November 20, 2017

An outhouse Bear encounter as the result of an Invitation to Visit

Young Black Bear

An outhouse bear encounter as the result of an invitation to visit is an uncommon experience to say the least, even for most of us who live up here in the Great White North of bear country.

Yet that’s exactly what happened to me in 2008 during the very first season I spent on the mountaintop where I live and work as a Lookout during my summer fire watch season each year.

Given my marital and cultural connections to the First Nation’s people I live among in my community, I’ve also by choice adopted a good many of their perspectives and practices when it comes to how I view and treat the great outdoors and the wild inhabitants who live in it.

Chief among those practices is the great respect with which I choose to relate to the wild inhabitants of all species, but principally in this case the bear clans whose mountain I go to live on each summer. It’s a well known location among locals where the large populations of black, brown and grizzly bear all seem to live in a communal relationship that works for them all.

There’s a little knoll near the bottom of the mountain road leading to my watch tower and cabin facilities which are located at the top of it. It’s here that my principal act each year on my first trip in is to bring my vehicle to a stop, shut it down and climb out to stand on the roadway in the pristine silence of that place, and call out in words of prayer and high respect to the grandmothers and grandfathers of all those bear clans.

I identify myself to them with the Tlingit Indian name I was honored to be given by my Native mother knowing in my heart they will understand that name, and ask to be allowed to share their beautiful mountain habitat with them for the summer. I ask also that they protect and watch over me and my home there as well as my family and any other visitors who come up the mountain over the course of the coming months. I consciously invite them to send their family members up for a visit if they wish, and request that such visits be made only in a spirit of peace between us.

My last formal act in this annual process is to show my visible thanks to them for honoring those requests by sprinkling an offering of tobacco to the four directions of the winds which caress their home area, before returning to my vehicle to continue my journey to its top. Those requests have so far been honored by them in all of the five seasons I’ve been on their mountain, with only one notable visit by any of them to date.

That visit occurred of course within not only the first two months of my first year there – because they no doubt wanted to test the sincerity of my invitation and personal response to it – but was also timed quite humorously by them to coincide with an entirely normal and natural visit to the outhouse located twenty feet from the cabin itself.

To say that my visitors had a captive audience would certainly seem to fit the story in this instance – and as it turned out they certainly did but with a unique twist to the way it unfolded.

Upon my arrival there that year I’d also quickly adopted the habit of speaking aloud yet respectfully to the birds, squirrels, chipmunks and other critters that showed up around the area. At the moments of this story’s unfolding I was busily engaged not only in my outhouse activities, but also in that of trying to calm a squirrel that had set up an uncommonly persistent chatter on the side-hill nearby. It wasn’t working – the squirrel was entirely insistent in trying to warn me of something I hadn’t quite clued into just yet.

I discovered his reason immediately though in my peripheral vision as soon as I completed my business and took the first two steps from the outhouse door back toward the cabin.

Standing easy and looking right at me from four feet away at the other corner of the outhouse was a young two year old black bear weighing probably close to a hundred and eighty pounds or so. His coat was a gorgeous coal black in color all over him and shiny with the perfect health of his youth.

He looked calmly and quizzically at me as I simply stopped in my tracks and equally calmly turned to face and start talking to him saying “Well hello there, black bear. Welcome to my house. How are you doing today? Come up for a visit, have you? That’s good, I’m glad you came. Did your grandparents send you up to see me maybe? Well how about you thank them for me when you go back down and see them again. Tell them I really appreciate you having been sent up here, okay?”

The bear listened attentively to all of my words then simply turned around and walked away downhill a bit to stop and stand looking at me again from beside a willow bush located about fifteen feet from one corner of the cabin. I just as naturally followed him on a diagonal line to go stand by that corner of the cabin and continue my visit and conversation with him.

Once again he listened as attentively as the first time while I spoke, before finally turning again and continuing his walk farther down the slope below the cabin. It was as he reached a small pine tree forty or so feet down-slope that his twin stepped out from behind that same tree to look uphill at me. The first bear stopped beside the second and turned once more to look uphill at me as well. They made such a perfect picture between the two of them standing there that I instantly found myself wishing I had a camera in hand, and in that moment of wishing suddenly remembered the cell phone on my hip.

Grabbing it quickly in hand to activate it and get the camera function operable I simultaneously asked the bears whether they would mind if I took their picture together, but by the time I got it going they had decided I wasn’t to be allowed that privilege and disappeared into the trees and undergrowth covering the slope.

I recall smiling ruefully as I closed my cell phone and slid it back into its scabbard, understanding somehow that the simple act of their peaceful visit to come see me and judge my response to them were all that was deemed of importance by the grandmothers and grandfathers of all their clans. They had learned that answer from me and found it sufficient to their purposes, with nothing more left to be required of either of us.

I found myself content with that knowledge in the quiet of the aftermath, knowing also that they had both given and left me with a great gift by their passage through my life that day. My memories of this gentle and peaceful encounter with them would remain forever as an expression of that gift.

An outhouse bear encounter as the result of an invitation to visit is definitely uncommon and not recommended; unless you know your own heart and the high honor you’ve chosen to give room in it to the grandmothers and the grandfathers of all the bear clans who might choose to send such a visitor to you.

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