Fayston, Vermont. Barking woke me up. Linus and Charlie were sounding the alarm downstairs, loudly. I looked at my bedside clock: 11:30. Probably a mouse or maybe a raccoon on the deck. I’m not going downstairs. Charlie spooks easily and Linus barks at the t.v. The visitor will move on, then the dogs will quiet, I told myself as I pulled the pillow over my ears.
The barking became even more frenzied, joined by a third voice. A low, deep, measured bark under the alarm bells. Lucy. Golden retriever who’s never met a stranger Lucy. Hers was not an alarm, but a call for back-up.
I made my way in the dark, down the stairs as fast as my arthritic joints would allow, switched on the outside light, and shrieked with surprise. I was standing a few feet away from A BEAR.
We looked at each other through the window, the bear blinking at me in the sudden light. I took in its beautiful, thick, glossy coat and healthy, bright eyes. It was full-grown but young. Probably the same one who left prints on the driveway recently. A leaf was dangling from its mouth like salad interrupted. I wanted to reach through the glass to touch its head and brush away the food from its face.
“What is it?” my husband finally called down from upstairs.
“A bear,” I softly replied, not wanting it to run away just yet.
“Big or little?”
That’s a ridiculous question, I thought. Instead, I answered “In-between?”
Footsteps down the bedroom stairs broke the spell. The bear plodded around our emerging herb garden and ran into the trees at the back of our yard. (The dogs are not as polite – they run straight through the garden.) We could still see the bear in the shadows cast by the outside light.
My husband returned to bed. I waited a long while before I went on the deck to close the gate. I brought inside the Brussel sprouts awaiting transplant. One of the plants had definitely been nibbled, but the others were untouched.
I guess bears don’t like Brussel sprouts.
Ed. note: Our house borders on state land. When we bought the house about six years ago, the sellers told us we’d have a moose and bears. We were not concerned as we were coming from New Jersey, where the bears are big, sometimes aggressive, and love throwing pool parties. Since we moved in, I’ve seen a bear on the road a few times, but not close to the house. In the yard, I’ve seen an ermine, an eight-point buck, and all sorts of rodents and birds. Plus a variety of reptiles and amphibians. Linus met a porcupine once, but that’s another story. Where the driveway meets the road, I’ve seen a family of fishers, a doe and twin fawns, turkeys, and a coyote. Still waiting to see a moose.
On a walk a few days after the visit, I smiled as I followed familiar bear tracks down the middle of the road. The footprints made wilderness-styled street markings drawn in the dirt, a message left by my neighbor.