I know where the bears walk, drink, sleep, give birth, and what they feed upon in the mountains where I live. Yet rarely have I seen a bear in all the years I’ve been here. One night soon after my cousin’s wife died from breast cancer — I did.
Driving at dusk on Highway 33 into the small town of Ojai, I felt a presence running beside me. The headlights reflected off to the side and illuminated a large shadow an arm length from my door. Just as I registered, “BEAR!” she slammed into the side of my car. I screamed with the impact and braced my hands on the steering wheel to stay on the road. I braked, glanced into the rearview mirror expecting to see a mound of fur in the middle of the road — but only a sinuous column of dust rose from the dry Ventura River bed.
I drove back up the mountain to my home in the avocado orchard, thankful to be alive and relieved that I did not kill the bear. For months I had been welding together a bear sculpture made from old horseshoes. During its creation I had discovered another bear that had died of old age under an oak tree not far from my trailer. The intense summer heat had mummified the carcass. He truly looked like he was just sleeping — a beautiful soul of the mountain.
But after Donna’s death, I lost my desire to complete the sculpture. Jolted awake by the night encounter with the bear, I finished the artwork within a week.