This entry is part 11 of 12 in the series Bear Medicine


Thousands around the world watched as Lily labored to give birth to Hope on January 22, 2010 and to Faith and Jason on January 21, 2011. Lily’s family touched those who watched the tender, often playful, interactions that are part of family care in black bears. —North American Bear Center

Forgive me, bears — I can only manage to be invisible for a few minutes at a time. I have seen your tooth-marks on plastic trash in the woods, & how you shred hunters’ blinds, rip down surveyers’ ribbons, & make enormous smelly deposits in the middle of driveways. But I know too that, not being grizzlies, you are no real threat to anyone’s safety. You were never the fierce antagonists of that grinning braggart politician, Davy Crockett. It’s true that one of you followed my mother around a spruce tree one July morning, but when she turned & said get out of here, you did. Forgive us, bears, for standing downwind, still as stumps, for as long as we can while you romp with your littermates or sit enjoying the sunshine. Such encounters are a tonic for us, though I suspect by the way you huff & run when you finally notice us, it isn’t mutual. Some of us would be invisible forever if we could. Forgive us for watching you via den cam over the internet as you sleep, thousands of insomniacs all over the world gazing at our screens, waiting for the first sign of a new birth. Forgive us for freighting your cubs with so much of our yearning for the presence of the wild: dear Faith, dear stubborn Hope.

Owner of the Earth

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series Bear Medicine


Mid-January, & the bear who hasn’t had a meal in two months, & won’t for another three, half-wakes to chew sticks into soft chips, bedding for the cubs who will soon be born & squall & nurse. Later, in another wakeful period, she will chew off the calloused pads of her feet, full of last year’s travels. She may leave the den on her new feet to eat snow — or merely dream of it. And then she’ll go back under, as if in imitation of the winter trees: sap withdrawn, roots wedged tight into the bedrock. Her heart thumps just eight times a minute. But from the fastness of her dark unhungering bulk, milk will flow.


An earlier version of this appeared back in January under the title “Kenosis.”

This concludes “Bear Medicine,” which I think of as a single long prose poem or poetic essay in 12 named sections. Thanks for reading.