When we lived in New Mexico, I made a new friend with a man who was not my husband.
(That probably got your attention …)
[And now, for some backstory: I’ve had two marriages. The first marriage grew me in ways I never imagined I could be grown. There are three children from that marriage – they are the best part. That husband is now my ex for a multitude of reasons. God is good. One day, I might write that story, but today is not that day. And this story is not about my ex, really. This story is about the relationship with the man who wasn’t my ex …]
Red River, New Mexico is a beautiful ski-resort town in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range at the foot of the Rockies. It is located smack in the heart of the Carson National Forest – a lovely patch of woods that is home to aspen trees that reminded me of my Kentucky Sycamores, elk that I at first thought were deer on steroids, raccoons that were as large as German Shepherds, and black bears.
Here, wait, maybe you missed that part. Let me help you. BLACK BEARS.
We got our first taste of Living With Bears the week after we moved into the lodge where my ex would be manager. It was quite traumatic. The bear was eventually shot, while clinging to a tree, right behind our little cabin house. Tourists were in the streets, watching. I tried to shield the children from what I saw as a senseless tragedy for Mother Nature.
(After some perspective that only comes with time and context, I learned the tragedy was not in the act of shooting the bear. The tragedy stemmed from the tourists who thought it would be fun to get up close and personal, so they FED THE BEARS.)
Immediately, my inner Fierce-Momma, Tree-Hugging, Animal-Loving side was set on high alert. I went to Bear Aware classes to learn how I could best protect my children and co-exist with these creatures. Carson National Forest is over a million acres, but that still didn’t seem like enough elbow room. My reaction instincts were set to just below the So-Freaked-Out-I-Cannot-Talk-Right mode.
One night, about a year after we had settled into mountain life, as my family and I were all snugged up inside our little cabin home, those instincts received a boost.
One of our cats lounged in the huge, almost floor to ceiling, plate-glass window. The cabin was built many years before, so the windows were those wavy, single-pane kind of windows. Suddenly, with claws and fur flying, the cat leapt from the sill and catapulted herself into the corner of the farthest room of the house. My Number Three Child, who was not quite two years old at that time, tottered over to the window, pointed and smiled, and said, “Bee-uh. Bee-uh.”
I laid my book down and walked over to the window. I ruffled the hair of the Number Three Child and then pulled back the window sheers.
I was face-to-face with a very large black bear. He had the most incredible dark-chocolate brown eyes. He also had three tags in his ears. That explained why he didn’t turn and run immediately at the sight of a human.
I pointed and said, “Bee-uh. Bee-uh.”
And then, a small part of my brain that had any feeling left, sent some sort of signal to my reasoning centers that sounded a little like this: “THERE IS A THIN SHEET OF GLASS BETWEEN YOU AND THIS BEAR.”
And that, my friends, started the relationship with the Fish & Game guy. His name was Manny. He didn’t have a Kentucky accent, so he obviously knew what to do with New Mexico bears. He explained that the three ear tags meant this bear was a ‘trouble’ bear.
Unless they kill someone immediately, trouble bears are tranquilized, then tagged, then trucked five hundred miles north into Colorado and released. Unless they meet their demise in Colorado from natural causes, they almost always come back. I think they were crossed with homing pigeons somewhere along their genetic lines. This bear had already reached his three-strikes-and-you’re-out limit.
Manny gave us his personal cell number, and some ‘special firecrackers.’ (I later learned that ‘special firecrackers’ is an interesting synonym for concussion bombs.)
Despite this preparation, I needed something else. I took great comfort in coming up with A Plan. When the bear returned, through the window, I would be able to scoop all three children into my arms, dial Manny’s cell, use a ballet/ninja combination maneuver where I would pirouette and kick a kitchen chair into the bear’s path to slow him down, and barricade us into the room where the cat was now permanently attached to the corner. I practiced this scenario in my head. When no one else was looking, I practiced the pirouettes.
Days passed. I had a purpose. I was prepared. I had A Plan. What could go wrong?
Pride. That’s what could go wrong. Pride goeth before a fall, right? I had thought about how I would save my family, somehow rehabilitate the bear (because that was on my list, too), receive the Mother of the Year Award and some sort of Nobel Prize for Fierce-Momma, Tree-Hugging, Animal-Loving people.
Except that I forgot about this little thing called adrenaline. Adrenaline causes the body to do all sorts of crazy things, like cry and shake instead of execute ballet/ninja moves. And adrenaline happens when there is something unexpected, like when the bear doesn’t use the window …
Unfortunately, the bear had to be killed. He had lost all of his God-given fear of humans. We learned, later, that he weighed 500 pounds, the usual weight for an adult bear, and he was still only a kid in bear terms.
I got to say goodbye, which seems like a weird thing to do. I don’t know if Manny was trying to reassure us that the bear would be no more trouble, or if this warden somehow knew my tender heart. The bear’s body was still warm when I ran my fingers through his fur and my spirit whispered to his spirit in great sorrow.
That bear taught me a lesson that surfaces with every To Do List I write. I can have A Plan. I can move with Purpose. I can even tamp down my Pride with prayer and open minded-ness. Yet, I must never forget that someone, somewhere, is always feeding the bears. May that someone not be me.