Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I woke up thinking about the bears.

This morning I woke up thinking about the bears.

Tell me my life hasn’t changed. For the first seven years I lived in Newburyport I did just that. I didn’t spend one night out of town in all that time. I typically awoke thinking about the previous night’s meetings or the behind the scenes politics going on in the city. But then again, how could I not? My phone would ring at all hours of the day and night with tips on stories. (Somehow people wanting me to know something felt it was more exciting for them, I suppose, to call at one or two in the morning with a tip. Perhaps they didn’t know I lived where I worked.)

In my two months up north I can feel myself transforming from that life to this one. Following Thoreau’s dictum to “simplify, simplify, simplify”, I’ve found it rather easy to leave the intrigue and often rough and tumble world of political reporting and journaling behind.

So this morning I woke up thinking not about zoning issues, the latest mayoral appointment, or Steve Karp’s vanillaization of Newburyport, but of the bears. I’ve not seen them out at all. Last year, on Christmas Eve morning we saw a large bear paw print on the thin and crispy snow descending the Waterville Valley ski area after we climbed to the summit of Tecumseh.

And typically when we stayed in the cabins here, Atticus would wake up in the middle of the night with a low, guttural growl to warn of bears looking for treats. But when I woke up this morning I realized how strange it has been not to see them or to see signs of them. It wasn’t until I realized I hadn’t seen them that I found myself missing them.

Two springs ago I came up here to help Kim and Rick paint their cabins and one morning we came upon a mother and her two cubs. The startled bears ran to the nearest tree. Unfortunately, they were separated. Mother bear and one cub climbed a large sturdy tree. The other cub only climbed a small tree and sat just five feet off the ground chewing on leaves while its mother watched nervously from high above.

We gave the bears a wide berth but after some time the mother allowed me to get close enough to the lone cub to take some photos. After some time we left them alone. Atticus and I went to a cabin some 30 feet away and started painting the inside of the screened in porch. Soon enough the three bears joined us, with momma bear looking in on us from the outside. The three then climbed the closest tree and watched us until we were done. When we moved again, so did they. This time we were allowed to watch her nurse the cubs and then send them up the tree above her for their naptime. Then she took a nap herself.

Later that day we returned to the cabin we were staying in and minutes later the bears showed up again, this time to attack a bird feeder for its seeds. After that they climbed up in the tree above our cabin and spent the night there, sleeping twenty feet above where we were sleeping. When we awoke the next morning they were still there.

A Forest Service expert later said that the mother was most likely exhausted and had probably just come out of the den. When she was not threatened by us, she felt safety instead and decided to stick around for a while.

I'm thinking about those bears right now as I sit at my desk and look out the window at the tree they slept in that night.

This morning I woke up thinking about the bears. What a pleasure.

(Here are the photos of the three bears from that day.)

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