We have been off center the last several days. There was an accident in our little apartment and we’ve been left with some water damage. The carpet in the bedroom is one of the casualties. Mold formed quickly and because of it Atticus and I have been sleeping on the couch with Will tucked in one of his dog beds just below my head. We have a small place, but a cheery one, and the kitchen and living room is combined with big windows on the east and west side and a glass door to the north that looks out on a quaint roofed deck where there sits a small table and two chairs with some plants along the railing.
Two nights ago a wicked storm blew across the mountains and covered the bright moon with fast moving clouds. When the rain came it was as if the sky exploded and heavy raindrops pounded on the metal roof of the house. I sat up on the couch to look out from our second floor perch into the backyard to the skeleton of our black ash tree, which had dropped its leaves several weeks ago. The heavy rain was mesmerizing. I tucked back into sleep with Atticus behind my knees and Will snoring blissfully below.
Sometime later I was startled awake by a crash. One of the ceramic planters must have been blown over by the storm on our deck. I walked to the door and took my headlamp off the knob and turned it on. I could see the planter broken into bits but I also saw an enormous bear settling down on the deck, it seemed, to take shelter from the storm. When the light flashed on him he jumped up and turned around, ready to race down the stairs.
It was Butkus, who I had not seen in over a year. He’s the largest and oldest of our local bears and the first we encountered some five years ago. I turned the headlamp toward myself so he could see me and gave him a casual wave. He stopped, moved closer to the door to look at me, and then he sat down.
We haven’t seen the bears for nearly two months. There is a house that is rarely used right next door to us. You cannot see it because of the trees and the way it’s back form the road. But for the past two months a young man in his twenties was staying there. He rode a motorcycle and revved it loudly shaking walls and the peace and quiet. He came and went at all hours of the night. Through other discoveries (which I will not go into) I learned he was not a very nice fellow. Since the time he moved in the bears had stopped coming by. They are funny that way. Although they have always come and gone in Jackson as they please, drawn by the sweet and savory aromas of the inns and restaurants here, they watch closely and don’t reveal themselves often when things are different. Whenever our landlords are up for a visit and staying downstairs they bears don’t reveal themselves. Nor do they when the landlords let friends use their place. But as soon as the downstairs is quiet again, the bears return. Alas, this hasn’t been the case over the last two months.
But the young fellow next door is now gone and I wondered if we’d see any of the bears again before they disappeared for the winter. And here was Butkus, enormous and wet and sitting out the storm on our deck.
I watched him for a few minutes and then pulled the comforter and pillow and my Kindle from the couch and sat with my back against the glass door, drawn by this incredible animal. Soon Atticus was with me, his head raised up on my thigh watching Butkus. Eventually Butkus lay down and placed his huge head against the glass next to where my head rested against the pillow. Our eyes were only the width of the glass apart. It wasn’t long before both Atticus and Butkus were asleep.
When I woke up, still pressed against the door where I sat with Atticus and Butkus the night before, the rain was gone and so was our neighbor. Blue skies poured over the valley and the sun danced on the jeweled raindrops left behind. A gift of a day followed the gift of the night before.
The bears fascinate me. We know enough to be careful around them and to make sure they have an exit plan, and so do we. We don’t encourage them with food; they just pass by on their way to other places. Occasionally they linger for a little while, but they don’t appear to be very comfortable with most people. They obviously didn’t like the short term lodger next door, and they don't like the family that moved in on the other side of us. Once when Atticus and I were sitting out back a few months ago Aragorn showed up and sat contentedly with us fifteen feet away for fifteen minutes. Some of you may remember the photographs. He only left when our neighbors came outside, unseen due to the summer foliage, but easily heard. He gnashed his teeth and repeatedly snapped his jaws before growling and running down to the Ellis River. Last year when two of our moderators, Christina and Mike, showed up for a visit while Atticus and I were watching the “Jackson Five” (a mother and four cubs) playing in the yard, the bears abruptly left.
I’m not certain why they come around us as they do. I’ve always believed it has something to do with Atticus and how other animals are often drawn to him. That’s how we met Aragorn three years ago. He was a yearling and followed us home from a walk. He trailed us for half a mile before showing up in our backyard. When I reminded Atticus, “Not all dogs are friendly,” Atti sat down. In the bushes on the border of our yard Aragorn did, too. When Atticus dropped into the sphinx position, so did Aragorn. Since that day, of all the bears, it’s been Aragorn who spends the most time around us, always looking to Atticus, and occasionally to me.
I’m reminded of our third floor apartment in Newburyport where there was a window box without flowers in it. We couldn’t plant anything because the wind would rise up from the Merrimack River and rush up State Street removing any of the flowers there. But one year a pigeon built as nest and Atticus, who was very young, stood up on his hind legs with the window open and watched her, his head less than a foot away. When there were chicks in the nest he was fascinated by them and the mother thought nothing of leaving them behind to seek out food while Atticus watched over them.
Pigeons are one thing, but bears are another. Although I’m fascinated by all forms of wildlife, the bears most intrigue me because of how we share this yard with each other. When young ones come along, I typically scare them away. But the older ones know their boundaries with us and I let them come and go as they will.