Bear Brownie Part 4

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They were not there when I arrived, but I saw that they had spent the preceding day at home, and would, in all probability, be back soon after it was light. So I stayed in the immediate neighborhood, and before sunrise they returned. My mother was glad to see me, but I do not think I can say as much for my father. I told them where I had been, and of my visits to the town, and of poor Kahwa's death; and though at the time father did not seem to pay much attention to what I said, next day he suggested that we should move farther away from the neighborhood of men.

The following afternoon we started, making our way back along the stream by which we had descended, and soon finding ourselves once more in the region that had been swept by fire. It was still desolate, but the two months that had pa.s.sed had made a wonderful difference. It was covered by the bright red flowers of a tall plant standing nearly as high as a bear's head, which shoots up all over the charred soil whenever a tract of forest is burned. Other undergrowth may come up in the following spring, but for the first year nothing appears except the red "fireweed," and that grows so thickly that the burnt wood is a blaze of color, out of which the blackened trunks of the old trees stand up naked and gaunt.

We pa.s.sed several houses of men by the waterside, and gave them a wide berth. We learned from the beavers and the ospreys that a number of men had gone up the stream during the summer, and few had come back, so that now there must be many more of them in the district swept by the fire than there had been before. We did not wish to live in the burnt country, however, because there was little food to be found there, and under the fireweed the ground was still covered with a layer of the bitter black stuff, which, on being disturbed, got into one's throat and eyes and nostrils. So we turned southwards along the edge of the track of the fire, and soon found ourselves in a country that was entirely new to us, though differing little in general appearance from the other places with which we were familiar--the same unbroken succession of hills and gulches covered with the dense growth of good forest trees. It was, in fact, bears' country; and in it we felt at home.

For the most part we travelled in the morning and evening; but the summer was gone now, and on the higher mountains it was sometimes bitterly cold, so we often kept on moving all day. We were not going anywhere in particular: only endeavoring to get away from man, and, if possible, to find a region where he had never been. But it seemed as if man now was pushing in everywhere. We did not see him, but continually we came across the traces of him along the banks of the streams. The beavers, and the kingfishers, of course, know everything that goes on along the rivers. Nothing can pa.s.s upstream or down without going by the beaver-dams, and the beavers are always on the watch. You might linger about a beaver-dam all day, and except for the smell, which a man would not notice, you would not believe there was a beaver near. But they are watching you from the cracks and holes in their homes, and in the evening, if they are not afraid of you, you will be astonished to see twenty or thirty beavers come out to play about what you thought was an empty house. We never pa.s.sed a dam without asking about man, and always it was the same tale. Men had been there a week ago, or the day before, or when the moon last was full. And the kingfishers and the ospreys told us the same things. So we kept on our way southward.

As the days went on I grew to think less of Kahwa; the memory of those nights spent in the town, with the lights, and the strange noises, and the warm man-smell all about me, began to fade until they all seemed more like incidents of a dream than scenes which I had actually lived through only a few weeks before. I began to feel more as I used to feel in the good old days before the fire, and came again to be a part of the wild, wholesome life of the woods. Moreover, I was growing; my mother said that I was growing fast. No puma would have dared to touch me now, and my unusual experiences about the town had bred in me a spirit of independence and self-reliance, so that other cubs of my own age whom we met, and who, of course, had lived always with their parents, always seemed to me younger than I; and certainly I was bigger and stronger than any first-year bear that I saw. On the whole, I would have been fairly contented with life had it not been for the estrangement which was somehow growing up between my father and myself. I could not help feeling that, though I knew not why, he would have been glad to have me go away again. So I kept out of his way as much as possible, seldom speaking to him, and, of course, not venturing to share any food that he found. On the first evening after my return he had rolled over an old log, and mother and I went up as a matter of course to see what was there; but he growled at me in a way that made me stand off while he and mother finished the fungi and the beetles. After that I kept my distance. It did not matter much, for I was well able to forage for myself. But I would have preferred to have him kinder. His unkindness, however, did not prevent him from taking for himself anything which he wanted that I had found. One day I came across some honey, from which he promptly drove me away, and I had to look on while he and mother shared the feast between them.

At last we came to a stream where the beavers told us that no man had been seen in the time of any member of their colony then living. The stream, which was here wide enough to be a river, came from the west, and for two or three days we followed it down eastwards, and found no trace or news of man; so we turned back up it again--back past the place where we had first struck it--and on along its course for another day's journey into the mountains. It was, perhaps, too much to hope that we had lighted on a place where man would never come; but at least we knew that for a distance of a week's travelling in all directions he never yet had been, and it might be many years before he came. Meanwhile we should have a chance to live our lives in peace.

Here we stayed, moving about very little, and feeding as much as we could; for winter was coming on, and a bear likes to be fat and well fed before his long sleep. It rained a good deal now, as it always does in the mountains in the late autumn, and as a general rule the woods were full of mist all day, in which we went about tearing the roots out of the soft earth, eating the late blueberries where we could find them, and the cranberries and the elderberries, which were ripe on the bushes, now and then coming across a clump of nut-trees, and once in a while, the greatest of all treats, revelling in a feast of honey.

One morning, after a cold and stormy night, we saw that the tops of the highest mountains were covered with snow. It might be a week or two yet before the snow fell over the country as a whole, or it might be only a day or two; for the wind was blowing from the north, biting cold, and making us feel numb and drowsy. So my father decided that it was time to make our homes for the winter. He had already fixed upon a spot where a tree had fallen and torn out its roots, making a cave well shut in on two sides, and blocked on a third by another fallen log; and here, without thinking, I had taken it as a matter of course that we should somehow all make our winter homes together. But when that morning he started out, with mother after him, and I attempted to follow, he drove me away. I followed yet for a while, but he kept turning back and growling at me, and at last told me bluntly that I must go and shift for myself. I took it philosophically, I think, but it was with a heavy heart that I turned away to seek a winter home for myself.

It did not take me long to decide on the spot. At the head of a narrow gully, where at some time or other a stream must have run, there was a tree half fallen, and leaning against the hillside. A little digging behind the tree would make as snug and sheltered a den as I could want.

So I set to work, and in the course of a few hours I had made a sufficiently large hollow, and into it I sc.r.a.ped all the leaves and pine-needles in the neighborhood, and, by working about inside and turning round and round, I piled them up on all sides until I had a nest where I was perfectly sheltered, with only an opening in front large enough to go in and out of. This opening I would almost close when the time came, but for the present I left it open and lived inside, sleeping much of the time, but still continuing for a week or ten days to go out in the mornings and evenings for food. But it was getting colder and colder, and the woods had become strangely silent. The deer had gone down to the lower ground at the first sign of coming winter, and the coyotes and the wolves had followed to spend the cold months in the foot-hills and on the plains about the haunts of man. The woodchucks were already asleep below-ground, and of the birds only the woodp.e.c.k.e.rs and the crossbills, and some smaller birds fluttering among the pine-branches, remained. There was a fringe of ice along the edges of the streams, and the kingfishers and the ospreys had both flown to where the waters would remain open throughout the year. The beavers had been very busy for some time, but now, if one went to the nearest dam in the evening, there was not a sign of life.

At last the winter came. It had been very cold and gray for a day or two, and I felt dull and torpid. And then, one morning towards mid-day, the white flakes began to fall. There had been a few little flurries of snow before, lasting only for a minute or two; but this was different.

The great flakes fell slowly and softly, and soon the whole landscape began to grow white. Through the opening in my den I watched the snow falling for some time, but did not venture out; and as the afternoon wore on, and it only fell faster and faster, I saw that it would soon pile up and close the door upon me.

There was no danger of its coming in, for I had taken care that the roof overhung far enough to prevent anything falling in from above, and the den was too well sheltered for the wind to drift the snow inside. So I burrowed down into my leaves and pine-needles, and worked them up on both sides till only a narrow slit of an opening remained, and through this slit, sitting back on my haunches against the rear of the little cave I watched the white wall rising outside. All that night and all next day it snowed, and by the second evening there was hardly a ray of light coming in. I remember feeling a certain pride in being all alone, in the warm nest made by myself, for the first time in my life; and I sat back and mumbled at my paw, and grew gradually drowsier and drowsier, till I hardly knew when the morning came, for I was very sleepy and the daylight scarcely pierced the wall of snow outside. And before another night fell I was asleep, while outside the white covering which was to shut me in for the next four months at least, was growing thicker. Under it I was as safe and snug up there in the heart of the mountains as ever a man could be in any house that he might build.



Have you any idea how frightfully stiff one is after nearly five months'

consecutive sleep? Of course, a bear is not actually asleep for the greater part of the time, but in a deliciously drowsy condition that is halfway between sleeping and waking. It is very good. Of course, you lose all count and thought of time; days and weeks and months are all the same. You only know that, having been asleep, you are partly awake again. There is no light, but you can see the wall of your den in front of you, and dimly you know that, while all the world outside is snow-covered and swept with bitter winds, and the earth is gripped solid in the frost, you are very warm and comfortable. Changes of temperature do not reach you, and you sit and croon to yourself and mumble your paws, and all sorts of thoughts and tangled sc.r.a.ps of dreams go swimming through your head until, before you know it, you have forgotten everything and are asleep again.

Then again you find yourself awake. Is it hours or days or weeks since you were last awake? You do not know, and it does not matter. So you croon, and mumble, and dream, and sleep again; and wake, and croon, and mumble, and dream.

At last a day comes when you wake into something more like complete consciousness than you have known since you shut yourself up. There is a new feeling in the air; a sense of moisture and fresh smells are mingling with the warm dry scent of your den. And you are aware that you have not changed your position for more than a quarter of a year, but have been squatting on your heels, with your back against the wall and your nose folded into your paws across your breast; and you want to stretch your hind-legs dreadfully. But you do not do it. It is still too comfortable where you are. You may move a little, and have a vague idea that it might be rather nice outside. But you do not go to see; you only take the other paw into your mouth, and, still crooning to yourself, you are asleep again.

This happens again and again, and each time the change in the feeling of the air is more marked, and the scents of the new year outside grow stronger and more pungent. At last one day comes daylight, where the snow has melted from the opening in front of you, and with the daylight comes the notes of birds and the ringing of the woodp.e.c.k.e.r--rat-tat-tat-tat! rat-tat-tat-tat!--from a tree near by. But even these signs that the spring is at hand again would not tempt you out if it were not for another feeling that begins to a.s.sert itself, and will not let you rest. You find you are hungry, horribly hungry. It is of no use to say to yourself that you are perfectly snug and contented where you are, and that there is all the spring and summer to get up in.

You are no longer contented. It is nearly five months since you had your last meal, and you will not have another till you go out for yourself and get it. Mumbling your paws will not satisfy you. There is really nothing for it but to get up.

But, oh, what a business it is, that getting up! Your shoulders are cramped and your back is stiff; and as for your legs underneath you, you wonder if they will really ever get supple and strong again. First you lift your head from your breast and try moving your neck about, and sniff at the walls of your den. Then you unfold your arms, and--ooch!--how they crack, first one and then the other! At last you begin to roll from one side to the other, and try to stretch each hind-leg in turn; then cautiously letting yourself drop on all fours, you give a step, and before you know it you have staggered out into the open air.

It is very early in the morning, and the day is just breaking, and all the mountain-side is covered with a clinging pearly mist; but to your eyes the light seems very strong, and the smell of the new moist earth and the resinous scent of the pines almost hurt your nostrils. One side of the gully in front of you is brown and bare, but in the bottom, and clinging to the other side, are patches of moist and half-melted snow, and on all sides you hear the drip of falling moisture and the ripple of little streams of water which are running away to swell the creeks and rivers in every valley bottom.

You are shockingly unsteady on your feet, and feel very dazed and feeble; but you are also hungrier than ever now, with the keen morning air whetting your appet.i.te, and the immediate business ahead of you is to find food. So you turn to the bank at your side and begin to grub; and as you grub you wander on, eating the roots that you scratch up and the young shoots of plants that are appearing here and there. And all the time the day is growing, and the sensation is coming back to your limbs, and your hunger is getting satisfied, and you are wider and wider awake. And, thoroughly interested in what you are about, before you are aware of it, you are fairly started on another year of life.

That is how a bear begins each spring. It may be a few days later or a few days earlier when one comes out; but the sensations are the same.

You are always just as stiff, and the smells are as pungent, and the light is as strong, and the hunger as great. For the first few days you really think of nothing but of finding enough to eat. As soon as you have eaten, and eaten until you think you are satisfied, you are hungry again; and so you wander round looking for food, and going back to your den to sleep.

That spring when I came out it was very much as it had been the spring before, when I was a little cub. The squirrels were chattering in the trees (I wondered whether old Blacky had been burned in the fire), and the woodp.e.c.k.e.r was as busy as ever--rat-tat-tat-tat!

rat-tat-tat-tat!--overhead. There were several woodchucks--fat, waddling things--living in the same gully with me, and they had been abroad for some days when I woke up. On my way down to the stream on that first morning, I found a porcupine in my path, but did not stop to slap it. By the river's bank the little brown-coated minks were hunting among the gra.s.s, and by the dam the beavers were hard at work protecting and strengthening their house against the spring floods, which were already rising.

It was only a couple of hundred yards or so from my den to the stream, and for the first few days I hardly went farther than that. But it was impossible that I should not all the time--that is, as soon as I could think of anything except my hunger--be contrasting this spring with the spring before, when Kahwa and I had played about the rock and the cedar-trees, and I had tumbled down the hill. And the more I thought of it, the less I liked being alone. And my father and mother, I knew, must be somewhere close by me--for I presumed they had spent the winter in the spot that they had chosen--so I made up my mind to go and join them again.

It was in the early evening that I went, about a week after I had come out of my winter-quarters, and I had no trouble in finding the place; but when I did find it I also found things that I did not expect.

"Surely," I said to myself as I came near, "that is little Kahwa's voice!" There could be no doubt of it. She was squealing just as she used to do when she tried to pull me away from the rock by my hind-foot.

So I hurried on to see what it could mean, and suddenly the truth dawned upon me.

My parents had two new children. I had never thought of that possibility. I heard my mother's voice warning the cubs that someone was coming, and as I appeared the young ones ran and smuggled up to her, and stared at me as if I was a stranger and they were afraid of me, as I suppose they were. It made me feel awkward, and almost as if my mother was a stranger, too; but after standing still a little time and watching them I walked up. Mother met me kindly and the cubs kept behind her and out of the way. I spoke to mother and rubbed noses with her, and told her that I was glad to see her. She evidently thought well of me, and I was rather surprised, when standing beside her, to find that she was not nearly so much bigger than I as I had supposed.

But before I had been there more than a minute mother gave me warning that father was coming, and, turning, I saw him walking down the hillside towards us. He saw me at the same time, and stopped and growled. At first, I think, not knowing who I was, he was astonished to see my mother talking to a strange bear. When he did recognize me, however, I might still have been a stranger, for any friendliness that he showed. He sat up on his haunches and growled, and then came on slowly, swinging his head, and obviously not at all disposed to welcome me. Again I was surprised, to see that he was not as big as I had thought, and for a moment wild ideas of fighting him, if that was what he wanted, came into my head. I wished to stay with mother, and even though he was my father, I did not see why I should go away alone and leave her. But, tall though I was getting, I had not anything like my father's weight, and, however bitterly I might wish to rebel, rebellion was useless. Besides, my mother, though she was kind to me, would undoubtedly have taken my father's part, as it was right that she should do.

So I moved slowly away as my father came up, and as I did so even the little cubs growled at me, siding, of course, with their father against the stranger whom they had never seen. Father did not try to attack me, but walked up to mother and began licking her, to show that she belonged to him. I disliked going away, and thought that perhaps he would relent; but when I sat down, as if I was intending to stay, he growled and told me that I was not wanted.

I ought by this time to have grown accustomed to being alone, and to have been incapable of letting myself be made miserable by a snub, even from my father. But I was not; I was wretched. I do not think that even on the first night after Kahwa was caught, or on that morning when I saw her dead, that I felt as completely forlorn as I did that day when I turned away from my mother, and went down the mountain-side back to my own place alone. The squirrels chattered at me, and the woodp.e.c.k.e.r rat-tat-tat-ed, and the woodchuck scurried away, and I hated them all. What company were they to me? I was lonely, and I craved the companionship of my own kind.

But it was to be a long time before I found it. I was now a solitary bear, with my own life to live and my own way to make in the world, with no one to look to for guidance and no one to help me if I needed help; but many regarded me as an enemy, and would have rejoiced if I were killed.

In those first days I thought of the surly solitary bear who had taken our home while we were away, and whom I had vowed some day to punish; and I began to understand in some measure why he was so bad-tempered. If we had met then, I almost believe I would have tried to make friends with him.

I have said that many animals would have rejoiced had I been killed.

This is not because bears are the enemies of other wild things, for we really kill very little except beetles and other insects, frogs and lizards, and little things like mice and chipmunks. We are not as the wolves, the coyotes, the pumas, or the weasels, which live on the lives of other animals, and which every other thing in the woods regards as its sworn foe. Still, smaller animals are mostly afraid of us, and the carca.s.s of a dead bear means a feast for a number of hungry things. If a bear cannot defend his own life, he will have no friends to do it for him; and while, as I have said before, a full-grown bear in the mountains has no need to fear any living thing, man always excepted, in stand-up fight, it is none the less necessary to be always on one's guard.

In my case fear had nothing to do with my hatred of loneliness. Even the thought of man himself gave me no uneasiness. I was sure that no human beings were as yet within many miles of my home, and I knew that I should always have abundant warning of their coming. Moreover, I already knew man. He was not to me the thing of terror and mystery that he had been a year ago, or that he still was to most of the forest folk. I had cause enough, it is true, to know how dangerous and how savagely cruel he was, and for that I hated him. But I had also seen enough of him to have a contempt for his blindness and his lack of the sense of scent.

Had I not again and again, when in the town, dodged round the corner of a building, and waited while he pa.s.sed a few yards away, or stood immovable in the dark shadow of a building, and looked straight at him while he went by utterly unconscious that I was near? Nothing could live in the forest for a week with no more eyesight, scent, or hearing than a man possesses, and without his thunder-stick he would be as helpless as a lame deer. All this I understood, and was not afraid that, if our paths should cross again, I should not be well able to take care of myself.

But while there was no fear added to my loneliness, the loneliness itself was bad enough. Having none to provide for except myself, I had no difficulty in finding food. For the first few weeks, I think, I did nothing but wander aimlessly about and sleep, still using my winter den for that purpose. As the summer came on, however, I began to rove, roaming usually along the streams, and sleeping there in the cool herbage by the water's edge during the heat of the day. My chief pleasure, I think, was in fishing, and I was glad my mother had shown me how to do it. No bear, when hungry, could afford to fish for his food, for it takes too long; but I had all my time to myself, and nearly every morning and evening I used to get my trout for breakfast or for supper. At the end of a long, hot day, I know nothing pleasanter than, after lying a while in the cold running water, to stretch one's self out along the river's edge, under the shadow of a bush, and wait, paw in water, till the trout come gliding within striking distance; and then the sudden stroke, and afterwards the comfortable meal off the cool juicy fish in the soft night air. I became very skilful at fishing, and, from days and days of practice, it was seldom indeed that I lost my fish if once I struck.

Time, too, I had for honey-hunting, but I was never sure that it was worth the trouble and pain. In nine cases out of ten the honey was too deeply buried in a tree for me to be able to reach it, and in trying I was certain to get well stung for my pains. Once in a while, however, I came across a comb that was easy to reach, and the chance of one of those occasional finds made me spend, not hours only, but whole days at a time, looking for the bees' nests.

Along by the streams were many blueberry-patches, though none so large as that which had cost Kahwa her life; but during the season I could always find berries enough. And so, fishing and bee-hunting, eating berries and digging for roots, I wandered on all through the summer. I had no one place that I could think of as a home more than any other. I preferred not to stay near my father and mother, and so let myself wander, heading for the most part westward, and farther into the mountains as the summer grew, and then in the autumn turning south again. I must have wandered over many hundred miles of mountain, but when the returning chill in the air told me that winter was not very far away, I worked round so as to get back into somewhat the same neighborhood as I had been in last winter, no more, perhaps, than ten miles away.

On the whole, it was an uneventful year. Two or three times I met a grizzly, and always got out of the way as fast as I could. Once only I found myself in the neighborhood of man, and I gave him a wide berth.

Many times, of course--in fact, nearly every day--I met other bears like myself, and sometimes I made friends with them, and stayed in their company for the better part of a day, perhaps at a berry-patch or in the wide shallows of a stream. But there was no place for me--a strong, growing he-bear, getting on for two years old--in any of the families that I came across. Parents with young cubs did not want me. Young bears in their second year were usually in couples. The solitary bears that I met were generally older than I, and, though we were friendly on meeting, neither cared for the other's companionship. Again and again in these meetings I was struck by the fact, that I was unusually big and strong for my age, the result, I suppose, as I have already said, of the accident that threw me on my own resources so young. I never met young bears of my own age that did not seem like cubs to me. Many times I came across bears who were one and even two years older than myself, but who had certainly no advantage of me in height, and, I think, none in weight. But I had no occasion to test my strength in earnest that summer, and when winter came, and the mountainpeaks in the neighborhood showed white again against the dull gray sky, I was still a solitary animal, and acutely conscious of my loneliness.

That year I made my den in a cave which I found high up on a mountain-side, and which had evidently been used by bears at some time or other, though not for the last year or two. There I made my nest with less trouble than the year before, and at the first serious snowfall I shut myself up for another long sleep.



The next spring was late. We had a return of cold weather long after winter ought to have been over, and for a month or more after I moved out it was no easy matter to find food enough. The snow had been unusually deep, and had only half melted when the cold returned, so that the remaining half stayed on the ground a long while, and sometimes it took me all my time, grubbing up camas roots, turning over stones and logs, and ripping the bark off fallen trees, to find enough to eat to keep me even moderately satisfied. Besides the mice and chipmunks which I caught, I was forced by hunger to dig woodchucks out of their holes, and eat the young ones, though hitherto I had never eaten any animal so large.

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Bear Brownie Part 4 summary

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