I had my first face-to-face bear experience last week in the wee hours of the morning when I was awakened by the cow bell that hangs on our bird feeder. I got out of bed to check and expected to find a raccoon climbing the pole, but instead I found a young black bear heavy enough to bring the pole crashing to the ground. I walked to the deck rail to get a better look in the dawn light, and I found myself standing just a few feet above the bear who looked up and me and wailed. We scared each other. The bear ran to the nearest tree and tried to climb it and I ran back in the house. That was the end of that. But I’ll never forget it.
We watch our birdfeeder the way some people watch TV. So many different species of birds pay a visit, chat with friends while they wait their turn and lounge about in the surrounding trees. Our feeder is like the neighborhood bar where they sometimes munch amicably and other times brawl. The jays and the woodpeckers are hoodlums, feisty gangs like the Sharks and the Jets, trash talking and intimidating, while the grosbeaks and the doves sit on the sidelines, awaiting a more civilized atmosphere, along with the finches, sparrows, and chickadees. It’s a mild amusement that catches my fancy and connects me to the land.
After the bear we took down the birdfeeder as a precaution, but not for long. Without the feeder there was an eerie silence in the air around the deck, like a blank screen. We looked out the window at empty space and we missed the birds. So, we rationalized the risk of the bear returning, put out some sunflower seeds, and the birds are back all around. Vultures sweep the skies tracking deer placenta, wild turkeys learn to avoid the dog and owls sing us to sleep. Living with these creatures is a luxury.
My grandmother introduced me to wrens and there is a pair now living in a birdhouse on my garden fence who warble and flit while I crawl in the dirt, planting seeds and pinching weeds. I’m learning to garden in the Pacific Northwest after 40 years on the East Coast. The weather here is milder and the landscape is green year-round, so I planted seeds in March. Then April was cold and cloudy, and my seeds sat for weeks waiting for sun. Now my spinach is humble, and my cilantro is pale and short. But my snap peas are glorious. This morning I made an omelet of chives and chard.
These are the small pleasures of life on the hill. The sky over the Emerald Valley has been bright blue for a couple days and the vivid hues are a three-martini rush. It’s been two years since I quit drinking and I still miss it. Thus, in a complicated world the simplicity here is soothing. Grazia.