Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Weird Times

Columbus Day weekend was beautiful and classic—cool, damp, with tormented grey skies early Saturday, gradually giving way to blue skies and broken clouds by evening. Some chainsaw work in the wilderness helped me break a sweat and earn some soreness in the arms and back. By late in the day, a chill was in the air, and good company helped season the moment.

Sunday was sunny, cool and breezy, and after taking the dogs for a walk through the leaf-bespecked woods, we began preparing the eight bushels of Stayman, Arkansas Black and Ozark Gold apples for pressing into cider. The pressing took up all of Sunday afternoon until the sun was settling into the trees and the cool was gathering anew. We led our guests down the lane, disturbing three deer from the roadway, as we took the spent apple pulp to dump in the woods far from the house and gardens.

We ate a simple supper Sunday, and went to bed. Then, about an hour before dawn Monday morning, Schroeder woke us up with fierce, angry, ferocious barking; Carrie bolted awake and raced to the (closed) door, then found her way to the other end of the house and added her voice to the hue and cry. Lights went on all over the house, and we tried to see what the source of the commotion was.

Mary heard a noise at the west gate, where Schroeder was now barking; by the time she arrived there, all she heard was the sound of the fence below the chickenyard being disarrayed. When daylight arrived, we put the pieces together:
  • A Black bear raided our trash cans, hauling a plastic bag of trash from beside the pole barn to the east side of the house, where he tore the bag open and strewed its contents.
  • He proceeded south and crossed the fence into the back yard near the triple-trunk oak.
  • He crossed the backyard heading west, perhaps towards the trashcans where we store the chickenfeed.
  • Schroeder detected him somehow and went after him.
  • The bear bolted over the gate—what Mary heard—then headed towards the woods, not seeing the fence and netting over the chickenyard.
  • The bear made his way into the chickenyard, bending the fence down, then bounded over the fence at the west edge, inflicting some damage on the old fencing. (I know this because in best Gil Grissom-style, I closely peered at the broken fencing until I found a number of HAIR SAMPLES left behind by the perp—coarse, wiry black hairs distinctly unlike Schroeder's fur. )
  • Paw prints and other disturbances corroborate this theory.
Strangely, we didn't notice the trash bag until sometime late Monday morning. But all day, Carrie acted strangely, as though the incident had severely upset her equilibrium. She was very needy, and stayed close to us; she behaved as she does when she senses a storm approaching, whining randomly throughout the day without apparent stimulus. By evening, her behavior seemed very peculiar, pacing around the room and the house, repeatedly demanding attention from both of us, and wandering restlessly.
By the time we went to bed, her behavior began to disturb me. First of all, she refused to settle down, repeatedly demanding attention from Mary by gouging the bed in her inimitable fashion. When she did lie down, she would pop right back up again, insistently gouging the bed and waking us both up time and again.
I began to absorb her unsettledness. I wondered what she sensed. Was it just the bear? Time and again, I got up and looked out the windows to the woods and the yard, seeing nothing in the deep dark. Was Carrie sensing a storm approaching? I had heard about animals sensing impending disasters like earthquakes, and lay awake wondering if that was what was in store.
Then I noticed that Julia, the cat who kept us both awake with her relentless purring and need to be on top of someone, had not appeared. I could not remember seeing Julia since sometime in the afternoon, and she usually joined us at bedtime. Was Carrie anxious because of some fate she sensed had befallen Julia?
Now another line of anxiety began joining the chorus in my mind. I thought back over the day, trying to think if I had seen Julia in the evening. Did bears eat cats? Coyotes? Foxes? Owls? Julia was tiny, and would hardly make a meal for any kind of predator.
Whatever had bothered Carrie so deeply, was now my problem as well. Every sound was startling, every thought dark, every vision disturbing. Strand upon strand of worry began seeping in and weaving a grey cloak over my mind, ever keeping me from sleeping and building an edifice of troubles in my mind.
Around 1:15, with Carrie having finally given up and gone to sleep, I remembered the storage shed, far up the driveway. I had gone in during the day to get some boxes; could Julia have snuck in behind me and be stuck there? I lay awake pondering. Damn.
Nothing to do but check; I wasn't sleeping anyway. Flashlight in hand, I walked up the driveway in the silent darkness, the only sound that of gravel crunching under my slippers. It's a long way from the house to the shed, in the middle of the night, in the stillness, in the dark, alone, in a tee-shirt and pajama bottoms, with bears...
And no Julia. I came back to the house, worried, chilled, anxious, and got back into bed for a fitful few hours of sleep. Tossing and turning through aches and disjointed dreams, I arrived at morning far too soon for my preferences. On the bright side, Julia trotted into the kitchen as I got up, her collar bell jangling merrily, with nary a word of explanation for her absence, only her traditional monotone demand for breakfast. And no bear visitation, no earthquake, nothing to fulfill the discomfiting sense of foreboding that kept me awake through the night. Just another regular old day.
But I really hope the dogs scared the bear away for a long while. I don't think I can stand another couple of nights like that.

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