Buddy bear.

There are a thousand reasons, I suppose, we are obsessed with the bear.

He’s beautiful, for one. Big, and healthy, with a full shiny coat that makes you wonder if he spent any time hibernating this winter. (He sure doesn’t seem to have lost any poundage.) So often the bears that emerge in early Spring look more haggard, hungry-looking, sometimes with fur that’s patchy and dirty. Not this guy. He’s thriving in the wild, clearly thriving, and something about this feels powerful, primordial. Oddly appealing.

He’s calm. Controlled. Not holding back, exactly–more like he just doesn’t find any reason to get too excited. It’s fine, people, he seems to say. It’s all fine. He moves slowly, deliberately, not over-reacting. In fact, the couple of times he’s made it onto our deck (we don’t encourage this) he moves along like a slow vacuum, hoovering up the sunflower seeds dropped by the birds while showing not one bit of interest (as yet) in the feeders that hang just above his head. It is rather shocking, this behavior, it being a much more typical practice of the bears to rip those suckers down in a short, hot minute; to devour the contents; to inadvertently destroy them.

And he drinks from the bird bath, have I said that? He drinks from a bird bath that’s attached to our deck railing, and he does it in a rather (dare I say it) well-mannered way. Not sloppy, gigantic gulps that would splash and drip and then spit-stream down from his muzzle. No. This bear is more delicate. Gentile. Refined.

(Could this possibly be a female? We thought surely so, and then we saw that big head.)

Most specifically, this guy seems to like us! Or at least tolerate us, willing to co-exist in a socially distant sort of way.

Here’s what I mean when I say that.

He’ll come to call, then when we see him and we discourage his proximity, he’ll lumber just far enough away to stop, take a seat, and wait.

And like any sweet animal who feels relaxed, who feels at home, he’ll lie down, resting his head on his gigantic paws.

I SHOULD SAY THIS, and I want to be very clear as I do: We are keenly aware this is a 350-pound Black Bear, king of this particular wild blue ridge, and in no way is he our family pet (even if it sometimes feels that way). This mountain is his purview and we honor his dominion over it. We do not nor would we ever feed him (or any wild animals) because that spells disaster–for him, for us, and for our (albeit distant) neighbors.

through the window–thus the proximity and the glare

Still we take total delight in his presence. Maybe it is because seeing a bear is remarkable. Or perhaps it is simply because we feel so alone on this mountain. We have been here 40 days and 40 nights and in that time we have hugged not one family member, welcomed not one guest, relished none of the joy that comes in the simple anticipation of sharing a place or a time or an experience with people you love.

And it still feels crazy. Right? Otherworldly? We just keep marching through, like all of us do, making our way one minute, one day, one week at a time. Month by lonely month. People need people, this is what we know, people need people like plants need soil and water and sunshine. And when either of us starts to wilt–whether it’s Tim or it’s me–the other will say, Hey, where do you think that bear is right now? or Do you think he’s gonna come by tonight? or Did you hear that? Gotta be him, don’t you think? And we go to the window and look, and we wait and watch and hope, and sometimes there he is, and sometimes a while later he comes ambling along and catches the look in our eyes (I swear I believe this is true) and he decides right then and there the very best thing he can do–the kind thing, really–is to just have seat and hang out a while, with us.

And so he does.

Our buddy, the bear.

XXOO

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The Bear Who Came To Dinner

It was a pretty grand anniversary dinner, I won’t lie about that.

But then there was a great deal to celebrate. Thirty-two years for them, fifteen for us, and our wedding days butting right up next to each other. That’s what brought us for this long weekend together high in the  Appalachians where we knew time would move slow and the air would be sweet.

We were right.

rhododendron and flame azalea in bloom

And so we made a feast. All four of us contributed to the prepping and the roasting and the grilling. Amos Lee played loud above our laughter. And because there was steak and salmon and garlic scape butter potatoes, and yummy smells floating out from the porch, we kept a keen eye for bears.

Sure enough one came to join our party.

He was a little guy, interested but timid, and he stopped short in the driveway the minute he noticed us gathering for a look. Then he turned and walked away, no doubt concerned he’d brought the wrong vintage or worn the wrong sweats to fit in with this rather distinguished group.

We felt sad for him, Leslie and I. But Tim and Scott even more. And so without so much as a word they set out after him.

That bear was nowhere in sight.

And so the boys returned, and we dished up the feast, and we toasted to love, and marriage, and life. And to friendship, the very best kind: ancient, and easy, and deep.

XXOO

 

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The Day The Bear Came To Call

 

THERE IS ANOTHER MOUNTAIN STORY I’ve yet to share, and one that deserves quite a crescendo. It happened the first day of our last trip, our climb to the top of that ridge one that is always filled with excitement as I scan the dirt road, the shadowy forest, the meadows ahead for bear. We’ve been rewarded with sightings two or three times from the safety of our car, my camera never able to get a good enough shot to share here. The best was the time the Mama and her babies crossed in front of us, then–I’m not kidding you–shimmied right up the trunk of a tree just a few yards into the woods. What a delight!

But on this arrival there were no such episodes as we made our way up the mountain and down the long drive to the house. We unloaded groceries, put our suitcases away, then poured ice cold beers into ice cold glasses and headed to the deck for our customary “we just got here” happy hour and sunset watch.

No bears that day, but a gorgeous, gorgeous view.

 

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do you see the colors of autumn just about to burst forth?

 

WE WERE EXPECTING FRIENDS for the weekend so the next morning I got up and before the day got away commenced to cooking. There were three giant packages of chicken to be dealt with–thighs and breasts, bones and not–and so it was an exercise that took me quite a bit of time. The windows were open, the skillets were smoking and sweet Tim had just come in, his morning having been filled with work on the roof rather than the meadow. He made a sandwich, stepped onto the screen porch then stuck his head back into the kitchen offering, ever-so-calmly, “Bear.”

I looked up. I was elbow-deep in chicken, so it took me a minute to wash up, grab my camera and join Tim on the deck where he pointed to the vines below and whispered, There. Eating the grapes.

 

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Below us on the concrete walk was his bulky shadow, the leaves of the vine rustling. After a minute he heard us and glanced up, a little surprised, perhaps, but not very interested.

 

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well hello

 

After a while he got up, ambled around to the bear path, and continued–we guessed–up toward the driveway.

I darted to the front door where I knew I could stand in the mudroom to watch. He came around the corner and good heavens continued walking right toward me.

 

bear-out-front

 

There was plenty of glass between us, nevertheless I ducked inside, my heart beating fast.

The bear turned left and climbed the steps to the driveway. Tim alongside me now, we moved back to the front and I snap snap snapped with my camera.

 

bear-on-driveway

 

What did he do? Lo and behold that bear came back down the embankment and returned to the grapes, shaking them this time with some significant intention. Then he stepped out from the shadows, looked up at us and–after a moment of careful consideration–raised up on his hind legs.

 

img_3921

 

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WELL HELLO!

 

It occurs to me as I write this it sounds as if the bear was getting frustrated, or being aggressive, something that really wasn’t the case. He was more curious, that’s how it felt, rising up to get a little better view. (We can hardly blame him, focused as we were on chasing him around.) Nevertheless, I grabbed the bird feeders and ran back in the house, quick as a wink.

The bear? He came on around the other side of the house, up the steps, and according to Tim–who got a quick glimpse through the bedroom door while I cowered in the den–climbed right over the railing and on to our safe, sacred, happy-hour-viewing-spot deck.

 

bear-on-deck

 

bear-deck-one

 

At this point we were inside and he was outside, I should be clear about that. Still our hearts were racing like wildfire. The bear took his time, wandering about, looking around, smelling a bit. And then he lumbered back off, again climbing over the railing and heading in the direction of Tim’s workshop at the edge of the driveway. He made his way around the building’s back side and disappeared from our view. Then after a few minutes Tim ventured out and surmised the friendly fella had headed on up the mountain toward the Landl’s place.

 

IT WAS QUITE AN EXPERIENCE, I will give you that, one filled with so much excitement and fear the thrill hung on for days. We stayed on high alert and discussed, ad nauseam, what had prompted that bear to come so close, where we should keep the air horn (it was in the garage or we would have blown it simply to dissuade him from coming onto the deck), what would have happened had Tim been out clearing the meadow when the bear came to call. It was the smell of chicken that drew him, that’s what we believe, along with a genuine curiosity about the new folks in this pretty house with the big, berry-filled meadow.

 

I SHOULD ALSO SAY THIS. We have a great respect for these creatures, Tim and I both. We understand these are their mountains first and foremost. We also know black bears are not likely to become aggressive, although they do take food–and the promising smells thereof–very, very seriously.

We shall remain ever mindful.

 

My, but they DO have a nice view.
My, but they do have a nice view.

 

XXOO

 

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