The black bear in the kitchen
AARON BESWICK SALTWIRE email@example.com @chronicleherald
SALTWIRE AROUND THE PROVINCE
Yelling at wildlife can take a curious turn as you run out of things to say. “We can’t be friends. … I don’t have (expletive) time for this,” I found myself hollering at the juvenile black bear. “Stop looking at me that way!” It had bothered to climb about a metre up the red maple by my Antigonish County home, before leaning back to look at me, seemingly unimpressed. Before I could think better of it, I contemplated myself. It was 5:30 a.m. and I was in thread-bare airplane boxers clutching my plastic broom. Fortunately, I didn’t have a mirror. “I’m going back inside,” I told the bear, slamming the door behind me. On Wednesday, my six and seven year olds went back to school and I, like much of the rest of this province, sighed with relief. There’s a threeyear waiting list for child care in Antigonish County, and even the licensed daycares close for the summer. For the many thousands in this province who work and parent, July and August are a slog to get through. The boys’ mom and I are blessed with flexible workplaces so through the summer they go back and forth between our homes and we both manage. But the reality, for me anyway, of working and parenting at the same time is that I do neither well. Strain accumulates. Seeing that big yellow bus pull away, taking my little dears to be wards of the state for the day, brought me back to the young bear that helped me when I bottomed out this summer. It was a Friday. I’d spent the prior two days stomping up South Shore rivers collecting interviews for a feature on the conflict over juvenile American eels (elvers) that I now had to get written. I was taking the boys to a family friend’s funeral in Port Hawkesbury at 10 a.m. Getting up at 4:30 a.m., I figured I could get the story largely done before the boys woke, bribe them with the promise of bags of chips if they didn’t fight on the drive and stayed in our pew at the service, get home, throw some sad version of a lunch in front of them and get the story filed. The day would run on tight margins. At 5:26 a.m., I was in that good spot – on my second cup of coffee, focused, pounding away at the keyboard on the kitchen counter like a train going down the tracks. I heard the cat come in the door I’d opened so it could have breakfast (they live outside during the summer to avoid bringing fleas and ticks in the house) from its dish beside my feet. I didn’t look down, because, like I said, I was a freight train and it felt good. At a moment when the concentration cracked, I looked down. Jinxie was watching the bear eat its food. All three of us were together in the kitchen, like a happy family. I call it the bear because this animal and I were acquainted with each other. This one was what locals call a kick-out bear – a previous year’s cub who’d been sent packing by its mama. The garbage box had been the draw that brought it to the yard. In the mornings as I cleaned up my strewn refuse, cursing and wrestling with increasingly convoluted contrivances to make my garbage unassailable, the bear would come to watch. The cat would watch too. They didn’t understand why we couldn’t all be friends. When the little darlings were finally down in the evenings, I found myself reading Wikipedia articles on Wojtek, the Syrian brown bear adopted by a Polish regiment fleeing Stalin’s armies in the Second World War. It shared cots with the troops, fought with them through the Italian campaign, attained the rank of corporal and took up the habits of the time – learning to smoke cigarettes and developing a taste for vodka. But I had kids I needed to be able to play outside while I work from home, so I’d chase the bear away yelling and flailing my arms about like the civilized product of evolution I am. And now, here it was in the kitchen. There was a pause as I looked down, hands still on the laptop. It occurred to me that over the prior week, the cats’ bowl had been licked clean each day – Jinxie had always stopped eating on principle as soon as she could see the dish’s bottom. Then a stream of oaths inherited from the outport Newfoundland, Irish Catholic side of my family. Then the great catharsis of the chase. Then the unpleasant selfassessment (airplane boxers, broom, etc). Back at my computer staring at the screen desperate for my lost focus. Sawyer, seven , came down the stairs in his jammies. “The bear’s on the deck, Dad,” he said looking out the window. Jinxie was sitting beside it. A chuckle spread through me. It was one of those precious laughs that is for everything. Sawyer, with his child’s wisdom, joined me. It turned out to be a good day. The boys got their chips. The story got filed. I haven’t seen the bear since I stopped feeding it cat food. Hopefully it’s out there leading its best life. The big yellow school bus is back. And we got through one more summer that, someday, I will look back on and miss so much.