Monday, December 31, 2012
My very young son and I are asleep in a gymnasium ... somewhere. It is very dark. But also light, when it needs to be. We are on some sort of platform in the middle of the floor. I think we each have a bench. It's not always clear to me where we are.
Steve wakes me. Tells me there's a bear in the room. Somehow this makes eminent sense to me at the time. A bear is in the gym. Of course.
I am afraid. Steve is not.
It's one of those lighter moments. I can see the bear moving toward me. I'm relieved that it's not a grizzly. (I know about them.) It's a black bear--but a big one. And he's (she's?) moving directly toward me. I freeze.
The bear climbs the platform. Stands over me. Licks my face. (He/She has a rough tongue, this bear--and ursine breath would not inspire a perfumer.) I remain frozen. But Steve is more courageous. He stands and yells at the bear. Which promptly trots off somewhere.
And I was positive that this had really happened when I awoke in my bedroom early this morning. I lay there, thinking, heart pounding still, feeling enormous gratitude for my son, who had just saved me.
Only my son is forty now and lives more than a half-hour away. He has two sons of his own, 7 and 3. I knew this as I lay there, but the reality of that dream did not surrender easily to the dawn. For a few moments after I realized where I was, I even wondered if this bear-moment was something that had happened earlier. Back when Steve was a kid.
I don't often dream about bears. Just now and then. The dreams are never pleasant ones. They involve terror, flight, rapid heart rate. The dream-bears never catch me--no claws, teeth, Dyer-blood. But it's always close--sometimes very close.
I saw my first bear in the wild back in the early 1950s on a family trip into Yellowstone Park--in those days, by dirt road. We saw quite a few that time--as well as a moose swimming in Yellowstone Lake. It may have been then that my younger brother, Dave, and I began our fascination with bears. I still give him a bear calendar for Christmas now and then, send him bear-related objects and videos. (We both trembled and laughed at the documentary Grizzly Man.) Dave has seen a bear on his property in Becket, Mass. I'm sorry I wasn't there. And very glad, too.
In the summer of 1993, when I was hiking the Chilkoot Trail--Dyea, Alaska, to Lake Bennett, Yukon Territory--a bear wandered through the campsite at Finnegan's Point early my first morning. I didn't see him/her. But a young German man I met on the trail (Joachim Altvater) said he/she waltzed right through as if he/she owned the place. ("Joe," as Joachim asked me to call him, and I hiked the rest of the way together to Bennett, our bear-dar beeping continually.)
Some years earlier--1985 or so--Steve and I spent about a week in Tucson, AZ, watching the Tribe in spring training. We always went to the Tucson Zoo in the morning. There, one day, a tiger pissed on us (spraying right through the cage, an amazing volume), and we watched the polar bears, swimming around and around and around in their tank, each circuit eventually bringing them face-to-face with us, a moment during which they communicated quite clearly: We want to eat you.
I did eat bear meat once. It was canned. Not very good. I am very sure that bears would enjoy my taste far more. They might even, you know, lick my face first. To soften it up ...