"In wildness is the preservation of the world" Thoreau
In a world where both urban and suburban sprawl has encroached on lands once home to all things unharnessed and free, left are few emblems that are true harbingers of the wild, roaming our hills, forests and plains, and our collective imaginations.
The bear is one of these creatures, and in my rural Maine home, the black bear, along with the bald eagle, is perhaps the greatest symbol of the wild. Gone, here, are the days of mountain lions and wolves, although on rare occasion, someone will claim to have spotted one or the other, although no trace of scat or spoor is ever found to corroborate these sightings.
Maybe it is our desire to hold onto all things wild in nature - the very lives that are being lost at alarming rates to human populations, hunting, depletion or degradation of natural foods and habitat, poisons in our soil, air and waters.
Can we live, with peace of mind and heart, with the notion that the indigenous creatures of our lands have been compromised or lost, forever? I don't believe so. Diminished would be our dreams, imaginations and more importantly, our wakeful hours, void of that vital connection with nature that most humans crave and need.
Perhaps it is a primal link that complements our being - the symbiosis with our wild heritage that makes all living things greater together, rather than alone. For me, the harmonious co-existence of man and nature is one of the most splendid gifts of being alive.
Yesterday, while standing at my kitchen counter slicing Italian prune plums for an almond-plum tarte, I had the distinct feeling of being watched. I looked up and saw something rather unexpected, yet as welcome as any surprise could be. At the open sliding door, nose pressed to the screen, were the fluid brown eyes of a young black bear.
Momentarily, our eyes locked, then in no apparent hurry the bear turned around, lumbered along the deck, stopped to admire the boxes of leggy petunias, and without further ado and with silent, padded feet, made its way down the steep deck stairs and onto the lawn. It hunkered over to the birdbath, took a quick drink, then meandered down the gravel path towards the saltwater cove.
In my nearly fifteen years in Maine, this was only the second time I had seen a bear. The last time I had come eye to eye with a bear was five years ago, and the day my husband died. That June morning, the early dawn sky still tinged with pink, a young black bear walked up my porch steps just as I swung open the front door.
Separated by only two feet and a thin veil of screen, we stared at one another for what seemed like a very long time, but when I realized this bear sensed no fear, I did what I had to do - I clapped my hands and shouted until it was startled enough to scramble down the steps, and in a swirl of black fur and bulk, disappeared into a stand of pines.
The last thing I wanted was for this young, naive bear to have no fear of man - to feel any semblence of comfort or trust. Guns, hounds and steel traps end the lives of too many bears in Maine.
The first thing I did following my second bear encounter was to call my two closest friends down the road. Before I could add the anecdote already forming on my tongue, one said, "wasn't the only other time you saw a bear on the morning John died?" "Yes," I retorted, "so perhaps you'd better check in on me in a few days, just in case."
Truth is, the bear, for me, is a source of inspiration and hope (I felt this even more so after waking up this morning). It was, and still is, revered by Native Americans and represents a powerful totem of introspection, wisdom and strength. Following my husband's death, I couldn't help but feel that the bears appearance that day was a signal to step out of my darkened cave of hibernation, those long years of illness, death and loss, and hopefully, all the wiser and stronger for the experience. Sometimes the teachings of nature are our most meaningful lessons.
Unfortunately, bear hunting practices in Maine consist of baiting, trapping, and dogs.
It is the only state in the country that allows trapping of bears for the purpose of "sport."
Eighty percent of bear hunters each year are out of state trophy hunters.