Our Breath Before Us
Flurries fall as I talk to you on the phone outside the airstream. It is too cold to talk long standing just in my capalene underwear and I'll lose you if I step inside the trailer, so I talk faster and skip words I think you know. I can feel the Arizona sun in your voice while hearing the wind blowing in through the open window of your car into your upbraided hair. The bear visits me now nearly every night, as does the sleek black porcupine that comes to my door asking for the tips from my okra and the peelings from the onions just skinned for a stew. The bear is apple fat and too curious so I watch him: I watch the killing frosts make him brave.
Where will I go from here that won't be a stepping down; that isn't moving into a dank room with windows painted suggestions on concrete?
BaseCamp writes to me from the mid west to tell me that half a year has elapsed since I put CrowDog to rest under a winter coat worrying two hangers, and an elk skin shirt I painted for a month yet never wear. Without saying a word I look over my shoulder toward the computer as if it is the dog that is misbehaving on the rug: causing me to write so little in so much time. It drops its eyes. My eyes soften toward it. Both of us are being bad on the same patch of rug. Summer is spent. The computer is patient; then it bites. I am a man designed for adventure and making Hemingway scribbled notes in a Moleskin pad yanked from my coat during a reservation mock up of a bull fight. Domestic I am not.
"Where will I go from here", fills every hour of my internal banter? "When will I know I've arrived," is the next question? I talk to the bear now as it turns back at the old stone wall by the creek, then hesitates. Its round face blinks at me; asks if I want it to stay. Fear is like any high, any trick. After a while it no longer accelerates the blood or unsheaths any new emotion. The bear sits on rocks heavy with brittle white tripe and thirsty moss. I am not fool enough to feed the bear, or incited enough to send it off to where I should be following. I had a dream while on the walk. Maybe I told you about it? A large griz had me on the run until I sought a hide in a large hollow tree. As I climbed high into the inner tree the bear plugged the mouth of the tree with its upper body as it tried to lash out at me with claws and teeth to pull me down. Retrieving a pistol from my coat I shot down at the great bear's skull. Without ceremony it went silent in death below me, silent as a prayer; and in dying it sealed my fate to perish in the nailess coffin of the tree. When I awoke I was gasping for air, and certain that if I ever took the life of a bear I would lose mine in the exchange.
It is easy to be unafraid talking to the bear on the stone wall when we are both soaked in darkness except for this one hard beam from my flashlight. I don't wake my pistol any more to go walking at night. There is the scent of being brave, but this is not it. When a person is looking for answers, direction; it is no foolish thing to be in the dark with a bear that listens to my voice move out to it as it sits on the stone wall by the creek, and our breaths dissipate between us, and return anew. The leaves are breaking down, already a month past pretty. We are both hungry, this bear and I, both wondering if we should venture into the tangle of woods, or move toward the soft rot of apples and the yellow light that falls out the windows from the warm houses in the valley below where we know we don't belong.