We are woken abruptly by angry barking and lie there for a moment in the early hours of the morning, listening.
Outside the sky is just starting to lighten. Trees at the windows are scraggily black shapes only, no distinction between twig and leaf, against a pale gray twilit backdrop. There is just enough light in the bedroom to make out the beams of the ceiling and the clothes on the floor.
The barking does not stop. We sit up in bed because Murdoch’s forceful voice is insistent, constant, which means there is a reason for the noise. Molly’s staccato bark is there too, but she is a bit of an alarmist, we have learned, and barks at the slightest provocation, so we look to Murdoch for confirmation.
Many times Molly has leapt up from a snooze to bark at the window or the door or just into the room in general, alerting Murdoch to some unknown danger, and many times Murdoch has checked it out with a preliminary huff, ears alert, tail raised high, and then, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, has cast a look over his shoulder at Morgan or me as if to say, ‘She’s crazy’, and then returned to his bed with a grumble. If, on the other hand, he joins in with the alarm, then we know it is to be taken seriously.
So, just before 5:30 am, with Murdoch’s loud voice echoing up through the house and the cats scurrying hastily into our room, we crawl out of bed. Chestnut leaps up on to the wide windowsill, his shape silhouetted against the predawn and I know his curiosity has got the better of him, so I join him at the window to see if I can see anything.
“It’s a bear,” I say before I am even sure. We are three stories up in the trees, looking out over the edge of the second floor roof. In the space between the corner of our rickety old shed and the little pine tree growing valiantly straight, it’s boughs fanned out symmetrically, there is a shadow darker than the other shadows.
“Where?” Morgan says, appearing beside me.
“Just by the edge of the shed,” I say, turning my head sideways to try and get a sense of movement in my peripheral vision.
Downstairs, the dogs are still barking and I imagine them at the tall windows of the entryway, not 20 feet away from the bear, getting angrier at this belligerent creature just wandering around in their woods.
We watch the black shadow morph like an ink stain from one shape to another, more a suggestion of something large and black in the dim light than anything defined and obvious. In a moment the bear turns and lumbers fluidly across our small clearing and up into the woods, although we are confused by a low hanging branch also black in the gray light of predawn and for a moment we think the bear is lingering. But it has gone, and Murdoch’s bark is more pleading now, an entreaty to us to let him out to investigate.
We head downstairs then and Molly meets us in the kitchen. “Did you see a bear?” Morgan asks and she bounces happily and rubs her face on our legs. ‘Now that you’re up,’ she seems to say, ‘Let’s eat and then go play!’
“Good doggies,” I say as I head to the entryway where Murdoch is still standing at the window, vibrating with excitement, eyes glued to the woods. “Good boy Murds,” I say and touch his head. He huffs and shuffles backwards, then forwards, and I add, “No, you are not going out there.”
It is not long before everyone has settled down again and we head back upstairs to bed, although I am sure as the sky lightens quickly I will not really be sleeping.
A couple of hours later, with sunlight streaming through the trees, we get up for real. I wonder where the bear has gone as the Robins, who are nesting in an old Pileated Woodpecker hole in a tree by our house, fly by with worms in their beaks.
Downstairs, Molly greets us again as though she did not just see us two hours earlier, and Murdoch emerges from his kennel stretching eagerly. He is still itching to get outside, but I make him wait for a minute or two because now there is a rabbit in the clearing where the bear had been. His tall ears catch bits of sunlight that filter sideways through the trees while he munches on the green leaves of all kinds of forest plants growing there, and I think I do not want to disturb him because he looks so content.