Omen Bruin?

Does a bear spit in the woods? You betcha! Sunken Meadow, too.

As usual, I would have walked right past the large, tidy pile along the edge of a thin swamp Monday morning had it not been for the grande dame herself, Springer Spaniel Lily, 9, who on her daily ramble around the plot smelled something new and intriguing, stopped, wheeled back, nose high and dropped it to the ground through tall weeds to a dense red-clover underbody. When I took a look, sure enough, bear scat piled like a dish of hard ice cream. Dr. Oz would have sung praise to the heavens, ladies giggling, for such a healthy specimen. I called Lily off before she did anything nasty with it and we moved right along, me with something new to ponder. Hmmmm? Why was that bear patrolling my haunts? Then I thought back maybe 10 minutes. We were passing two large red oaks standing tall and proud near the top of the escarpment lip looking down over Sunken Meadow, not 200 feet from the pile. After passing those two trees daily for months without giving them much notice, Lily had caught wind of something there and was actually interested enough to bust through the dense, tangled perimeter and venture some 20 or 30 feet through thin, mature hardwoods before looping back to rejoin me and Chub-Chub. Maybe it was faint old bear scent she had detected. Perhaps the ground below those two oaks was littered with acorns, although, curiously, I had seen or stepped on none recently that I could remember.

Of course, there are many other potential bear lures nearby, including a vegetable garden that drew a big bruin last year around this time, plus many expansive, ripe cornfields, some large beech trees, and a large riverside apple tree that’s overburdened with green fruit, many drops below. Yes, several potential reasons for a bear visit.

Plus, there’s always the bear-season factor. Could it possibly be that it was a wise old beast which sensed the opening of bear season next week, thus is taking precautions to get out of harm’s way in bottomland marshes. Who knows? Unlike award-winning scientists whose observations are constricted by narrow academic disciplines, I never rule anything out in the world of the unknown. In fact, just this week I read a fascinating Orion Magazine piece by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Indian professor who suggests that pecan and other trees and plants are capable of communicating with each other, a claim that would for sure incite doctrinaire pleas to commit her for 30 days observation. But Kimmerer isn’t crazy, she just harbors a world view that doesn’t fit the consciousness of our “corporatocracy,” that coalition of government, banks and corporations that fuels wars and destroys the planet for profit.

But enough of that, back to the bear. I came equipped for a little field research Tuesday, toting along a small digital camera just in case there was anymore sign to evaluate. Plus, I wanted to check for acorns on the ground below those two large oaks, which, to my surprise, were barren. Definitely not what I expected. I have noticed acorns elsewhere and received random email reports indicating it’s a good year for them in the hills. Not in Sunken Meadow, where they don’t seem to be on the ground below or the branches of those two majestic red oaks. On the other hand, the most accessible beech tree appeared to be full of nuts clinging to the branch tips in golden-brown, thorny clusters. I assume those husks and the tiny, three-sided nuts inside will soon be scattered below on the ground. For that matter, they may already be there. I confess I didn’t bother busting through the dense wild-rose-bush border to explore the ground closer to the massive trunk of that tall, smooth, gray tree, a large leader of which used to reach out over the meadow before Irene’s powerful winds snapped it off.

From the lack of new sign Tuesday and Wednesday, my guess is that the bear, probably a lone bruin, was just passing through overnight Sunday and didn’t stick around, because there is no additional evidence along my trodden trail. I would have snapped a shot of the scat pile had it not been flattened by a tractor that mowed between the Christmas trees. Lily discovered it, dropped her head and slid down on her back, ready to roll with carnal glee before I ordered, “Leave it!” and we moved along, her with a manageable mess to clean. I knew there was an easy solution. At the tall apple tree overlooking Green River, I picked up a golf-ball-size green apple, teased slightly scat-smeared Lily with it and tossed it into the water for her to retrieve. By the time she returned with it, laid down and devoured it, what scat she had picked up seemed to be gone.

I didn’t venture into the swamp t’other side the beaver dam to search for additional bear sign, but did examine the tilled western edge of the upper cornfield and found not a track. I’d guess there’s corn damage nearby and hope the big fella doesn’t visit my yard anytime soon. If he does, I will definitely have a chainsaw project on my hands. A large limb reaching southwest over the road from my apple tree is heavy with fruit and will easily snap off if a bear climbs it for dinner. I won’t worry about it, though. If a bear doesn’t break it, I’ll have to prune it anyway come winter.

Before I go, a surreal little tale worth sharing. When it happened just after 1 o’clock Saturday afternoon, I went to the other end of the house to get my wife and show her the aftermath of the spooky scenario I had heard unfold on my porch. When I asked her if she thought I should write about it, she looked at me bemusedly and said, “Yeah, why not?” Because, I told her, readers may think I’m nuts. But I’ll take my chances. So here it is, a true, fresh story, beginning from the source.

My last two trips through the Bookmill in Montague turned up some interesting reading, two paperback books about Indians familiar to me since boyhood. One of them, “Black Elk Speaks,” is about the father of a Sioux actor with whom I as a young boy ate a buffalo burger below Mount Rushmore. The other, “Son of Mashpee,” is the biography of Earl Mills Sr., who I had heard much about from my dad. Mills was my dad’s football teammate at Arnold College in Milford, Conn. Since 1957, he has been known to the Wampanoag Nation as Chief Flying Eagle.

Having just read about the genesis of this chief’s name and flipped to Page 82, I heard what sounded like a door slamming loudly, followed by a furious sweeping or rustling across the porch floor, then total silence in the hot summer air. “Joey,” I hollered, thinking maybe my wife had on an afternoon whim decided to sweep the porch. When there was no answer, I knew she wasn’t responsible. Curious, I rose from my chair and walked to the porch to investigate. It had to have been some sort of critter. I looked through the door and saw nothing unusual, but when I opened it, I soon discovered what appeared to be a young crow propped up on partially opened wings, head up, back facing me a step down on the stone terrace. When I noticed the wide white band across the end of its half-fanned, V-shaped tail, I knew it was no crow and took a step down to get a closer look. The bird turned its head and I could see it was a hawk or falcon with a distinctive hooked, meat-tearing beak. I didn’t have time to investigate further because the stunned bird regained its wits, took flight, and attempted to fly into a ballroom window before vanishing over the roof toward Smead Hill. Weird, huh? Could it have been some sort of an omen from the Wampanoag Nation? Was Mills dead, his spirit in the neighborhood? My wheels were spinning to a shrill scream. The bird was not recognizable to me, yet for some reason, as I read about the naming of Chief Flying Eagle, it tried to enter my dining room.

Blown away, I walked out to my wife and brought her to the scene. When we arrived, I found three tiny feathers, probably from the bird’s head, stuck to the upper pane of the two-light, double-hung window closest to the screen door. I fetched a digital camera and snapped off a few quick photos, but being no photographer, they came out blurry. Then, just for posterity, I pulled the three little feathers off the glass and dropped them deep between pages of the book close to its spine. I Googled Mills, found that he’s 84, alive and well. So I dropped him an as-yet unanswered email attempting to arrange a fall rendezvous. I’d like to meet the man, will probably bring my dad along. My brother lives in nearby Plymouth.

What can I say? You can’t make it up. In my mind, the afternoon visit from that young, never-to-be- identified raptor could not have been a coincidence; not given the circumstances. No, to me it felt like an omen, of what I cannot say. I’ve read about many similar occurrences in Indian mythology, and they always captivate my imagination, get me thinking, wondering why we ever assumed we’d be better off without the indigenous North Americans that were here to greet us. And when I race off on that tangent, I admit it’s hard not to conclude that we may have been better off had we let them show us how to live on their homeland.

So put that in your pipe and smoke it.

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