I pointed Harley’s face towards the creek at the edge of the woods, speaking into her ear with quiet intensity. She lowered her head, wriggling away from my grasp. Then the lights came on. Her ears shot forward. Her eyes froze. Her hackles stood up. Growling, she strained against me, but I did not let her chase what she saw. “Good dog,” I said, “Stay here.”
Below the cabin we were renting, down by the creek, sprawled a lumpy black bear, fat and fluffy enough to have come straight out of the Samsung washing machine commercial. He was gathering mouthfuls of corn out of the plastic dispenser and chewing them with rhythmic chomps. He didn’t look around.
When we spoke to him, he simply took up another mouthful of corn as if to say, “Hello human, your presence is annoying, but it will not distract me from getting what I want.”
He was there to feast, and feast he would.
It wasn’t until the next day that I noticed a change above the cabin fireplace.
Blonde-haired Jed, 5 years old and full of wisdom, was glad to explain the changes to me. “That one was ‘tacking,” he announced, poking his small finger towards a wide new bear skin on the cabin wall. Pointing at the other bear skins, he continued, “That one was not ‘tacking, and that one was not, and that biggest bear was ‘tacking and they SHOT IT.”
I remembered meeting this huge bear last summer. He’d arrive each night to feast at the corn dispenser, sprawling on the ground and licking up the kernels with cartoonish apathy. Then he’d waddle away at daybreak, down the drive and up the mountain road. I’d watched him waddle by me at very close proximity–the fattest, fluffiest, tallest black bear I have ever seen.
Now the legend was dead, shot in his tracks even though he’d tried to put up a fight.
I remembered another black bear I’d met on a grassy mountaintop nearby.
Baby Mountain Bear, I’d called that one. Small, quick and fluffy. I had only noticed Baby Mountain Bear because of the dew drops raining from the tree he’d been hiding in. That little bear had scurried to safety the moment he heard a human coming. When I looked back after hiking past him, he had clambered down from the tree and disappeared.
Cabin Bear, fat, lazy and unnaturally bold. Willing to let his enemies watch him sprawl in the dirt as he feasted.
Baby Mountain Bear, small, quick and scared. Not willing to let his enemies catch a peek at him.
There is a corn dispenser at the fringe of my forest, too, but it takes the shape of a cartoon tee shirt I used to imagine myself wearing that says, ‘Cactus Recovery Program’. It’s the way I used to explain my cold responses towards people who triggered my fears. I can go back to this tee shirt any time and put it back on. It fits me well, and is comfortable. I can be a cactus any time I want to.
But I’ve learned that as a cactus, you actually grow spikes on the inside, too. While your exterior spikes prick people and keep them at bay, your interior spikes cut down your destiny every time it tries to rise. You’re not living where you’re meant to live. You grow more and more confused.
Abnormal habits feel normal so very soon. Remember that.
Figure out how you were created to live and live that way, no matter what! No matter what appealing gifts your surroundings offer you. No matter what feels good. No matter what feels easier.
You were created to rule the wild mountaintops, not for a placid partnership with your enemies in the valley. Know who you are, and live that way!
Don’t let your enemies feed you.
Don’t let your enemies make you tame.