Life lessons

Life lessons
First bear.
First bear.

There are plenty of good reasons to be on good terms with adults when you’re younger – references, letters of recommendation…they might one day take you to a sure-thing black bear spot.
I speak from experience.
With the immature bravado of a 14-year old, I flicked my wrist and sent the piece of paper slowly spinning toward the teacher’s desk.
“Sign this Busse.”
It hits with a dull thud in my memory.  Mr. Busse smiled from his chair, knowing this would be a watermark in my transformation from cocky freshman to adult. He was big on respect so Dad would find out. There would be consequences for me ordering an adult to sign the form I needed for a school trip rather than asking respectfully.
That afternoon, I heard Dad pull up in the gravel driveway of our home in Klawock. The engine didn’t stop. The backdoor opened. The vein in his forehead was already bulging before he ordered me into the station wagon.
I sat next to the oven in Mr. Busse’s kitchen while his wife cooked. I was ordered to apologize.
“You didn’t mean that!”
Dad fumed. I was stuck. What do you do then? If you say you’re sorry, it’s disingenuous. If you don’t, you’ll be slow roasted in the heat of the oven and your dad’s stare. Mr. Busse smirked. The lesson was happening. The memory ends there.
None of this came to mind as Mr. Busse and I sat on the edge of a grassy inlet, rifles in hand. He’s Don now, at his insistence. The bad memory of that piece of paper has been buried beneath basketball games in which he coached me, and more recently, hunting stories.
We sat and waited. The sun dipped behind the mountain across the inlet and the slow trip to twilight began. There was a creek that emptied into the ocean around a corner to the east. The wind wouldn’t bust us, and the evening would draw the bears onto the flats to forage. Don recommended we move.
We skirted the timber slowly and reached a projection of forest that obscured our view of the grassy flats that flanked a creek. Don said to cut through. It would put us in full view of textbook spring bear terrain. Halfway through, I saw a black hole on the shore. I ducked for a better look through the low branches. Bear. It was just on the other side of the creek. Between the noise of the water, the direction of the breeze, and our location back in the trees, we were invisible. The bear looked in our direction for a moment, then lowered its head and turned broadside. I knelt and found a rest.
“Do you want it?”
It didn’t take a step.
Don was just as excited as I was. I crossed the creek and looked at the motionless ball. The bear’s eyes were open, but there was nothing behind them. Career bear number one. It was much more average than massive, but I didn’t care. I’d eat the meat and cover part of a wall with the hide. We finished the cutting without artificial light, and got back to the truck before dim became dark.
It’s been a long time since Mr. Busse and my dad made a big deal out of nothing. But without that nothing, who knows where’d I’d be, who I would have become or what would be on my wall.

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