Midnight Dreaming

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Carter, a yearling (20 months old) who I hope survives the hunt

Photo Credit:  Lynn Rogers

 

In my mind

I inhabit a small

cabin nestled in

fragrant red pines

where Black bears

climb rough bark

to peer

down at me

believing I

seek their company.

Boundary waters

surround me

with deep Silence

that allows

me to hear

the Voices

of the Forest.

The scent of

of hundreds of

miles of open water

wraps me in

a blanket of moist

air even as night sky

bowl cracks over my head,

pouring down tales of

primordial story.

The Great Bear

is a spiral –

spinning a cocoon of

Midnight Grace.

Here, living

among the bears,

trees,

and the creatures

of the forest

I remember –

We are all

spun from stardust,

meant

to live in harmony,

as relatives –

In Peace.

 

Working notes:

 

I have just moved across country from Maine to New Mexico – leaving one border- land for another. Yet my dreams do not follow me; Instead, they speak to the bear hunt that occurs each fall throughout this country, a land so hopelessly steeped in human violence. In my dreams night after night I cry out for the suffering I witness as young bears are slaughtered without mercy.

 

When I awaken I am not here or there but in a place in northern Minnesota where an ‘old man’ along with his kind neighbors seek to protect the innocent… Here bears and humans co –exist in peace.

 

How I long to join them…

TB and I Strike Back

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How could you?

 

Yesterday I spent the morning writing about the unethical behavior of some hunters who have ringed the property with bait at the Wildlife Research Institute in Ely Minnesota with the approval of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

 

This morning I learned that this egregious behavior has already resulted in the death of at least one yearling near the WRI property line. Dr. Lynn Rogers of WRI has spent his entire professional career as a bear biologist studying and advocating for Black bears, while attempting to educate the public about the true nature of these animals. Lynn has incited the rage of hunters and the Minnesota state wildlife agency (DNR) in the process (Currently, his scientific study centers on the effects of diversionary feeding for black bears and people). Black bear hunting is big business and if the truth got out people might be much more reluctant to shoot these shy peace – loving animals.

 

The majority of all black bears that are killed range between 1 -3 years of age. Why anyone would shoot a yearling is beyond my comprehension. Yearlings range from 30 to 100lbs. It’s not as if a bear this size can be displayed as a ‘great’ trophy. Young bears are the most vulnerable prey because they are so inexperienced. Many have not yet learned to fear humans.

 

Emotionally depleted by dishonorable individual and bureaucratic behavior and the knowledge that so many more young bears will be slaughtered during the three – month hunt I take refuge in the memory of happier days spent with one of the young bears on this property by telling his story.

 

TB, short for “Tree Bear,” is a yearling who visited my house all summer. He and his sister, Rosie Marie were left to fend for themselves last May by their mother, when it was time for her to mate (a normal occurrence). At present, although healthy looking, TB does not weigh more than 70 LBS (his little sister is very slight weighing no more than 40 LBS).

 

I believe that all bears are initially wary of humans but have to be taught by people to fear them and TB and his sister are no exception. It took me about 10 days to befriend TB; his natural curiosity and intelligence won out. Soon TB was wandering around the yard while I was outdoors hanging up laundry and leaving muddy paw – prints on my front door. We co-existed here in peace.

 

Some days when company arrived TB would peer around his surrogate white pine tree to see who it was that I was talking to. Like all bears TB loves to play and uses whatever objects he can find to amuse himself. One of his favorites is an old can that he rolls down the hill and then chases into the thick brush. I also provided him with a couple of beach balls that he punctured instantly. TB also loves to lie on his back and twirl sticks around, which brings me to an incident that still makes me laugh.

 

One evening TB was digging grubs out of an old log on the pine needle strewn ground when a large adult bear appeared. TB like all yearlings was afraid of the adult male and scurried up his white pine tree settling in its protective branches, while peering down at the intruder. When the big bear settled down to devour more grubs, TB began to huff and blow at him from what seemed to me to be a precarious perch. He had moved so far out on a pine branch that he was directly overhead the large bear who blatantly ignored TB’s outraged protests!

 

In a few minutes TB decided to break off a few nearby branches, and to my amazement he then began to hurl them one by one down on his nemesis! TB’s aim was terrible and again and again he missed his quarry if that was his intent. Meanwhile the complacent big bear kept combing the ground nonchalantly as if the sticks that were raining down around him were invisible.

 

And then something amazing happened. TB broke off a huge branch and after he secured it in his teeth he dropped it directly down hitting big bear squarely on the head! Ouch, I was sure I heard the thud. At that point the 300 lb adult bear leapt up and disappeared into the forest in a flash! The whole scene was hilarious. I laughed so hard that tears ran down my face.

 

TB took this turn of affairs into his stride and immediately began to descend from his tree. When he reached the ground he sniffed the place where the adult bear had raked the ground, and after finding nothing of interest TB casually meandered off into the woods.

 

This behavior, aside from being amusing, suggests that Black bears may use tools; during my research I observed other bears, using for example, a pail to stand on to reach a hummingbird feeder. Black bears may be one of the most intelligent animals of all. Their brain in relationship to body size is the largest of all mammals.

 

Unfortunately intelligence needs to be coupled with experience, a quality that TB doesn’t yet possess. Even if he did, this knowledge is hardly a guarantee that any Black bear will be safe from human predation because this is the time of year a bear is most vulnerable. All bears need to ingest up to 20,000 calories a day to survive hibernation. Hunters bait bears with unhealthy foods drawing the hungry animals in to be shot.

 

Sadly, TB and his little sister have been absent for two days and I fear that they may have been shot. Every year it seems to get harder for me to accept that hunting season means that so many young bears will be killed before they have had a chance to live out their natural lives.

 

To comfort myself I remember that Lynn is also experiencing the same fear of loss that I am, and knowing this helps me to feel that I am not so alone.

 

The bears thank Lynn for his tireless advocacy and I do too. Someday perhaps the tide will turn for these animals, but until then when it comes to hunting season all we can do is to hope that many bears will be spared.

She’s a Lover of Bears

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She’s a Lover of Bears.

A poet, a dreamer,

enamored by beaded eyes

black and brown fur,

rotund bellies.

Heartrending cries.

Grunts, moans and huffs –

She’s a Lover of Bears.

 

She knows that

a Universal Language

is spoken by bears.

Each nuance

and gesture deepens

a story that she

longs to share…

She’s a Lover of Bears.

 

She slides

into a secret dimension –

slips through the veil into

thick green forest

where Bears

make their living,

make love,

dig dens,

have cubs,

sleep deeply and well,

live out their

days

in relational

Peace.

She’s a Lover of Bears.

 

(If bears ruled the world

there would be no wars.

No wonder

She’s a Lover

of Bears!)

 

She dreams of them

in between the cracks

of the anguish

she feels

over the haunting

that overcomes

her each fall –

Too many will die

to become a rug

on the wall –

A snarling trophy

for

those

who must kill

for the high,

to feel

their own

life blood pulsing.

 

She yearns for

the sight of raggedy coats,

sleek new coats,

fur dipped in cool waters,

acorned – hazelnut fat bears,

each facial expression

so ancient with knowing…

 

She’s a Lover of Bears

who enter her heart – body –

soul

to be received

like a prayer.

She wants to climb

into those arms

to be held like a child,

Loved like a woman.

 

She’s a Lover of Bears.

 

8/10 /19

 

Working notes:

 

I recently attended a Black Bear Course at the Wildlife Research Institute in Ely Minnesota. Although I have been enamored by, and have studied Black bears for 20 years nothing prepared me for this total immersion into the bear experience.

To visit with so many wild bears in a place where humans choose to co-exist with bears was a revelation. I have never felt such peace being in the company of bears. For the most part these shy intelligent animals are allowed to live out their lives on their own terms (except for the fall hunting season that lasts six weeks, during which time any of these animals can be shot).

 

I was literally catapulted into another dimension, a timeless world in which only the bears, the Founder of the Wildlife Research Center, bear biologist Lynn Rogers, and I existed. Oddly, I experienced the other nine participants through a peculiar kind of haze.

 

Lynn’s groundbreaking trust based research challenges every fear based person and state wildlife agency’s “killer bear” concept in concrete ways, proving that bears and humans can co –exist peaceably.

 

Lynn thoughtfully answered so many of my questions and, of course, generated hundreds more. Although we have corresponded for about 15 years I had never met my mentor and friend until last week.

 

Returning to Maine I am confronted by the reality that our Maine bears are being lured to bait sites as I write these words. A three – month long hunting season will begin before the end of this month.

 

As a ‘Lover of Bears’ I feel this grief on a visceral level, but this year it has been tempered by this extraordinary experience that is open to anyone who wants to learn about these amazing animals.

 

Please visit WWW. Bear.org for information on courses, Lynn’s extensive research papers, daily updates, and to learn about the North American Bear Center.

A Beary Peaceful Day

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It is overcast and a few drops of rain are falling. I have been out talking to Tree Bear (TB), a yearling who has brightened my life in these dark soul days. Tree Bear comes up the mossy pine strewn path to the clearing and peeks at me from behind his white pine intermittently as he snacks.

 

There are so many old felled trees full of tasty grubs and ants now that the spring grasses have matured and gone by; soon the berries will ripen and Tree Bear will begin to put on weight. Acorns will be the choice of food for fall. Few people know that Black Bears are mostly vegetarian.

 

The other night I watched TB in the cherry tree, sitting in the branches like a monkey calmly combing out his thick under fur as he munched on cherry leaves and hard green cherries. He is a healthy looking and very beautiful yearling with brown eyebrows and a bump in his nose that is only visible from some angles. He probably weighs 50 – 60 pounds and has some brownish fur in places.

 

He was recently separated from his mother who left him because she needed to mate and his little sister has also disappeared. His face is so full of compassion that it takes my breath away. I say compassion because my personal experience has taught me that some (if not all) of these animals understand human suffering and respond to it by taking concrete actions. One slept outside my window while my dog was dying, another came to sit by me one night while I was wildly weeping outside in the dark. Stark and hopeless depression brings them in. Empathy flows like a deep underground river between us – why – because bears like other animals have deep feelings that are not mediated by abstract intellectual rational thinking.

 

This is not to say that all bears respond to humans this way. But some do, and Tree Bear is one of these animals. Bears are demonized by humans, shot and wounded on sight (legally and illegally) often in the gut so they will die slowly and painfully. In Maine we hunt them for three months; with hounding ‘practice’ three months become four. What is truly amazing is that these animals do not retaliate in kind, except on rare occasions. A human has a million to one chance of being killed by a bear. These animals use remarkable restraint, utilizing peacekeeping practices for themselves and humans alike. If bears ruled the Earth there would be no wars. All bears utilize a matriarchal family system with mothers and daughters sharing territories; males roam the peripheries.

 

This morning I quietly spoke to TB while slowly approaching his tree. I know his language; he huffs to remind me how much he disapproves of close encounters. Yesterday, he eluded me each time I tried to film him. He’s wary, full of curiosity, and uncertainty. Fear when it comes to other bears. He stands on two feet in alarm when he glimpses his own mother. He does not trust me, but allows me to approach him if I do it respectfully. He moans when I get too close even though I keep reassuring him that I am his friend.

 

Sometimes TB is a clown. Late yesterday afternoon he lay on his back with a can positioned between his paws poking his nose into its cavity. Next he chased it down the hill. I have to find other toys to amuse him.

 

His trickster aspect is most evident when he sees me with the camera. He turns his head away, ducks behind a branch, runs down to the brook or disappears down the path in a flash. TB is also developing a habit of peering around tree corners to see who I might be talking to.

 

TB and I both love trees. Black Bears are native to this continent and co evolved with trees. They cannot live in treeless places because they are a prey animal who must have trees to protect themselves and their young.

 

Obviously Black Bear territory is shrinking.

 

TB and I have such a brief moment in time to be together. Even now each gun shot, or semi automatic blast slams a hole in my heart. The future for this bear is grim. Most of the bears that are slaughtered are yearlings (18 – 20 months old) when they are first on their own.

 

All this to become a trophy or rug, a badge of “manhood” on some idiot’s wall.

 

Perhaps because of the rapidly approaching hunting season each moment spent observing TB’s behavior is that more precious. Befriending this bear brings me to the edge of possibility.

 

We could find a way to live together, if only we would.

 

I close with a quote from Leslie Marmon Silko that mirrors my own experience:

 

It is very peaceful with the bears; the people say that’s the reason human beings seldom return.”

The Resting Place?

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I am writing from land that loves me as I am.

 

Inside, the log cabin’s walls weep, as do I. We have both been abandoned.

 

Outside, diversity reins as royalty – this forest helps me breathe more deeply. Every leaf glows, waving translucent hands. A multitude of shades of green. Sweet moist air fills my lungs, the music of rushing water calms my fears. The brook meanders towards the sea through unfurling ferns and wild sprigs of lily of the valley that are springing up under a woodland carpet, a pine – needled floor.

 

With each deep breath I pray to be re-united with the terrified body I left behind almost two years ago when I escaped into thin dry mountain air and fierce and deadly west winds to survive the snow.

 

At dusk last night for a timeless moment I became the snowy crabbapple while a few pearled petals drifted towards the ground – an early summer benediction.

 

When the baby bear lumbered up the path my heart split open. A few days earlier I listened to pitiful wailing from the white pine, the bear’s grief spilling over into my own. Eventually, the baby’s heartrending cries were answered by a casual mother who approached her youngster briefly. The yearling scrambled down the tree only to be left behind again as the mother strode across the grass on a quest of her own. I thought I was observing “family break up,” a normal black bear process, albeit a brutal one to witness.

 

After a four day absence the mother appeared with another adult bear, perhaps a future mate. The yearling was gone as I expected.

 

Tonight, the little bear I named Rosy Marie ambled up the path much to my bewilderment. She approached the seed can but seemed unable to open it, returning to the bird feeder to feast on sunflower seed that I had also scattered there.

 

I felt such relief seeing her. Perhaps the too little yearling would stay around to feed while mother and male companion were otherwise occupied mating?

 

It was almost dark and suddenly there were two bears feeding on scattered seed. Although one was larger than the other, both were yearlings. Shortly thereafter an adult, obviously the youngsters’ mother, appeared and opened the can before striking out on her own. No other adult bear emerged. I was baffled.

 

I wrote to bear biologist Dr. Lynn Rogers about this behavior and his response reassured me that “Family breakup can happen in many ways. Each bear has a different personality. I’m still learning. Your example is good to know.  Looking forward to seeing you here. Lynn”

 

At this point I am grateful to have a bear story unfolding, just as I am thankful for these glorious fruit trees into whose blossoms I can almost disappear.

 

Trees and Bears – Wild Nature incarnates still.

 

The last three months have been psychically brutal; I have been walking on air. Perhaps the earth is round so that we don’t have to meet the future, face to face, except through dreams? Mine forecast the story I am presently living.

 

Two violent weeks of traveling across country, returning to ‘my’ beautiful land in crisis and in betrayal left me reeling. Like Rosy Marie who I hope will stay to be nourished by supplemental feeding so that she can develop into a bear who can survive fall hibernation (if she survives the hunter’s gun), I hope to find a place on this patch of earth to rest and re-attach myself to this abandoned body before moving on from here.

On the Subject of Black Bears

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( a friend of mine named BB)

 

About two weeks ago my dogs and I had a glorious experience in a remote well wooded area. I had identified fresh bear sign and the three of us were following bear tracks into a steep gully when we came upon a young golden brown bear who emerged from behind a boulder to regard us with curiosity. When I spoke to him/her quietly the bear watched me intently; I lost time. Unafraid, the youngster eventually meandered on.

 

And then, twice in the last week, I attended presentations during which people literally winced and moaned when the subject of Black bears was raised.

 

As a researcher who conducted a formal fifteen – year academic study of these remarkable animals, I experienced the usual crushing dismay that Black bears continue to be perceived as such a threat to humans, when the truth is that they evolved as a prey animal, and remain so today. Black bears are cautious around humans unless they have been terrorized by them; then they avoid people at all costs. A human has a one in a million chance of being killed by a Black Bear; one is 17 more times likely to die of a spider bite.

 

How has the Black bear become such a perceived threat to humankind especially in this country?

 

One reason is that we are a culture that is hell bent on keeping the outdated “man against nature” paradigm alive. This perspective pits humans against all non – human species with a vengeance. In addition, the unconscious psychological mechanism of projection allows people to ascribe human killer tendencies/evil onto hapless animals giving us permission to kill them indiscriminately. We also imagine that we are separate and superior to every species but our own. How else could we continue to destroy the planet that is our home without whose resources we could not survive?

 

Of course, this cultural attitude of senseless fear of Black bears in particular (and all wild animals by extension) is also generated in this country by powerful special interest organizations like the NRA that deliberately uses the myth of the killer bear for its own benefit while pontificating that we have the “right” to bear arms, regardless of character or self responsibility. This current explosion of men with guns has created a crisis of monumental proportions at the cost of lives, human and non-human alike.

 

One critical lesson I have learned in my life is to watch what people say and what they actually do. If there is a split between the two, pay attention to what these folks do and not what they say – talk is cheap. The so called state Wildlife organizations say they are interested in caring for/saving animals but what they do is to make money from ordinary folk and support hunters who slaughter animals as a matter of course. These people also expose their colossal arrogance/ignorance by stating as “truth” that all wild animals need to be managed by humans when animals have been around for 350 million years and humans for about 200,000 years. How utterly absurd.

 

There is something deeply repellent to me about the state fish and game folks who want us to slaughter bears for “fun” and for trophies, rarely for food. In fact here in New Mexico the head of a black bear is the symbol for our state wildlife organization.

 

There are a number of theories that attempt to address why bears in particular are so feared by humans. One of the most popular (not scholarly) of these is that humans were originally prey animals so we “instinctively” fear black bears and all wild animals. In this way of thinking the story is written into our DNA. The problem with this theory (and please remember that theories are intellectual ideas, and not truth with a capital “T”) is that it contradicts a multitude of children’s studies that indicate just the opposite – namely that very young children appear to be universally drawn to wild animals, especially bears, and are not afraid of them. There are many European children’s fairy tales that focus on the special relationship between bears and children. The helpful bear saves, protects, or imparts hidden knowledge to the children (especially girls) – like how to trust one’s instincts. In this country Native peoples honor the bear as a great healer/protector. Children who are afraid of animals have been taught to fear them by the adults around them.

 

And this brings me around to the power of the image to influence human perception. Look at any hunting magazine and you will note the frightening predatory look of the animal on the front cover. In Maine I used to dread August not just because it ushered in bear hunting season but also because in every store the covers of all the hunting magazines portrayed a GIANT Black Bear as a vicious bloody killer roaring with a huge open mouth full of teeth (contrary to popular belief, bears don’t roar at all). Exaggerating the size of an animal to generate unrealistic fear is something that every hunting magazine and state agency routinely does. Most adult male Black bears run about 250 pounds and yet these magazines/agencies always use the pictures of the exception to the general rule – the one that weighs 400 pounds – and is probably a captive animal. Most Black bears don’t survive long enough in the wild to attain a weight that even approaches this number, because the majority are shot as yearlings or sub adults. Yet, these horrific images work on us below the threshold of our awareness especially if we have no relationship to the wilderness and the wild animals around us. We have all been socialized/inculcated into a culture that supports the idea that any wild animal is “automatically” dangerous to humans. And creating mindless fear and revulsion for profit is something advertisers do well.

 

In reality Black bears are extremely shy, intelligent, curious animals that learn to avoid people unless people choose to befriend them as I did. My trust-based study was based on my ability to develop a personal relationship with any bear that would tolerate my presence and allow me entrance into her/his world. Needless to say, many would not. Too shy.

 

What I discovered early on was that Black bears always clearly communicated what they needed/wanted from me. My initial challenge was learning to understand their language. For example, most bears needed me to respect their need for space. Even the bears that chose to interact with me let me know when I got too close by huffing or slapping the ground, twig, bush, tree with a paw. I learned quickly that talking to them quietly relieved their anxiety. When badly frightened Black bears moan like children, or do the opposite, hiss and slap branches while hugging the upper limbs of their trees which they co –evolved with. Too often a bear’s anxiety is interpreted as aggression. It’s worth repeating that the Black bear evolved on this continent as a prey animal who was/is totally dependent on tree cover for protection (Infant bears begin climbing shortly after birth, exploring the den, long before they emerge in the spring and are instantly “treed” by mother to keep them safe).

 

In New Mexico we have a population of about 6000 Black bears that live in remote mountainous terrain, always close to some kind of water. If you happen to meet a Black bear while hiking, please don’t panic. Speak quietly to the animal and give it the space it needs to go on its way. For anyone who is really terrified of bears it is useful to carry a whistle. When blown the bear will disappear in an instant, I promise you I know. Once I was afraid of bears too!

Little Bear Moon Invocation

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Bb

Oh my dear one

may you be dreaming deep

in a secret mountain cave of moss and stone.

I lost the thread between us

when I left you

home alone.

The hunting season continued

and I don’t know

if you survived.

When I lost touch

with you, I lost myself.

My thick fur fell away

and exposure

to ice and frightening cold

swirling confusion

has left me numbed,

paralyzed, and barely sane.

On this eve of the first of the year

when a Luminous moon rises round in the night

do listen for the Owls

who will be singing a future for us both…

 

Know too that

I wrap my arms around you

by way of Tree Roots

who are always crackling underground,

and beg

this dreaming sky orb, our Mother,

to keep us bound as One.

Perhaps

she will even gift me

with a new coat of furry black skin?

I so long to return

to my soul body kin…

 

Know sweet bear that in the spring

when the first shoots turn green

I will meet you at the brook

if only we have both survived

our present separation.

 

If you come back to me I will

intone a heartfelt prayer that

after our brief meeting

your journey will

take you due North – far away

from those who would harm…

You must listen dear one:

You must be on your way

as soon as the first berries ripen…

in order to have

a chance to live through another year

as the black bear you are meant to be,

Wild and Free.

 

I love you Bb.

 

Working Notes: This year’s full moon falls on January 1 and in the northern part of the country where all black bears hibernate, this first full moon of the year is called the “Little Bear Moon.” Why? Because it is this month that most bears including polar bears and grizzlies and black bears give birth to their unborn… some under tree roots, some on the tundra even under snow, some in caves. Usually two to three tiny cubs are born to a mother who is alert and totally responsive to her young. For more information and videos please google the American Bear Center or WRI in Minnesota.

This invocation is dedicated all bears but especially to the one I love.