The Bear Who Invoked Regret for All My Failed Relationships

He wasn’t a full-grown adult
nor a yearling or cub,
just an adolescent out exploring
the richness of his world,
morning sun warm on fur,
air fragrant with Mountain Cedar.
He hesitated, hearing an unfamiliar sound,
myself calling out in greeting.
I’ve never understood my fear,
no bear has ever made a threatening gesture,
still, I follow textbook wisdom,
calling out in an assertive, non-threatening voice,
to which I added a touch of friendliness.
At a distance of seventy-five yards,
he clearly discerned the source,
halting to look right at me.
I guess I put too much emphasis
on the friendliness part,
on he came,
cruising over rocks and fallen logs
with a graceful fluidity
any ballerina would respect.
I added more wood to my campfire,
called out again, this time
emphasizing assertiveness over friendliness,
on he came, now only thirty yards away.
Again I added wood to the fire,
now a respectable blaze,
my best defense, my only defense.
On he came.
He stopped fifty feet away, and
like an invited guest
offered the most comfortable chair,
he settled down on a flat rock, and
contemplated me like that famous Rodin statue.
I moved behind the fire.
My fear refused to relinquish its constricting hold, and
I don’t recollect how long that bear stayed,
several minutes at least.
He must’ve gotten bored or perhaps
miffed by my lack of good manners,
failing to offer breakfast,
not even so much as a handful of raisins.
Eventually he wandered off, and
I gradually returned to my morning routine,
sipping coffee, reading poetry.
An hour later movement caught my eye,
as I looked up, my heart
did a decent imitation of an exploding grenade.
There he was, not twenty feet away.
The violence of my reaction startled him,
he whipped about and raced off
faster than any animal that stocky
should have been able to move.

Today, years later, another solo trip,
camped at the same site, Big Dry Meadow,
I’ve seen fresh bear tracks all around, and
I remember that encounter with sadness.
Had fear not controlled my responses,
I could’ve enjoyed the experience more,
admiring the beauty of his black and tan coat,
marveling at his well-muscled physique.
Clearly he meant no harm, and
his bolting off implied mine
wasn’t the only skittish soul that day.
He feared, yet had the courage
to approach, perhaps merely out of curiosity,
still, proffering a unique experience,
a rare human/bear tête à tête.
This morning, camped at Big Dry,
sipping coffee, reading poetry,
I wish those fresh tracks
had been made by the same bear.
I dream he’ll come back,
I’ll recognize his unique black and tan markings.
This time, I won’t be so afraid,
this time I’ll be open to making a connection,
this time.


© Paul Hellweg. All rights reserved.