End of the Line

A Bear Necessity

Dreaming of a visit from a four-legged friend

Illustration: Barry Blitt

Sometimes when i lie semi-awake at night, visionary verses come to me, which I strain to interpret the next morning. Last night, these:

They’ve added an otter to Winnie-the-Pooh.
I don’t think they oughter, but what can I do?

God added an adder to Adam and Eve
To see if they’d sin, and they did. He said, “LEAVE!”

Brisket to brisket and udder to udder
Is how cow buddies hug one anudder.

Okay, I read recently that someone had come out with a new Pooh book. It includes all of A. A. Milne’s characters, Eeyore, Tigger, and so on, and adds a new one, an otter. I loved the Pooh books when I was the age of the boy in them. Later, I fell under other influences, including that of Dorothy Parker, who in her “Constant Reader” column of book reviews said of The House at Pooh Corner, a book of Pooh-related stories, “Tonstant Weader fwowed up.”

And yet I still have a soft spot in my head for bears. I wish, irrationally, that we would get one in our yard. All our neighbors have had a bear. Some of them, including my ex-wife, in my ex-yard, have had a mountain lion. Mountain lion sightings have been fleeting, but a bear, by eye-witness accounts, will sit there and stare at you while he or she tips your bird feeder up to his or her lips and sucks down all the sunflower seeds. Or the bear will tear open your garage to get at the garbage can you have locked in there, which means that you have to lock your garbage can inside your car inside your garage and hope the bear won’t tear open your car.

A bear in your yard is not Pooh. But not having had a bear makes me feel left out. We have flocks of turkeys waltzing through our yard, and deer eating our plants, and we hear coyotes at night, and we watched a mother duck showing ten ducklings how to take off and fly. A great blue heron swoops down the river behind our house early some mornings, and we saw an osprey perched in one of our trees.

But no bear. While driving, my wife and I have each seen one, and we both saw a wildcat that I think was a lynx; but not on our property. Can it be that bears are turned off by households in which unsettling verses are semi-dreamed in the night?

According to a veterinarian friend of ours, one reason so many wild animals are venturing into humanly occupied areas lately is the pervasiveness of leash laws. I travel too much to have dogs now, but the ones I used to have were free-range dogs, who weren’t formidable but thought they were, and whose scent alone kept varmints away. These days, most dogs I know live primarily indoors and get exercise by being taken for walks. Coyotes, not to mention bears, might eat these dogs if they weren’t under supervision.

The bears of our neighborhood are hibernating now. One of them died as soon as bow season opened. He had earned the enmity of a local roadside produce seller by eating a whole row of corn, fwowing it up at the end of the row, eating the next row and fwowing it up, and so on through the patch. The farmer sprayed his corn with a mixture of pork gravy and ammonia (“Pork gravy is cheap,” he told me, “though it will gum up your sprayer”), but harsher measures were required.

Speaking of harsh measures, that adder-in-Eden verse was sparked, I guess, by something someone told me last night at a cocktail party. He said his son, who is a New York cop, was summoned to an apartment building by a resident who wanted him to get rid of a vaguely moving bag in the hallway. “There must be a snake inside that bag,” the complainant said, “and I am pacified of snakes.” The bag turned out to contain two cats. A lady visiting another apartment had brought her cats with her, and on learning that the lady she was visiting was allergic to cats, she had put them in a bag to wait for her outside the door.

At least my wife and I are free-range. Yesterday we visited the UCM (pronounced You See ’Em) Museum, in Abita Springs, Louisiana, where we saw taxidermic marvels: an alligator-headed duck, a duck-headed alligator, a bass with human teeth, and a gator-headed horselike animal seated on a bicycle. Did those combinations inspire the unnatural lines I semi-dreamed about cow buddies? Maybe. Who knows what rough beasts slouch toward our yards anymore?