By Sher Maryn LeBay
Do you know the poem about the two bears? I will embellish it…
Two bears, in the wild, spend an exquisite day doing what bears do—plunging their large paws into a cold stream where the salmon run. They don’t talk much when the fishing is good and today there is very little conversation. All morning long, they hop and splash and pounce in the fast moving water, then lean into big rocks as they peel off the glistening silver sheets of skinand push the shimmering paw-fulls into their mouths.
“The skin is the best part” one bear proclaims to the other. But the other bear’s mouth is stuffed so she nods, vigorously: “You are right.”
Stuffed bellies require naps so the two bears amble over to a clutch of trees and spread out under the limbs for a mid afternoon snooze. It is said that bears have the best sense of smell of any animal on earth. Imagine how luscious the scent of their spruce needle carpet is to them. The tiny spruce pillows we humans buy cannot compare. Not at all.
Waking, the bears set out for one of their favorite berry patches. Fall is on the way and there aren’t many berries left but they find a bunch in a spot they missed on prior forages. Clicks and thwacks fill the air as they bend the branches back, snapping them. Purple juice runs down their long snouts. Blueberries are their favorite fruit.
What a day.
As the earth spins and the sun recedes, the two bears sit side by side on a hill mesmerized by the crimson slants of light turning fire-orange in the sky. “Have you heard about Jacques?” one bear asks the other, “how he is traveling all around the country in a golden cage. The humans love his stunts and tricks and clap and cheer wildly for him.”The listening bear says nothing for a few seconds.
Then, he starts weeping…
For bears, the greatest loss is to give up on who they are and what they love.
I come upon Nick on a bluff overlooking Schooner Pond Cove in Donkin. His maroon car, oldish and low to the ground bumps up and down over the swells of earth. He parks it parallel to the sea, gets out and leans his body into the shut door, crossing his feet at the ankles. Through the glass window, Iknow so much about him: “He owns this place” I say to myself. “His blood is here. His heart. The whole thing.”
I get out of my car and make my way toward the young man, just shedding boyhood, where he stands on a lip of grass sloping sharply to the sea. He will tell me where to find the birds near Schooner Pond. My binoculars over my shoulder and bird book in hand, I make my way to the car.
“Good morning,” I say confidently. He smiles broadly.
There is a sweetness about him; a shyness too. The Men of the Deeps have this same quality in their faces when they sing…a kind of twinkling tenderness that causes me to lose the melody as I follow the dance on their faces. He does not know where the birds are but it doesn’t matter. I am already leaning into the side of the car, my legs outstretched.
Nick will be twenty in September. He lives with his mom in Donkin. He points up the road when I ask if he was born here. “Ohh nooo” he answers. “I was born in Long Beach.” I try not to smile.
“I come here a lot” he tells me. “It is so bee-u-ti-ful.”
He tells me he is a mechanic but he cannot find work. “There aren’t that many jobs for mechanics” he explains. And the ones that exist, are taken by men who have been there for four or five years. “You only get a job if someone leaves and people don’t leave too often.” (Inmy three months in Cape Breton, I understand Nick’s story is this island’s story).
He talks about his life without a sliver of bitterness.
“My heart is here” he continues. “Everybody is so friendly. You go down the street and they all wave. I love the peacefulness. I don’t want to go but if I have to, my heart will never leave.”
I rifle through my box of words and choose carefully, telling him what I know to be true in my own life: “Follow the trail of whatever you love most deeply” I say. “It is easier to find work than it is to find home. I have never loved a place as firmly as you love this place. Go as long as you can and as hard as you can to stay where your love is.”
I wonder if he knows the poem about the bears. I will re-cast the ending.
The bears have had another glorious day. After salmon fishing and berry picking the two nestle togetheron a hillside and watch the sunset. “Have you heard about Jacques?” the one bear asks the other. “He is coming home.”
The listening bear thinks for a few seconds and then starts smiling.
“I have missed Jacques so much” she says. “How shall we welcome him? Winter is coming. The salmon are few and the blueberries are nearly spent. What can we do?”
The bears watch the last few lights in the sky for a long time. Then one bear says “You know, there is only one thing that’s ever gotten us through these long, cold winters.”
“What is that?” the other bear asks.
“We love our life.”
“So true. There is simply nothing better than being a bear. Nothing at all.”
“First thing tomorrow, we will go fishing for Jacques.”
“Berry-picking, too. ”