Sally the ChickenPhoto by: Koby Kasten

— by Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —

Sally the chicken came marching towards me with something clearly on her mind. She had a request. Would I kindly see to it that she could get back into the coop—she needed to lay an egg. Unlike her sister, she does not do anything with timidity. She had a demand and expected it to be responded to. In fairness to her, imagine if you were chicken-sized and had an egg as large in proportion to your body as an egg is to a chicken. You might have a sense of urgency as well.

I’m not sure how I knew that was her request, but somehow, I did. She doesn’t have her usual access through the dip under the fence, since the snow is melting and the dip is alternatively frozen in the morning or filled with melt-water in the afternoon. We can’t leave the gate open because Adrianna the goat, who shares the chicken barn, would escape and devastate our trees and bushes. It has happened before. Some have strange shapes.

I go over and open the door for her as I block Adrianna, and Sally marches directly into her box.

If you think about it, it is really rather remarkable that she knows to come to humans and express that she needs something, and even more remarkable that she somehow communicates what she needs. Should someone have forgotten to fill her chicken feed bowl, she will also come to express her indignation and demand her rights. I know this might sound far out, but she really is a rather dominating, demanding, fearless being. You’d have to meet her to know really get the feel, but you would understand immediately.

The Bears are Up!

They emerge slowly, tentatively—is it time yet? A nose. Sleepy little eyes. Fuzzy ears. One front leg reaches out of the den entrance. Another. Slowly the front of the body emerges. Half in and half out, the back arches in another streeeeeeetch. Then the back half emerges. Nothing is rushed. A long, luxurious, stretch. It’s been four months…

They sniff around a bit, not too lively yet. We offer lettuce. They nibble. Their stomachs aren’t quite up to it. We give them time.

As they ease back into life, we fill the inner pool and offer it to them in turns. The older bears, Huckleberry Bear Bear and Teton Totem, are not really ready for such lively action. I expect the joints have to warm up, and everything is slower when you are older anyway. Humble Bumble, always tentative, always uneasy about anything new, doesn’t enter. Yes, he did last year—and the year before and the year before, but that was then and this year is a whole new thing. He will, eventually. But the (relatively) young whippersnappers Bramble and Ramble! How to convey the intensity of their joy?

They fling themselves into the water with abandon, eyes alight with excitement, their body positively vibrating with the fun of it all. Ramble rears up to his full height and belly-flops down on the water, creating a great noise and spray. Again and again and again. Then he slaps the water with his massive left paw and his right paw and his left paw and his right paw—Whap! Whap! Whap! Whap!—as fast as a boxer practicing with a small, rapid-fire punching bag. Water flies everywhere.

Grizzly bear playing in water

Ramble in the Pool | Earthfire

Eventually he tires of this and, heaving himself out of the pool, goes to retrieve his grizzly-sized ball. He rolls it into the water and pushes it down under. He releases it. Filled with air, it shoots up. He is there waiting for it and pushes it down again, over and over. Then he pushes it down and, getting it just right, holds it under water, a look of triumph in his eyes. Tiring of that, he releases it and starts all over. Next, he grabs his log and does the same, pushing it under. Able to grasp it in his teeth, which he can’t with the big ball, he whips his head left and right with incredible speed, strength, and flexibility. We watch all of this, an admiring and responsive audience. He gives us a look and lunges out of the water, running over to greet us, bathing us in a shower as he shakes himself. The he races and jumps around the enclosure all worked up. Comes back to greet us again, then back into the water…

The energy with which all this happens! They do this all summer long in the big pools, but not with the total fervor of the first swim of the year. You get the strong feeling they are celebrating the awakening of life. As if, after a long sleep, everything is a miracle. Oh wow—there is this! And this! And this! I remember this!

Every year it feels like a miracle to me, too. Every year my worry is the same. Will they live through the winter? How CAN they, with no food, no water. But every year they do. Our oldest, Huckleberry Bear Bear is now 21 and has lived through the winter 21 times. You’d think I’d get used to it. But I don’t, and it is a huge relief when I see their noses poking out. They made it!

It isn’t just a relief. The whole place comes to life, feels more complete with bear energy. They are native here. It is like the land needs them…

The Bears Want Their Honeycrisp Apples

The bears want their honeycrisp apples. We’ll give them a few, but we will try dandelion greens first; it’s good for them this time of year, when they need to clean out and restart their digestive systems. But they really only like them young and fresh and tender. We’ll see what we can order from the grocery store… if it suits their delicate palate.

They also are into peanut butter, but it needs to be the crunchy kind.

Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.

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