Tail of the Bear

In midst of one of those series of sudden changes by which our lives are cracked open to new possibilities, I found myself in deep consultation with my angelic guides late one night in the woods outside of Leadville, Colorado, asking what action I should take to maintain right relationship with the couple with whom I’d driven there cross country from Oregon, and been for the past few days sharing a camp.

"Time to leave," Spirit said, "unless you want to start undoing any good work you've done with and for these two people till now... 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, as you might guess, next morning's 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 created a little tabletop sign: "Psychic Readings by Donation".

Within 2 hours I had earned myself a few more dollars, along with the loan of a tent, sleeping bag and even an air mattress, as well as directions to nearby federal land.

The 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 the day outside of an old fashioned fabric tent, inside of one you still can't see much.

I awakened in the murk to a muzzle repeatedly pushing its way into the side of the tent near my head.  Being a bit befuddled 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:

"Wanna play?"

I sat up.  in doing so, my shallow head wound, typically 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 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. 

It wasn't.  

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.  The 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 that stood between us to come to my tent and issue me that invitation.

At that moment, I recalled Native American legendry about the woman who met a 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 another 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 that 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 of mine being a good three and a half feet tall and the bear's head having even in a seated posture reached 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.

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.  

Once I arrived there they took one look at me and immediately drove me into town and straight to the emergency room for stitches.
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. 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 more about the bear.

"Wait a minute," I said. "You're not planning to hurt that animal, 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), put them in my now slashed and mangled loaner tent, and took it all back to the head of the trail so that I would have them in hand.  

Then they 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 rolling, a fully involved Chevy Blazer (I couldn't make up a detail that good)luck cameling 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 just beyond.

One of the television cameramen commented on the unlikelihood of this progression of events.

Welcome to my life, I told him.

As it happened, there was a far future moment in which I would find myself just as close to another black bear as I'd been on that day...

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 my feet, in perfect silence and without disturbing me in the slightest.

A few days later, while walking the road back to that campsite, this same beer made deliberate noises in a clearing as I passed so that I would look over and make eye contact.  

Once again, the expression of the face and full bodily stance spoke, though it's hard to believe, even more clearly than words might have done..  They said all these things:

"How I wish that you and I could be closer.  However, I know that the disparity in our strengths and appetites would make it, sooner or later, dangerous for you if we actually were, 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.


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