Facing the Beast

I was relaxing in our screened porch in our little cottage in the forest, feeling rather pleased with myself. It had been an arduous week of the usual combat for liberty, but there had been victories.

I was reading a decorating magazine (we all have our vices). The grass was dewy; birds were loud. The morning was glorious.

I was feeling pioneer-ish and independent. I was alone in the house; Brian was traveling. I enjoyed the narrative moment: “Lady in the woods.”

Then I heard a “thump” about eight feet away behind my head. It was an exasperated thump, like a teenager slamming the door to his room. Like, “Really??”

I glanced behind me and saw the enormous ears and forehead of a sizable brown bear, who was ducking insolently, clearly aware of me, to lower himself behind the trash cans.

I sped indoors, locking the door. I grabbed a weapon out of the hall closet. In my haste, I grabbed the weapon that looked like a rifle, instead of the actual rifle, which was in a case. Thus I found myself locked in an upstairs bathroom, cowering, armed with a BB gun.

I sort of knew this bear. Brian had captured on his trail camera about a year ago, what must have been this bear and his brother or sister, when the little ones were just adorable cubs. One of the cubs had nuzzled the trailcam til the mom had batted it away, urging her little ones to follow her deeper into the woods, far from the dangerous things of men. One of the cubs was now this massive creature, that bear-watchers call a “sub-adult.”

I saw, peering fearfully out of the window, that it was no longer cute and fat. It was was thin, but massively muscled, and looked disoriented. It must have been eight feet long.

I paced into the upstairs bedroom and secured the windows. The bear left the garbage cans, and followed me around the corner of the house. I could now see it pacing and sniffing directly opposite the bedroom windows, though on the ground level. There were windows all around the house on that level. Bears had been known to break into homes.

I looked under the bed: hiding there could not save me if the bear made it into the house. I realized I was holding a BB gun, and felt ridiculous. Even if I managed to shoot it, this would do nothing but enrage him. The thin bedroom doors that I had thought so rustic and charming, could be broken down by an angry animal of that size in no time.

My heart pounded as I realized that he was not leaving; he continued pacing and circling, no matter where I went.

I went back into the bathroom, and locked that door with its flimsy lock.

There he was again, outside on that side of the house, as if he was spotting me or as if he could scent me. Surely he could smell my fear.

I cowered behind the bathroom curtain. The bear paused in its ransacking of the trash, stood up again on hind legs, looked right at me — or smelled right at me — and bared its long, sharp yellow teeth.

If I had had sympathy for the hungry teenager abandoned by its mom (or “emancipated” by its mom, as the bear watching sites explain) it evaporated.

I was on the phone with Brian, frozen with fear.

“Make yourself big! Shout at him!” Brian instructed. That was impossible. I could not move. I could hardly breathe.

That would be it, surely, I thought, after he’d exhausted the trash bag. He’d leave now, surely. But no. He came back toward me again like a nightmare, and headed once more to circle the house.

I called the sheriff’s office.

Twice they told me that nothing could be done, and to stay inside. I don’t blame the Columbia County Sheriffs. They have issues to deal with more serious than a former city lady trapped in her house by a hungry bear.

But the bear kept circling right up against the walls of the house. This went on for an hour. Adrenaline poured through my bloodstream. I did wonder if I would die that day.

When I called back in spite of myself and begged the police for help, they told me to call again only if he managed to break into the house. (Thank you, ‘Defund the Police’ advocates…)

At certain points of extreme stress, I could not even bring myself any longer to look outside to see where the bear was. What if I looked and couldn’t see him because he was already in the house? I went right into a place that is familiar to those of us with PTSD – a traumatized place where you freeze, and where you engage in magical thinking.

If I don’t look at the bear he won’t be there. If I don’t meet his gaze he won’t see me or smell me. I am somewhere else. I am not really here.

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