Issue One, Nonfiction

The Bear and the Smoke so Fair

By Mike Hildebrand

A large black bear had been hanging around our backyard area. It was a bit of a shared green space, although if you asked my crotchety old neighbours on the one side, they certainly wouldn’t have considered it shared. Shade was provided by about ten large cedars and bear food was available via an old cherry tree, some berry bushes, and garbage cans.

The bear had been up in the cherry tree and rooted through some of the garbage cans, creating a couple disgusting pools of the stuff. The (grumpy) neighbours had tried throwing some fairly large rocks at the bear, but it was unconcerned. I moved our garbage can into a closet outside the back door. After checking out the bear for a while, we more or less continued about our daily activities, and around dinner time we couldn’t see the bear anymore (which was good, because I didn’t want my children mauled, and I didn’t want to have to call the CO, which would likely result in the death of the bear).

Later that night, after my kids were in bed, I went out for a smoke. I had been waiting a while to light (this beautiful nicotine delivery system) up and was looking forward to it. I opened the back door and stepped out. I looked up, and there at the end of my deck, 24 feet away, was the bear (sonofabitch!). He was just as surprised as me (thank God!), and decided to put a little more distance between us rather than charge me (phew…). He moved 10 or 15 feet further up the hill and to the east, stopping atop a boulder in my (crabby) neighbour’s yard. He looked at me and started huffing, standing up on two legs and then coming back down to four a couple times. I thought, shit, I really want a smoke. Then, fuck it, it’s a good 35 feet away, this bear is not stopping me from sparking this beautiful bastard.

I ducked back inside the house and grabbed my headlamp and my son’s old baseball bat, which I generally keep by the backdoor for such occurrences. (Okay, maybe more for when I am in a drunken and/or marijuana haze and feel super paranoid about that rustling up in the bushes, but whatever).

The Easton Typhoon 28 inch, 17 ounce, 2 ¼ inch diameter aluminum youth baseball bat shouldn’t have made me feel more secure, but it did. It was the kind of bat that was plenty solid and you could easily twirl all fancy-like in one hand. Quick, I thought to myself. Some old Sinixt wisdom I had recently read came to mind. Go for the teeth or claws if it comes down to the nitty gritty (might be paraphrasing a bit). Bears depend on them for living, so it at least gives them a moment of sober second thought if eating you means damage to their teeth and/or claws.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a psychopath or a stone cold killer (maybe a badass, though?), as much as I may like to think sometimes. My heart was damn near beating out of my chest. But I was gonna enjoy that smoke, damn it.
I had the bat in hand, turned the headlamp on to that annoying blinking setting, lit up the smoke, took a nice long drag, started waving the bat back and forth above my head, and followed it up with a long exhale through the nostrils (so good…). If it was a human, I’m sure it would have taken off after that (badass) display but alas, it was a bear.

The only problem was this turn of events seemed to piss the bear off, and it did not seem inclined to leave. It began huffing more intensely and pawing at the dirt. So I started talking to the bastard. “What are you doing here? You better get the hell out of here or you’re going to get shot.”

He responded with more huffing and pawing (he may not be leaving, but I sure as hell wasn’t either until I finished my smoke). “Go on, get!” He stood on his rear legs. “Dude, just leave. Trust me, It’s for your own good. I won’t tell your friends.” Back down to four legs. Huff, scrape.

I stopped waving the bat back and forth and turned off the blinking headlamp. That seemed to calm him down a bit. I kept talking to him. “You need to get out of here. Someone’s going to get sick of you, call the COs, and you’re going to get shot.” Let’s just say he didn’t seem to understand English. He also wasn’t going to back down from me.
I finally finished my smoke. I went back inside (not backing down mind you, just finished the smoke), set everything aside, and went and sat on the couch. I considered what I had just done (what the hell was that?). My heart was still thumping pretty good. The adrenaline started to wear off. I thought that this may be a good indication that I should quit smoking (you know, if you’re going to stand there and smoke through that, what the hell does that say about you?). I managed to chuckle and shake my head at myself.

But I didn’t quit smoking (call me stubborn). I wasn’t going to not have a smoke and I guess he wasn’t going to back down from some punk like me. I sometimes look back and ask myself why I did it. I have no real answer, other than I enjoy smoking way too much. I’ve been closer than that to a bear several times, but not for the five minutes or so it took me to suck down that smoke. I still find it funny that he was essentially just waiting for me to get out of there so he could “save face” and not have to back down from a stupid human. Because I’m sure that he left shortly after I went back inside. Stupid human indeed…