The Bears Are Awake!

Brown bear playing in a pond

When the bears wake up, it is a wondrous occasion. The land begins to pulse with their powerful presence. 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 long, luxurious stretch. Then the back half emerges. Nothing is rushed.

At first, they sniff around a bit and are not too lively. They nibble sparingly on the lettuce that we offer as their stomachs are not quite up to it. We give them time. After all, it has been four months of hibernation.

Every year it feels like a miracle to me, and every year my worry is the same: will they live through the winter? How can they, with no food and water? But every year, they do. It isn’t just a relief. The whole place comes more alive, feels more complete with bear energy. They are native here. They ground the place. Perhaps they ground all the ecosystems they are a part of. It is like the land needs them.

It’s not only the bears and humans of Earthfire that get excited. 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.)

As our beloved bears ease back into life, we will soon fill the pools with spring irrigation water. After a long slumber, no one is really ready for 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 the pool. 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 whippersnappers, Bramble and Ramble—how to convey the intensity of their joy? The energy with which all this happens! They play all summer long in the big pools, but not with the total fervor of the first swim of the year. I get the strong feeling they are celebrating the awakening of life. Like after a long sleep, it is a miracle. Oh wow—there is this! And This! and This! I remember This!

Bramble and Ramble fling themselves into the water with abandon, eyes alight with excitement, their bodies positively vibrating with the fun of it all. They rear up to their full height and belly-flop down on the water, creating a great noise and spray. Again and again and again. Then they slap wildly at the water with their massive left paw and massive right paw and left paw and right paw—Whap! Whap! Whap! Whap!—as fast as a boxer practicing with a speed bag. They circle. They fling logs. Eventually, they tire of this and, heaving themselves out of the pool, retrieve their grizzly-sized ball. They roll it into the water and push it under. Release it. Filled with air, it shoots up. Most satisfying. They wait for it to fall and push it down again, over and over. Then they push it down and, getting it just right, hold it under water with a look of great triumph in their eyes. Tiring of that, they release it and start all over.

We watch all this, an admiring and responsive audience. They give us a look and lunge out of the water, running over to greet us, bathing us in a shower as they shake themselves. All worked up, they race and jump around the garden, then come to greet us again before getting back in the water.

They remind us of the fun in life. We need that.

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