I met a bear in the bush, and she told me a story.
Hiking in a wilderness area on the south shore of Nova Scotia, I heard this odd, mechanical growl. The sound was masked by the racket I was making, moving through narrow paths on barrens covered with huckleberry, sedge and rose, over granite rocks, roots, puddles and sopping peat.
At first I wasn’t alarmed. I thought, construction somewhere, a boat on the water, thunder. I thought: nothing.
Then I heard it again.
Construction was unlikely, miles from anywhere. Ditto a marine motor: boats are rarely audible until you’re fairly near the shore. As for thunder, it was a bright, fresh morning, and the sky was perfectly clear.
It was strange to hear a noise so loud in this wild, untrafficked place. But by now it had stopped. I started to go on.
Then maybe something moved in the brush ahead. Maybe the growling resumed. I stopped, hoping for calm, and from deep in the bushes came an unmistakable sound: something big, huffing like a thwarted child.
The thing about black bears is that they are more afraid of us than we are of them. No bear has killed a human in Nova Scotia and that huffing sound they make is a fear vocalization. But the thing about humans is that we know better than to trust this kind of raw generalization. Like humans, individual animals have distinct personalities, histories and patterns of behaviour.
Maybe this bear had experienced threats from humans in the past. Maybe she was a new mother caring for a pair of cubs sleeping in the bushes.
I backed away, talking as calmly as I could until it seemed safe to turn around. What a thrill to be reminded that this coast is not ours! To have its wildness proven!
As I walked, I wondered how my trespassing might have seemed from her point of view—yet another heedless human, stumbling through her living room.
If that was her point of view.
Later, listening to black bear vocalizations on YouTube, I felt startled and delighted to be reminded how magnificent an unfamiliar voice can be, its meaning encoded, in tone and pattern and cadence, with a world of awareness and desire.
Hey, bear? Thank you.
To be reminded that there is glory in difference—that difference doesn’t have to be threatening, isn’t something to be overcome—feels, this dark fall, like a gift.