3. The Bear Truth
I grew up on a dairy farm in the woodlands of Maine, where daisy-pocked meadows were my playground, and dense forests—my sanctuary. Every day was an adventure for me, from climbing oaks and maples high above the roof of our farmhouse—to searching for green, slithery snakes under rocks. I lived outdoors—and fondly remember my mother lining her freshly cleaned floors with paths of newspapers to keep our grubby feet from soiling her hard work. Cold weather didn’t keep us indoors—old socks replaced soaked, woolen mittens. The sweet, musty smell of wet wool drying on an open oven door is forever locked in the memory of my youth. Late summer nights and daunting porch lights shadowing tall stalks of goldenrod created an alluring world for twilight hide and seek, which was interrupted only by the incessant buzz of pesky mosquitoes, or the distraction of mystifying fireflies.
Our farm bordered several acres of meadows to the north and south, with a long stretch of corn to the east. A well-worn path made first by grazing cows, and then by the patter of our tiny feet, weaved through the tall meadows. Old forests—untouched for hundreds of years, surrounded the whole, like a green blanket wrapped tight about its child. It was not unusual for me to look to the meadows and see a fox scurrying along, or to the large patch of red and black raspberries that grew near a grove of trees close to our house and see other wild animals like skunks, porcupines, raccoons, and even moose. If I awoke early enough, I could see herds of deer from my bedroom window. Later in the day, we’d find deep impressions in the soft grass made from their night of peaceful sleep.
A single row of trees growing sporadically alongside a rock wall split the meadows south of the farm. As children, we named each tree and rock according to their particular size, shape or function. Slide Rock, Bed Rock, Picnic Rock, and Gum Tree all embraced childhood play and wonder. Picnic Rock is where this story took place.
“Aunt Anna’s here! Aunt Anna’s here!” We jumped up and down with excitement when her car pulled into our long driveway. Aunt Anna always brought candy. But this particular time, she brought a new doll, too. I saw the doll first, and grabbed for it, but so did my older sister and a fight ensued. Aunt Anna put a quick stop to it, informing me that it was indeed for JoAnn. For the first time in my young life, a rather colorful word popped out of my mouth.
Who knows why one flees during times like that?—Embarrassment? Fear of having my skinny legs stung with a thin, homemade switch?—or my mouth washed out with a nasty bar of soap? Alas, I ran down through the meadow all the way to Picnic Rock, climbed up on it, and pouted.
My mind was a jumble of emotions—embarrassment, shame, self-pity—I did feel a bit justified, too, after all, I had seen it first. When all of the sudden, I caught a glimpse of something brown lumbering over a small knoll, and then meandering its way down the path through the tall goldenrod towards me—separating me from my house.
A big, brown bear weaved through the tall grass towards me. Fear gripped my tiny heart. What could I do? How could I get safely back to my house? I wanted to pray for help, but how does one ask God for help directly after doing something wrong? I had learned about repentance in the Baptist church my family attended, but how does one sincerely ask for forgiveness while in the wake of danger? I didn’t know how to do it any other way, so I just asked, took a deep breath, and climbed down off the rock. I walked slowly up the path, the only way I knew to get to safety, having faith that I would be protected, even though I could see the bear coming straight towards me.
The bear got about ten feet away from me and then stopped. It rose up on its hind legs and let out a bellowing grunt of disgust, as Mom’s old, brown, fur coat fell off my brother, Donnie’s shoulders. I was temporarily in shock, but then broke out in giggles, trying to hide my enormous relief. Donnie was quite disappointed, and grumbled, “Why weren’t you scared?”
You would think that perhaps I would have told him of my deep faith in God, and that I had been indeed, terribly frightened. What a tale of truth that would have been, but instead my young, clever mouth blurted out, “Oh Donnie! I knew it was you all the time!” And I, alas, began a life of constant repentance…
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