So today, while on one of our epic walkabouts, Gala and I learned about mindfulness and vulnerability. I did anyway. I don’t know what Gala learned, she is sacked out cold on the front porch and offering no opinions whatsoever.
Perhaps I should rename my little swamp fox friend Antigonus, after the character in the Shakespeare play, ‘A Winters’ Tale.’ Though I believe he met his untimely end somewhere in the wings, whereas Gala and I will continue to carry on, happily so.
I am assured that, by her actions today, as another great scribe with insight into the human/muppet condition once wrote, she knows when to hold them and knows when to fold them. Or perhaps more accurately, when to bark your fool head off and when to run like hell.
I have a darling and brave little friend in Gala, but she is little. Bears are not. Unless they are and then they typically have really big backup. Thank goodness that wasn’t the case today. Yes, he was young and so not super huge but still much bigger than my dear darling gala.
We go for a lot of walks in the woods, I do not carry bells or bear mace or even a stick most of the time. Why? I don’t know. I don’t have any bells or mace and if I needed a stick, well I’m in a forest..But there is a certain amount of arrogance to just galavanting through the woods without any concern as to the other denizens of the wooded pathways we frequent. The squirrels are all very aware of us, as Gala periodically stops to frantically bark a hello from the bottom of the tree they are in. And I really try to keep up a constant chatter of observation and song, coupled with not being very stealthy about walking through the woods ever. I really don’t want to surprise anyone. Especially a bear. Typically I sing or hum operas, songs from Victor Victoria and various other musicals, jazz versions of Cyndi Lauper songs, whatever.
Sometimes I forget and allow my mind to wander. Not excessively because the terrain I’m traversing demands a certain level of comprehension at all times. But though I am paying attention to how I step, that doesn’t allow for an early warning system beyond the dog that is running point. And she runs point fast enough that when she came across the bear on the path we were walking on this afternoon, I’m sure both of them were very surprised.
She has many barks, my Gala, and I have heard her bark at bears who are far away. And I have heard her bark at bears who are very close and perhaps on the verge of getting into the bus we are sleeping in. There is a timbre to her far away super aggressive don’t you even think about coming over here bark that is fearless and encouraging, coupled as it is with tail wagging and pride. There is a tone to her near bear bark that is terrified and freaked out and really wants to run away but needs to be barking because that’s her job.
That’s the tone I heard today. Fortunately, she was far enough ahead that I could hang back and look for a place to ground myself and fight a goddamn bear if it came to that. There was a really wide fallen log next to me, with enough space to stand on, with a broad centered stance, that would also afford me height. I have never fought a bear, I never want to fight a bear, I have no idea how one would fight a bear, but I thought, maybe it’s like a horse. If I seem really big, he’ll get scared and run away. Or maybe Gala will be successful in chasing him.
Then her bark changed to a sound that can only be described as “Holy Shit!” and she was running. Toward me. I grabbed the nearest thing to a club I could find, planted my feet, stood on that log and waited. Gala came tearing around the corner, a good 15 paces ahead of the bear, thank sweet all for her speed. As soon as the bear came into sight I lifted as high as I could and roared at him, stick above my head. I think I even screamed BEAR!
He was surprised, he was not expecting to see me there. Maybe he heard me say BEAR and thought, “oh my god! Where!!”
There was a half a second where I had no idea what was going to happen and then he turned tail and ran for it. Gala came running back and barked a little but was really happy when I called her back.
She did not run point for a good 15 minutes. I kept the stick, I bashed the bushes, I sang songs of passage in every style (bossa nova, rockabilly, classical, reworked james bond theme songs) I could think of. We were a presence in the woods. I have no idea which direction that bear went, but he knew where we were.
Girl who decides to live more or less completely alone in the wilderness is going to have to be mindful and aware all the time. Surprise! The reality is, it would be a great goddamn world if we would all practice these traits. Whether your day to day is filled with no people at all, too many people, metro lines, bears, raccoons, elephants, whales, traffic, an office, airport waiting rooms, restaurants, the open ocean, or any variation on bridges you can imagine..
Fortunately for me, today’s lesson, which I kinda thought I already knew, turned out to have a happy ending. Though that bear might still be out there in a tree, scared as hell and thinking, “did she say bear?”
It could be argued that a bear would smell me coming and choose to avoid my presence altogether and I might never have known he was there. But you put a fast moving dog, who blissfully takes every single damn opportunity (and there are many in a forest peopled with bears) to roll and coat herself thoroughly in bear shit, so she actually kinda smells like a bear (I see no benefit in it but it really seems to make her happy) and I can understand a little bit why the bear didn’t want her around.
But then it could also be argued that a good friend who has your back and will bark at a bear even when she’s totally terrified is one of the best things you could hope for. Good thing she had just before been practicing our “I’m gonna kill you bear!” face
And while this picture has little to do with the narrative, it could easily be added as a happy face moment since I finally got to use what could be considered Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction as a blog title.