A 40 foot humpback whale washed ashore near the end of the road last fall, killed by orcas. I don’t know how many bears claimed the carcass at first, but now, a mother and cub, smelling opportunity, have ambled over and claimed what's left as their own.
They're camping out on the carcass, hosts of a no-guests and “You’re-not-welcome” feast-fest.
Other bears were not welcome, nor eagles, foxes, crows or any other sort of carrion-eater. (The mother, in fact, dispatched with a eagle with a single swipe of its paw. See photo above)) But respectful people and their cameras were tolerated.
It was a great relief to see these bears, especially after the killing of another kind of Kodiak bear this last week. A bear who refused to leave a schoolyard and neighborhood dumpster. (How many other schools go into lock-down for bears refusing to “recess” for recess?) How reassuring to watch the right kind of bear----the wild kind. The kind like the other 3500+ on this island who eat wild things, living or dead, not our rotting packaging and waste. Who live as they should, not as they can.
And more than relief, what astonishing connection we feel with these creatures and their recognizable parental displays of love, annoyance, boredom and affection.
I was reminded, too, of another reason I live here. Why I put up with lousy weather, isolation, and too much cloud, dark and rain. For this: To witness untamed beings in all their wildness.
I was excited, then, to make the trip two days ago out to the end of the road--literally---with my camera in hand. But this one road out of town doesn’t ride well when you’re tired. After a switchback-sickening hour plus drive, we arrived. I lit from my car to peer over the bank. I saw---------
---------a beach and a skeleton startlingly empty of bears.
Another car sat on the bank, waiting. I discovered the news: the whale is mostly consumed and mother-and-cub are foraging elsewhere. I missed them by just two days.
This was not what I planned. Not for the day. Not for this post. So here is the truth: the photos above were taken by my camera, but not by me. By my much-luckier niece, Rachelle Fields, who ventured out two days before me, my camera in her capable hands.
French poet Charles Peguy has written“We must always tell what we see. Above all, and this is more difficult, we must always see what we see.”
So I am telling what I saw: an empty beach. Scavenged bones. The tracks of creatures who were gone. And I saw more besides. I saw myself getting home at 7:30 pm with a long to-do-before-bed list that couldn’t be put off. I saw an evening of more than usual fatigue. An evening of haranguing my sons to get their homework and piano done. None of us had three hours to waste that day.
As it turned out, I wasn’t wrong about any of that. Except the evening went even worse than I envisioned it. But something else happened as well. Along the way home, I took out my camera, a large camera whose weight and whose lens remind me what I’m supposed to be doing. I left my notepad on my lap and asked Duncan, who was driving, to stop every few minutes, every bend of the road for another image.
Back home, today,I re-read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek to remember again what I’m supposed to be doing in this life.
"The world is wilder . . . more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.
Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. . . . This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.”
We did go into the gaps. We stalked bears. And while waiting hopefully for the bears to return, we climbed gravel hills, toured clear-cut devastation, marveled at beaches we hadn’t seen before.