Believing in bears

My grandmother was not generally the story-teller in the family. She left that to my grandfather, who wove fantastic, make-believe tales for his seven grandchildren until the day he died.

A no-nonsense type of woman, her stories were usually more fact than fiction. Stories like the one about her brother’s dog who’d dropped her first litter of puppies all over the yard as she wandered, dazed and confused, one summer day. According to my grandmother, some females in every species had maternal instinct, and some clearly didn’t. The puppy-dropping mother dog was proof.

When she wasn’t baking or imparting her particular brand of wisdom, what my grandmother loved best was picking berries. She knew that bears loved blueberry patches, too, and knew that the most dangerous place for a human to find herself was between a mother bear and her cub.

The recent news story about the three-year old boy in North Carolina who went missing in the woods and was found alive in thick underbrush several days later has me thinking not only about maternal instinct, but also miracles. After his rescue, the child is reported to have told his parents that he’d “hung out” with a bear. There is no proof that this happened.  There is no proof that it didn’t happen, either.

An Angel can look like anything if she puts her mind to it. Maybe his was dressed like a bear. Or maybe his rescuers found him just in the nick of time. Maybe another day exposed to the elements would have been too much for the small boy. Maybe it was a miracle.

I believe that there are mysteries we humans aren’t supposed to be able to solve.

I believe in instinct, maternal and otherwise.

But mostly, today, I believe that if there really was a bear keeping that boy safe, that it was definitely a mama one.

Life in layers

A quilt, a down comforter, a fleece blanket, and a flannel sheet.  Four layers. A flannel nightgown and wool socks, too.

When I try to wrestle the covers to roll over, I am pinned down by the weight of January.

Fleece leggings, a pair of thin wool socks with a heavier pair of wool socks over them, and not one, but two sweaters is my daytime ensemble. More layers. More weight.

Turning up the heat is small comfort. Some of us are built for January, and some of us just aren’t. At -28 degrees, I watch the chickadees at the feeder and wonder how they aren’t frozen into solid little bird lumps. Do they envy all their bird relations who fly south, I wonder, as they peck at my suet?

I work from home. Did I mention that I left the house just three times from Tuesday until Saturday this past week? Once, to get the mail. Once, to clean up beagle you-know-what in the yard. Once to take out the trash. The people who love me tell me that this is not healthy. To that, I think, yup, well, neither is freezing to death.

And so, I stay put. I work, read, and listen to music. I plan dinners and bake. I look at real estate listings and rentals in sunny locations where January is more than just an endurance event. I envy the Snowbirds who have the good sense to leave this frozen place every winter. Someday, that will be me, I tell myself.

I fantasize about walking barefoot along a sand beach, any beach, at dawn. Listening to the crash of waves and smelling the salt air. Watching the sandpipers and gulls run to the places where the waves recede. Feeling the hot sun on my neck and bare shoulders as I stop to pick up a shell that catches my eye. Feeling lighter. Less encumbered. A strolling, retired, sea creature. Home at last where I belong.

Body and mind permanently released from the layers of January.


A mouse tale

It was just a matter of time.

This morning, in the downstairs bathroom, I caught a faint whiff of dead mouse. Here’s a tip.  If you think you have a dead mouse in a wall or vent, it’s not a good idea to turn on the exhaust fan. As soon as I did that, the faint whiff transformed into a noxious cloud of rotting mouse corpse.

We live in the woods. Right after we built, we had a biblical plague of toads in the family room one night that I’ve never fully understood, and we get inundated with ants every August, but up until this year, we’d never had a mouse. Not a one. Then, around Thanksgiving, I thought my eyes were going to pot when one evening my peripheral vision caught a gray blur moving near the baseboards. I was obviously in denial. A mouse? In this house? How could that be?

Then, it happened again a couple of nights later. Only this time, it was not a blur my eyes spied, but an actual, furry little rodent making a beeline for the safe zone behind the T.V. stand. Now, anyone with an ounce of sense knows that there is no such thing as a single mouse in a house. I sprung into action and set traps. I discovered where they were getting in and fixed the problem. I caught mice. The beagle, who suffers from mousetrap PTSD due to a bad experience with her nose and a trap at the cabin, was no help whatsoever. In fact, whenever I marched past her with a dead mouse in a trap, she averted her gaze. I said bad words and set more traps. I caught more mice, said more bad words, and emptied traps. The look on the face of the one that got only his tail and one foot caught in a trap right before I apologized out loud and put him out of his misery still haunts me. Waging war against a mouse army is ugly stuff.

I will spare you the actual mouse death toll figure that occurred between Thanksgiving and Christmas. By New Year’s, I was confident that the mission was accomplished and I put all the traps away.  I patted myself on the back. Problem solved, I thought.

Well, ONE problem was solved.

As I said, it was only a matter of time.

The frost fairies

“Kindness is like snow. It beautifies everything it touches.”

-Khalil Gibran

In January in northern Minnesota, it is a rare treat to have an entire week of weather that is above freezing. During a “January thaw” we turn the heaters off in our cars and pump gas without gloves on. We might even go a little nuts and wash the car if we have enough quarters squirreled away in the cup holder. If the thermometer says it is in the forties in January, anything is possible.

Yesterday, when I stopped for gas, a guy in the next spot over was filling his snowmobile. He started up the sled and a dark plume of snowmobile exhaust hung in the air as he sped off. I haven’t ridden on a snowmobile in decades, but I still love that smell. It reminds me of winter weekend afternoons as a teenager riding from town all the way to Blueberry Hills on the trails. Now, just the thought of snowmobiling makes my fingers cold. I wonder why people get colder as they get older.

I took a drive up to the cabin. Fog and fairies had turned every branch and twig white during the night. Is there anything more breathtaking than a stand of enormous white pines covered in frost on a January day? By the time I headed home, the temperature had risen enough to melt all the frost. I drove along thinking how even a winter hater like myself can find beauty in January if she quits grousing long enough to see it.

We are one week into a shiny new year. On cable news, everyone is complaining about something or someone. Social media isn’t any better. Paying too much attention to Twitter is like sipping sour milk. I’m convinced that there are trolls who do nothing all day but lurk there under bridges to wait for someone they don’t know to say something they don’t like so they can spew their nonsense.

So, here’s my plan. I’m going to pay more attention to the handiwork of the frost fairies than the trolls this month. It’s a lot healthier.

And I hope that wherever you are, you have it in you to spot the fairies, too.