollow TOCK
I lean out over the porch rail, listening,
naked from the waist up.
A mosquito whines in my ear.
The fireflies, as usual,
The next morning, when I go to look,
every rock on the hillside
has been moved from its bed.