This is how the story goes:
Sparrow is upstairs, sound asleep and dreaming about chocolate chip cookies.
Clarence is sprawled out on the floor by the front door in a half-state of sleep that’s customary when he’s inside against his will. At increasing intervals, he rouses long enough to let out an irritated sigh. I hear it but I don’t respond.
I’m also sprawled out on the floor, papers everywhere. I’m planning the worship set for the upcoming Sunday night service at church, gnawing at my fingernails in indecisiveness: There is a Redeemer or O for a Thousand Tongues? Near the Cross or Revelation Song? It all seems incredibly important, my thoughts consumed by the vortex of tune and word. And then, the sheet of music I’m holding is suddenly fluttering out my hand. My heart is lodged in the small nest of bone that is my suprasternal notch.
Clarence isn’t sleeping anymore, not even half-way. He’s awake and pacing, sighs replaced by whines.
Sparrow is soundless, still fixated on chocolate chip cookies.
And the bear…
Andy had decided to wait it out with a shotgun and a scrap of hope. He’d been sitting in a tree stand since dinner, watching the pigs root around, act piggish and then tire of it all, their fat bodies falling into a dream undoubtedly similar to Sparrow’s. The culvert trap was fully stocked with fish skins and french fries. The snare was poised like a snake, its perfect shape waiting to constrict. His gun was loaded.
Just before nightfall, he heard what he’d been waiting for. The bear came via the river, walking upstream along its muddy banks, carrying the remainder of twilight between its two lumbering shoulder blades. It circled the trap, keen nose sensing everything. It circled again, stood up on hind legs to survey above, crouched low to survey beneath. Circling one last time, it veered off toward the slumbering pigs.
Andy held his breath, his heart like a hummingbird in his chest.
The bullet knew its target, tearing the air between barrel and bear like a thin garment.
The bear didn’t drop and die but rather lunged forward, ran even. 20 yards or so and quickly, kicking, on his way, the empty bucket Andy had left near the pig’s pen.
That’s right, friends. The bear actually kicked the bucket.
And the pigs, Andy recounted later, were still snoring. Honestly.
Meanwhile, I, who had totally lost my train of thought, stepped out onto the back porch and very gingerly called out to the night. The conversation went like this (with long, drawn out but somewhat pinched and timid tones):
“Andy?” “Yeah.” “Did you get him?” “I think so.” “Are you going to get down?” “I don’t think so. I’m not sure he’s dead and its getting too dark to see well.” “Should I call Woody?” “Yeah.”
So I went inside to call Woody. No answer. Called Rachael, Woody’s wife. No answer. Called again, both. Again and again. Ring, ring. Called Rachael’s mom. Voicemail. Woody again, Rachael. Woody.
It went on like this for 20 minutes.
And then Woody appeared, his headlamp blaring through our window. And Andy was there, his headlamp blaring next to Woody’s. They were like two enormous fireflies, stuck on glow.
Apparently, shortly after I’d spoken with Andy, he’d heard Woody’s 4-wheeler pull into the neighbor’s driveway. The neighbor, who doesn’t live in his house but only visits on occasional weekends, has graciously allowed Woody (who lives without running water) to shower at his house whenever needed. Woody was showering, getting all nice and clean so he could help Andy field-dress a 250 black bear.
So Andy had climbed off the tree stand, terrified but relatively confident that the unmoving bear was indeed dead and hiked through the woods to the neighbor’s house. Opening the bathroom door, he had said:
“Woody?” “SCHMIDTY! Did you get ‘im?” “I did.” “Is he dead?” “I was hoping you’d come with me to find out.” “I’ll be right out.”
Thankfully, the bucket was still kicked, the bear was still dead.
The plan was to skin and quarter the bear that night, put it on ice and butcher it come morning. “Do we have any ice?” Andy asked, the bear now draped over the 4-wheeler parked in the driveway. “Not a bit,” I said. “The gas station closes in 30 minutes,” Woody offered, “we’d better go now.”
The gas station is 30 miles away. So they sped. And got pulled over. And realized the proof of insurance was sitting on the kitchen counter. And the tags had expired, in April. “I’m pretty sure the bear with still be there when you get back,” the officer assured them, “so slow down.”
They bought all the ice at the Super America. A drunk and stumbling guy came up to Andy as he loaded the last bag of ice into the trunk and slurred “You look like you’re having a party. I wanna go where you’re going.”
“No, man. I don’t think you do. Trust me.” Slamming the trunk, Andy climbed into the car and roared off, a little slower, down the highway toward Hovland.
And the bear, as the officer had predicted, was still there when they got home.
So there you have it, friends. The saga has ended. The bear is dead, the pigs are safe the drama has ceased.
It’s not, however, without some regret that I wrote these words. Seeing a dead animal, even one that has caused so much trouble, killed livestock and threatened others, is always a humbling and disheartening experience. The animals our Creator made are loved by Him and I believe it grieves Him that they too are under the curse of sin and forced suffer the sting of death. And because I am made in the image of my Creator, my heart grieves too. But, this is the way things go. This is a world of imperfections and broken hearts, of dissatisfactions and tragedies. A world where beautiful animals fall, blood and hard fact pooling together in the scuffed dirt.
Ursus Americanus, we who exist in this complicated realm of dualities, are grateful for your life and somehow also, for your death. For what it’s worth, thank you.