…she’s been coming ’round here.
Well, the dramatic event of October has been "The Bear." We first met at 5 pm– though from a distance, as it was. She was sitting in our Dumpster. I was staring open-mouthed from the top floor of the hostel, trying to place the words "bear," "daylight," and "hostellers will be here any ?#$!! minute" in the same stuttering sentence. When the first hosteller finally pulled into the parking lot (an interminable 2 minutes after ‘the sighting’), the bear hopped out of the Dumpster and scampered into the woods.
That was the beginning.
She returned, of course. Who wouldn’t try to scam another free meal from an unlocked Dumpster? So she came back, and so we locked the Dumpster, and so she nearly pried open an unfortunate hosteller’s rear window (and then belly flopped on the roof in either a last-ditch effort or dramatic denouement).
Redwood National & State Park rangers searched for her, laid humane bear traps and waited, to no avail. So when a forgetful hosteller left trash on the back deck, she feasted again. And then one fine Thursday I propped open the front door for a bit of sweeping and fresh air, and when I wasn’t looking, our bear came inside.
We didn’t talk much. I opened the office door and nearly walked into the 150-pound fuzzy black bear wedged in the entryway (waiting, almost as if she wanted to check in), slammed the door shut, called 911, and watched her black rump back up from the entryway to the front porch, whereupon she turned around and saw through the window a terrified white woman clutching a cordless phone and extra-large canister of "pepper spray for bears."
She stepped towards me with an expression something to the effect of, "You alright, love? You look…troubled."
After a million year wait, she concluded her daily visit and went home. But the next day, a Friday evening to be exact, my husband was in the hostel’s office when he heard something rubbing against the window. Looked up and there she was, with her paws on the window like a kitten ready to come back in. Ryan gallantly grabbed the air horn (recent purchase from Wal-Mart) and Super Soaker water gun (recommended by the "Non-lethal Bear Management" pamphlet we’d downloaded the night before) and proceeded to make loud noises until she left. I assisted from my post at the upstairs fire exit, banging pot lids together and shouting "Go away, bear!" (another recommendation from the pamphlet), along with our 2-year-old son and two hostellers who’d just returned from Alaska and its grizzlies, and so were more amused than scared.
Ms. Bear ran off with the air horn in pursuit, but we let up once she’d left the yard. Not 10 minutes later, we heard the clanging of paw against metal, a sound originating from the parking lot…where the park had set the bear trap! Indeed, having failed in convincing the humans that she belonged ’round the hostel’s dinner table, she finally took the bait and got herself caught.
Once I became certain the bear was locked up and out of reach, this unexpected sadness filled my insides. Sadness that our only way to co-exist, the bear and us, is the make her so uncomfortable and so unhappy with the whole situation that she thinks of us, and the hostel, as an unwelcoming place. It’s what needs to happen, of course, if we are to share this edge of wilderness together. But still, I try to remember all the years, the thousands of years, and hundreds of thousands of years, when her backyard was ours and ours was hers, when we were both wild.