For the sake of this short article, I have to pick one part of the Ojai Aliso Street Bear Story to share. “Get up and get down there. I don’t care how sick you are. You need to be there.” My Santa Barbara friend lectured, “Nurture others and you in turn will be nurtured,” he continued. “This is like a hostage situation. You tell that bear a joke and ask him if he knows any. Pretend you are not sick and go.” I moaned knowing he was right and then Linda called and said the same. I had been at the site already thanks to Deb Norton & Chris Nottoli, so by 8:30 am I was there a second time. I felt twelve years old trying to convince the spectators that we were not at a zoo and it was actually a wild animal in the tree. Please move back. Then the cops listened as I devised what should be his exit route. Bob (wild life rescue) came with his friends and I finally felt like we were in good hands. When Fish & Game showed up many of us knew the inevitable end in spite of want we wanted to believe. I gasped and was frightened as they loaded their guns before sunset. That bear trusted me. He knew I was there. He found solace in sharing how he ended up in town, his fears of what would happen, and his confusion on where he was and how to get home. He trusted me, but he did not trust the people below him. He knew as I did that his fate would be terrifying. So he napped, he cried and he told me stories. I felt blessed at the amount of people who called me and emailed, but I felt discourage and frustrated that my line of work didn’t put me in charge of making decisions. Who else knew that bear better than I? Why was I given a gift, if it doesn’t pay in times like these? “Back off,” I wanted to scream. “You guys don’t know anything about bear behavior. Turn off the cars and the lights, take down the yellow flapping streams, sit patiently and quietly in your cars, put a garbage truck below him (thank you Tom Farmer) and let him climb into it to get out of the sun, drink some water, eat some garbage and drive him to the mountains.” How simple it could have been.
I knew early on I had to prepare the bear to die. “Just leave your body quickly. Let your spirit follow the pulling sensation. Be courageous. The pain will not last long. It will be ok. Whether I am here or at home, I will be with you. You are not alone. You are loved by many.”
While we waited as the sun rose high in the sky, I asked him, “What was the funniest thing that ever happened to you?” He replied, “When I was a young cub. I had two siblings. They were braver than I. I would be jealous of them because they waded in the streams first, they ate a mountain lion kill before me getting the best parts, and they climbed higher than me in the trees and they scrambled faster up rocks. I always felt a little left behind. Then one day, a mom and five baby skunks walked in a line right in front of us while we were napping. The skunks went under some shrubbery and scurried around making noises. My siblings got down on their bellies and pulled themselves under the shrubs to see what was happening. I stood back nervously watching and then I smelled IT for the very first time. It was a pungent smell and my siblings flipped backwards and screamed noises bears do not usually make. One of them ran in circles around me bumping into trees and the other rolled himself in the dirt whining and scratching at his eyes. The skunks one by one peered out of the shrubs with their cute little innocent faces and I laughed and laughed until my stomach hurt. I will never forget the feeling that being cautious is actually a good quality. I was so thankful it didn’t happen to me.”
We exchanged more stories and after nightfall I felt feverish and my new friend Brent, had to leave the scene. When he said he was going, the loading of the guns flashed in my mind, and I was too frightened and weak mentally to stay there alone. I told myself Fish & Game would back off. I said goodbye to the bear and I told him I would talk to him from a distance. I was not abandoning him, but now I feel like I did. I should have stayed.
At the moment the bear was shot, I had a dream that he fell from the tree. He was telling me it had happened. When I spoke to him later after his body ceased breathing he said, “I was so frightened when they shot at me that I pooped and peed as I climbed. Then my mom was there in spirit and she grabbed hold of me. She told me to let my body fall and to keep my spirit there with her. She held me on a branch and covered my eyes so I could not watch my body descend from the tree. She held me and I felt this enormous amount of love from her and the people of the valley. That love sheltered me until my body died and I was able to rise and be warmed by the love of spirit. I know the people of the valley loved me and that loved helped me. Thank you.”
From my heart, Thank you Deb, Chris, Brent, Suza, Tom, Julie, Sue, and all the others…