Ramble the bear had a stomach ache, and it was a sad thing to see. There he was: lying on his stomach, front paws down along his side, bottom of his pads turned up to the sky, chin flat on the ground, and large round bottom high in the air, with what I can only call a pathetic look in his eyes. Our animal caretakers called me, deeply concerned—Quick! Call a bear vet! Something is really wrong!
His tummy hurt and he was in full “it’s-the-end-of-the-world-and-I-am-going-to-die” mode. He just didn’t understand what had happened to him.
Ever an immoderate (extravagant) bear, he had just come out of hibernation and recklessly eaten more than he should have. We give the bears several heads of lettuce upon awakening, trusting their instinctive wisdom to eat only as much as is good for them. Teton Totem, an older, wiser, and more cautious grizzly, had nibbled daintily at the green tops of the romaine lettuce, then disappeared back into his den. Bramble, Ramble’s twin brother, had woken up, looked around, and gone back to bed. Even Humble Bumble, who usually has the biggest appetite, ate only a head or two. But Ramble had eaten 8-10 heads all at once. He also came out of hibernation suddenly, full of energy. However, he had failed to allow for the fact that his stomach had been asleep for several months. Now he had food in his belly and nothing coming out the other end, and he was paying the price without understanding the connection. All he knew was that the world had reached out and bitten him.
We offered him various digestive aids—basil, fennel, ginger, osha root—thinking perhaps his bear instinct would know that those would help him, but he wasn’t interested at all—not even in my beautiful biodynamically grown fennel plant. He would occasionally get up and go back into his warm den, then come out again and lay flat on the cold ground. Perhaps the cold was helping ease the pain. My best guess was gas cramps, and cold does decrease the volume of air. In any case, he looked wretched and worried our staff for the whole day. Even the next day, although he was walking about, he still wasn’t himself and had that same pathetic look in his eyes.
Two days later, he was back to his usual rambunctious self.
It is always a big deal when the bears wake up. Our land begins to pulse with their powerful presence. The humans get excited. It is generally a slow process—with the exception of Ramble. The tip of a nose pokes its way out and then pulls back. A sleepy eye takes a peek to see the lay of the land. A brown face with fuzzy round ears appears, covered with bits of leaves and hay. Then there is the slow emergence from the warmth of the den, stretching, with the same less-than-brilliant look we have when we first wake up and are not quite ready to face the world. Maybe a sip of water, maybe not. Maybe a nibble, maybe not.
When it’s March and we go into town, the first question everyone asks is, “Are the bears awake?” In the grocery store, as we order multiple cases of lettuce, a concerned grocer asks, “What about their pears and apples?” (Those come later in the year.) They exercise such a pull on our imagination. Impressed by the power of their presence, their size and physical magnificence and an innate wisdom, it never occurs to us that emotionally, they are a bit like a two-year-old human: easily frightened, and devastated by a stomach ache.
Bears are very emotional beings.