Begging the Bear by Laura A. Munson
I went for the smell of wild roses pulsing in the vanilla of Ponderosas. For the June blues and purples: penstamon, flax, lupine, geranium. I went for the ninety-degree heat and cobalt skies after so many months by the woodstove, wearing a shawl. I went for the view from the ridge, to see what my valley looks like, green. I went to remind my horse that I am his leader in a fenceless place. I went for sunburned shoulders.
My horse sees her first. Ups his head, pricks his ears.
“Hello?” she shouts up to me. “Could you wait a moment?”
We wait there on the ridge. You wouldn’t not.
“Say, I was wondering if you might come with me up the trail a bit. Seems like Logan and I can’t ride out here without a bear encounter. Just saw a mama and three cubs. Logan here doesn’t like bears. Doesn’t like the sight of them. Doesn’t like the smell of them. Of course, the whole woods smell like bear this time of year. It’s funny—the bears never used to bother him.”
I take in a clandestine sniff. Smells to me like roses and Ponderosas.
“I want to get him past where we were on the trail. Just so he can face his fear.”
I eye Logan like we are lost twins. Logan has been begging the bear. With more success than I. “Alright.”
We head up the trail, bushwack a minute around some piles of slash. “It looks horrible back here,” I say.
“They’re developing the whole mountainside.”
My Morgan shies at an uprooted stump. I turn him in circles with one reign until he stops. “He doesn’t usually spook.”
“This may sound crazy…but sometimes, Logan speaks to me. He says the bears are different now, since all the development. More…desperate.”
I take in a deep breath. I don’t want my horse to know that I have been begging the bear for seven years, with no success, and the suspense has gotten the best of me. “Do you have any bear spray?” I say.
We are silent as we round a knoll. The stumps are different here. Not torn up by loggers as much as by claws.
“So this was a black bear you saw?”
“Actually, I think it was that griz sow I read about in the newspaper. They keep relocating her, but she keeps coming back.”
Oh. This is not a bear. This is the bear.
“It’s really amazing how the mama bear works, you know? How she knows we’re here. How she hides her cubs. Then takes her position. Decides whether we are a threat.”
I nod, like I know all about it.
“She is probably looking at us right now.”
I send out a message: We come in peace.
“It was just up here,” she says. “I wish I could understand Logan’s fear. When I see a bear, I just want to stand there and watch.”
My horse stops; saves me from having to respond to her. He throws his head up, nostrils flaring. I fight my joints from locking, drop my seat bones into his spine like a tree to his roots. Logan starts to back. Am I ready for this? Have I finally earned this? Will I be good enough to my horse, this woman, her horse, the bear, the cubs, myself? Will I face my horse to his fear and breathe us through. Or will I lose myself and run?
“What is your name?” I ask her. It seems important, suddenly, to know.
“Sounds like a character out of a book,” I say, like maybe she is. Maybe we are not real; just imagined by the sort of person who needs to beg bears.
“My mother named me after her imaginary friend.”
My horse sidesteps.
“Ky? Is Logan speaking to you right now?”
She smiles. “Nope.” Then asks Logan to go forward. He does.
We follow until we are around the bend.
“Well, I guess she’s decided we’re safe. Thanks. I think we can take it from here.”
And she’s gone.
And I hear it. “Didn’t you know?” my horse says. “She is the bear.”