Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Back to School: Part II


Nordica Photography via Green Wedding Shoes

If you remember, I started taking a few online classes in September. For the writing workshop, we were encouraged to write one, approximately 500-word creative piece as we went through the course. Originally, I wanted to write a piece that was purely fiction, but it turns out that I need much more practice with creativity. For now, inspiration from real life will have to suffice, even though I would never wish for the circumstances needed to write this piece. Inspired by my wildlife sightings here on the Puget Sound and the tragic death of my uncle's brother-in-law, this is what I came up with. My thoughts continue to be with Ken's family as they grieve their loss, especially as the holidays approach. 

Wild is Wild

I once was told that nature reveals her beauty in the most secret, unexpected ways. A caterpillar makes its silent, winged exit from its chrysalis. A bird steps from a ledge and free falls until it spreads its wings to rocket into the sky. A flock of birds move cloud-like to settle into new roles as tree leaves. Blink and you will miss it. However, in my experience, nature is not so timid.

The first day at our new Puget Sound home, a seal greets my husband and me from the dock, a neighborly welcome. I take a picture. At six the next morning, our black Labrador whines at the back door, and no less than a dozen seals are back, posing in the mist. I take another picture. Three hours later and they are still at it. Every evening, they hold a seal slumber party, and I no longer take pictures.

It quickly becomes evident that wildlife sightings will be a regular occurrence. Playing fetch with Zora, I spot a flash of brown and white from the corner of my eye – a bald eagle floating lazily overhead. Three deer cross our front lawn. Canadian geese wake us up from weekend naps. Sea otters sun themselves on our boat. Crabs the size of rotisserie chickens creep across the beach. A spider builds her web atop our coffee table, spanning from a stack of books to the ceiling to the arm of the couch. Oh no, nature is not shy. Nature is the neighbor kid who will not leave -- endearing, but sometimes a bit much. A Steve Urkel, a Kimmy Gibbler. But then, at the end of September, Nature took a pitiless turn.

In short, a grizzly bear mauled and killed my uncle’s brother-in-law. Ken was in the Canadian wilderness on the Yukon border, hunting for moose with a guide. His last picture is of him smiling in his camouflage with the moose, moments after the gunshot rang out like a dinner bell to the bear. The guide left to the meat locker thirty yards away, and the bear came out of the bushes to attack. By the time the guide came back to scare the bear away, it was too late. He stayed up through the night to guard Ken’s body until help arrived.

On a recent trip to Sequoia National Park, I read through the bear box instructions and warnings with more care than ever before and found that they are less about protecting people than about protecting bears from high calorie, highly addictive human foods. Later on the campground trail, a middle-aged couple stopped to ask if we had a chance to see the bears yet.

“No. We actually hope not to.”

You are more likely to be struck by lightning than to be attacked and killed by a bear. There are only about ten brown bear attacks per decade on record. I admit that if not for the accident, the prospect of seeing one would have fascinated me. Yogi Bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, Baloo, Fozzie, Country Bear Jamboree – sweet, cuddly, and occasionally musical bears are everywhere. 

At the zoo, the polar bear swims to paw at me through the thick glass. Before the incident, I would have monologued in a bumbling pitch, “Hello, there. Pleased to meet you.”

In reality, he's probably thinking, In the Arctic, I would eat youFor now, I'll remember that wild is wild, even if we do make plush toys out of it.

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