Monday, November 1, 2010
Bear in the woods
In the early evening, those last moments before true twilight, the sky is washed of almost all colour; its face of palest blue is lit by an afterglow. Light emanates from its great expanse as though each particle of atmosphere holds a fragment of the suns light after it has slid behind the mountains but not yet dipped below the horizon. In the woods, that light becomes almost tangible.
I stand in the middle of the clearing outside our house and watch Bear weave her way slowly up one of the barely discernable footpaths through our forest. In the flat, gray light that seems to be a solid thing descended from the sky to fill the vertical spaces between a battalion of spindly trunks, she’s a shadow come to life. Her blackness absorbs everything.
One minute, she doesn’t seem to belong there, her inky black shape looks foreign beside the grays and flat browns of trunks standing watch, but with her next step everything shifts and she, turning just slightly this way or that, slips effortlessly into the spaces between the trees as though the forest has finally recognized her and envelopes her with invisible, welcoming arms.
I’m about to call to her, but I pause to watch her move comfortably, familiarly through the trees. This is her forest. Surrounded by that gray light I could reach out and grasp, Bear is solid one minute, the next I imagine her flickering out of this existence, stepping into the grayness, disappearing.
Her shape amongst the trees is like a secret whispered to the bare branches overhead. She becomes a mythical creature on a silent passage through the forest glimpsed from the corner of my eye. I know the sounds of dry, crumbling leaves beneath her feet, the swish of her gently swaying tail, the rush of air in and out of her nose, but they don’t reach me. That heavy light absorbs sound as well as shadow.
During the day, with yellow beams slanting through the trees colouring the woods in gold and bronze, silvering Bears fur as it glances off her back, she is small beside these towering sentinels. In this opaque light that seems to spring into being from every pore of nature, she becomes larger, part of the forest before my eyes.
When she is on the brink of disappearing behind that curtain of trees and light in the distance, I finally call to her. She turns to look, craning her neck around a leaning trunk to see if I can actually see her or if I am blindly calling her name.
“I see you Bear,” I say and point to her to prove it. “Come on.”
She seems to consider for a moment, then turns and wanders slowly back down the trail, purposely taking her time.
As she gets closer I can hear the leaves crunching under her weight, kicked up in little crackling clouds around her feet. She looks like she is about to break into a run and I have to tell her, “No”. I’m worried about her leg injury worsening. A look of confusion brushes over her face and, conflicted, she trots awkwardly to my side.
I reach down to smooth my hand over the silky, black fur on her head but she dances to the side and stomps her feet. Her ears pulled up towards the top of her head accompany the question flashed at me from the depths of her brown eyes.
“No Bear, we can’t play,” I say with a genuine sadness in my voice. “I can’t throw anything for you.”
I turn to walk back to the house, gesturing for her to join me. Bear prances at my side as though her leg is healed, but I know it’s not and it won’t take much to make it worse, she will be limping again in a minute.
A warm cushion of air greets us as we enter the house, becoming a solid barrier to the dampness pushing at our backs. Its dry welcoming warmth makes the cold flare brightly on my skin for a moment and sends a giddy shiver through my core.
I kneel down and hug Bear. She smells like the woods. A cold, crispness has clung to her, she has gathered the outdoors around herself like a thin cloak. I can feel her heat seeping through and inhale deeply before the fresh smells of burnt leaves and green wood and pine melt away like a dream dissipating in a morning mist.
As she settles down on her bed by the fire, I gather her cold ears in my hands, kiss the top of her head and breathe the lingering sweet minty scent of balsam on her fur.