Feb 15, 2006

A boy, a bear, and a myth

There ought to be a bear story, but there isn't. There's always a bear story, where the bear represents the primal or the uncontrollable or the ancient. Where the boy fights the bear and it takes years maybe, both of them growing stronger and meeting again and again through the years and there's a symmetry between them and they identify more with each other than with any thing else and finally one or both of them dies and it marks a change. But, as I said, there's no such story.

There was a bear though. He smashed into our chicken coop one night when we were away, leaving a jagged hole in the plywood and a few feathers and one chicken leg he'd somehow lost in the grass. A few days later Dad told one of the forest rangers we knew and the ranger said a farmer farther down the mountain had lost all his sheep the same week.

Dry weather, the ranger said. Brings 'em down.

We talked about getting the bear, my brother and my dad and me. My brother called it a Grizzly but Dad said there weren't Grizzlies anymore, in California. We talked about how big of a gun we'd need and how far Dad's breach-break shotgun would shoot if we loaded it with slugs and how you would skin a bear and if a bear tooth necklace would be something you could wear to town. We turned off the outside lights at night so we wouldn't scare him away and at night my brother made me promise through the dark to wake him up if the bear came. Going to sleep I imagined the bear story, imagined the story so I'd be the archetypal boy fighting the archetypal bear and I thought about the bear so he was old, and brown, and huge.

Our neighbor came down later that week to talk. He had 10 thousand acres that surrounded our 10 and he lived up the road by the gate. Pretty much he never talked to us, except the one time some visiting friends forgot to lock the gate and he called us to yell and scream that he'd see that we would be responsible for any cows that escaped. Besides that he'd just wave, driving by in his jeep when me and my brother were out cutting wood or shooting cans or throwing rocks. In the fall and the winter he was a hunting guide. People from LA and Hollywood would come up to hunt deer and he'd take them out in his jeep and he'd find the animals and they'd set up their gear, scopes and tripods and camouflage, and they'd get the feeling for what the wild wilderness was like and they'd pay him and then when the weekend was over they'd go home.

We heard him driving down the road, that day, heard the enginee coming over the potholes and the gravel, and he stopped by the fence and we said hello and he got out and dad came out of the garage and he started talking to dad about the bear. Dad told him what the ranger said and the neighbor told us that was true and what he'd heard. He seemed to expect we'd be afraid the bear would eat one of the younger kids and said that's why he'd come by. Dad laughed, just a heh so it was only a little exhale escape of air. The neighbor seemed disappointed.

Well, he said, sort of coming to the point, if you do see it don't shoot it. It'd be out of season and that's illegal and the fur'd be bad. It wouldn't be worth nothing - it's just a cub, you know, probably a yearold. The older ones know to stay away from civilization. He waved at the mountain and the woods and our house, which was the only house you could see from there, except for the two that sometimes caught the sunset in their windows on the mountain across the valley.

Yeah, Dad said, and the neighbor started telling us he was thinking he could get James Cameron who directed the Titanic to come up again this year and pay to hunt for a weekend and he bet Cameron'd really pay to hunt a bear.

That was the last I ever heard of it.