My shelter dog, Pip, is now three years old and more adventurous as time goes by. Since I am adventurous, too, this is fine by me although, of course, all adventures have an element of danger. That’s why they are fun.
Neither Pip nor I was at my studio two weeks ago when a starving bear broke a small window, somehow squeezed through, opened my refrigerator and freezer and threw everything out, looking for something to eat. Unfortunately, Ms. Bear (I’m sure she is a female, she was so clever) found nothing but a square of cooking chocolate and some coconut milk, which she upended and lapped up. Then she went to the pantry and pulled open sliding shelves but there was nothing much there, so she found the drawer where I keep Pip’s treats, pulled it off the hinges, and finally found a few mouthfuls.
I don’t begrudge her any of this—I only wish there had been more for her to eat—because bears never come near houses except when they are starving. They know how dangerous we are. But the berries failed this summer—our rains came too late—and grubs are probably dried up, and there is no honey, so what we are doing to the natural world around us is the reason the animals who were here long before us are starving. The mess in my kitchen I cleaned up in half an hour, but this small black bear may not survive the summer.
Pip would have loved seeing the bear, but fortunately he was in town with me. Some of my readers may remember his encounter with a bear in the spring on my ranch, a few years ago…Life gets pretty boring for a lone dog like Pip, especially now—it is so hot and the hiking trails are so crowded we don’t go there much. So yesterday when Pip ran into two young coyotes outside my studio, he decided they were relatives and spent quite a lot of time romping with them. They were beautiful, small, golden-haired creatures and I realized right away they were not going to hurt Pip, and he was not going to hurt them. When they began their spine-chilling howling (I’ve been missing hearing this since the coyotes are almost exterminated here) I called Pip inside. He looked for them again today, but they had gone off.
Then, to finish the parable of Pip and his wild friends, he saw—before I did—a beautiful, two foot long brown with black spots snake stretched out on the top of the wainscotting outside my front door. I think she was lying in wait for the pack-rat who makes his untidy nest over the front door—and she is welcome to him! Pip was curious, but cautious, and I was glad for the snake-avoidance class I took him to several years ago, since we do have several kinds of rattlers around here. This long, beautiful snake, however, goes by the humble name of Gopher Snake—although there are no gophers here—and is not poisonous. It quickly slithered away under the studio.
Some of my readers will be shuddering by now. One of the few distinctive features I’ve found in so many women—a feature they all share and few men do—is fear of snakes. This has nothing to do with whether they are poisonous or not but seems to be a sort of instinctive, deeply planted shrinking, probably related to the fear of spiders that is also widespread, although not quite so universal. Women have been arguing for decades about whether there are essential, inborn differences between men and women, and this is the only one I recognize. So back we go to the Garden of Eden although if Eve had been so terrified of the snake, she would never have colluded with him to offer Adam the apple…
For those of you who are feeling protective—thank you!—be reassured: my broken window is now covered with a stout piece of lumber until the new window arrives, and when Pip and I leave for town in the evening, I turn on the radio. I doubt that the bear fancies NPR.