BEFORE DAWN ONE MORNING there’s a noise in the kitchen, so I get up to see and there’s a bear sitting in the sink.
His rump on one side, rear feet in the sink and front paws holding the compost bowl in his lap. Not a huge bear, just a couple hundred pounds of black glistening fur. Behind him is the window he’s pried open.
He looks at me, his expression Who the hell are you?
“You’re going to get your little ass in trouble,” I admonish him.
He shrugged – What can I do? I’m hungry.
I opened the back door. “Out!” Down he flops from the counter, rear feet the size of tennis rackets, and ambles out.
Next morning he was back. He was truly starving.
My wife and I live in an upscale rural environment where humans and wildlife are supposed to coexist (unless it causes the humans some inconvenience). Trouble is, we humans have taken over all the riparian land, all the fertile edge effect (where two or more habitats come together), all the flat thick soils between the mountains. We’ve left the steep, drier, thin-soiled scrubby hillsides to the bears, deer, lions, foxes, coyotes, elk, and everybody else whose lives depend on the flatlands.
But if Little Bear started bugging the neighbors he’d soon end up dead. Usually when anyone calls Division of Wildlife – “THERE’S A BEAR ON MY LAWN!!!” – the bear dies. “Put to sleep” it’s called.
Next night he was on somebody’s porch. “He might be dangerous,” people said. “He’s just starving,” I answered.
“Maybe a hunter will get him,” someone said. But hunting season was over, and anyways Little Bear was not a big trophy yet, one that a hunter could have stuffed in a threatening stance, when actually when he was shot the poor bear had been asleep or taking a drink.
Next afternoon Little Bear wouldn’t leave the yard even when I ran at him and clapped my hands. With a BB gun cranked low I hit him in the rump and he turned around and licked it but still wouldn’t go. So I took my bow and hit him with a rubber-tipped arrow, just hard enough to sting. He scampered up the slope but that night broke in somewhere else.
“We have to call Division of Wildlife,” somebody said.
My wife and I couldn’t decide what to do. Finally we bought a 25-lb bag of dog kibble and backpacked it up the ravine behind our place. A half-mile above the closest house we dumped the dog food. Little Bear would be safe up here; all we had to do was lug 25 pounds of the stuff up this mountain every day to fatten him for hibernation. Worth it, to keep him alive another year.
But despite all the dog food a week later Little Bear climbed through somebody’s window.
We never knew about it till too late. Division of Wildlife was called in. “We can’t afford to move him,” they said. “No budget for it. Anyway he’ll just break in somewhere else.”
The warden shot Little Bear with poison. “Put him to sleep.”
I’ve met a lot of creatures lately, mostly human. And none of the humans were half alive as Little Bear. After many years among wild animals I’ve learned they live on a far more intense level than we. Amid his intense young life, Little Bear didn’t want to go to sleep.
If I’d know what was happening I’d have done anything to save him. Stand in front of the gun. Would not have let him die.
That’s unreasonable, of course. But we all know that quote of Shaw’s about progress depending on unreasonable people. Usually it takes unreasonable people to stop something bad from happening, to save something good.
So in life, I learned from Little Bear, we must never stop being unreasonable in the defense of what we know is good and alive. No matter what the cost.