Resorts are shuttered or getting close to it, now. Traffic has slowed. Boats are being pulled. And the leaves fall like manna for hunters and 4-year olds, though the end of our fall color is already nigh. We raked the biggest pile simply for her diving delight one day, and within minutes I found myself in it as well. I have fond memories of playing in the leaves as a child and it seemed only fitting to give her that same experience.
The portly black bears are braver now, scavenging closer and closer for their final meals. We smiled one morning to see our compost pile dug through and muddy black paw prints across our deck.
“Mom, do bears eat people?” she asked me on one of our dusk walks. “No,” I said loudly and confidently, both to show her I meant it and to scare away the bears. “Mostly they are scared of us. People usually mean trouble for them.”
“What about grizzly bears?”
“They don’t live around here,” I said trying to avoid the images in my mind. Obviously I’ve watched three too many bear horror movies.
Of course, I had to give her the warning of staying away if she ever sees a little bear because protective mamas aren’t anything to mess with. It’s unlikely, but far from impossible, that she might encounter that situation someday. I don’t like to scare her, but there are some warnings, some fears, a parent has to instill to keep her youngsters safe.
On a separate walk, on a section of road where there is no light even from a distance, we startled something large in the ditch. It was likely a deer, I keep telling myself that, but it crashed loudly through the brush just as I’ve heard bear do when they are moving quickly to get away from humans. We were much louder after that as I hustled us home, whistling and singing and clapping. And we’ve kept our walks to earlier in the day mostly to protect my wary nerves.
We were able to watch an ambling black bear close-up one afternoon. My desk sits right at the window and as I worked, I caught a large movement from the corner of my eye. Not six feet from me, behind the wall, was a very nice-sized bear slowly making his way across our yard, sniffing and sight-seeing.
“Iris, come quickly!” I called. She ran to me without hesitation, for once, and from my lap watched the lumbering black beauty continue into the trees, stopping only to sniff at the bow target on the far side of the lawn.
We were quiet in our awe and unspoken gratitude, though I did have the wherewithal to snap a fuzzy, zoomed-in photo to show our family bow hunter. The wildlife encounters we are afforded in this remote area are, without a doubt, one of the top benefits.
I don’t know that I could take my child to a zoo, or to any place where you pay money to ride on or swim with a beautiful creature. Though I’ve been to zoos a handful of times in the past and even enjoyed it, now, at this point in my life, seeing and thinking about animals in cages pulls at my heart strings in the most painful way. Even those born in captivity must know in the memory of their bones what life is truly meant to be.
We have a freezer full of elk meat, venison will arrive within a month, beef from a local farmer and home-grown chicken. We keep cats who are free to come and go as they choose, though we know it will shorten their lives. If any of it makes me a hypocrite, I guess I’ll learn my lesson as the years go by. It won’t be the first time I’ve been called that. And it won’t be the first time I’ve asked for forgiveness.
And so for now, we’ll settle for these wild encounters, for piles of fallen leaves, walks along a quiet gravel road, a slow life that stays surprisingly busy but breathtakingly beautiful. We’ll look at photos and watch Wild Planet to learn about what we don’t see up close. Her National Geographic Kid’s magazine and the TV shows she likes the best are about animals. I hear her talk to little bugs and butterflies as she might to a baby sibling. Cooing and gentle. Playful and appreciative.
Somewhere along the way she’s learned about the preciousness of life, and that’s all I can ask.
(Published in the October 17th issue of the Warroad Pioneer)