Two days before my winter migration to Florida last November, an unexpected visitor arrived in our neighborhood in central Wisconsin--a six foot black bear.
Although we live very much in town, and less than two blocks as the eagle flies from the helicopter landing pad that services the local emergency room and hospital, we are surrounded by forest, very much a rural setting in an urban one, and the fact that many of the neighbors feed wildlife--the resident deer population, the flock of wild turkeys--made our street all the more attractive to a bear reluctant to bed down for winter. For the same reason, the appropriate government agency once contacted refused to assist in trapping or relocating the bear unless all neighbors cooperated with taking down their bird and animal feeders, which they were similarly reluctant to do.
I first became aware of the bear's presence late one night when my neighbors returned home and were honking their car horn loudly in the driveway. A phone call later, I was informed the bear had run to a tree in my front yard, a tall ash. The next morning between the ash and another tree, there were prints in light snow.
The government agent assured that the bear would soon hibernate for winter, never fear, but the animal's arrival accelerated my departure, and we headed to warmer climes.
I was walking my dog one Florida morning in early April, the bear long forgotten, the cold behind us. His jocular jaunts were our customary greeting to the day, stretching legs in a neighborhood both friendly and familiar. Generally there were few hazards, except occasional bad weather which if possible we avoided.
We'd seen the greyhound occasionally on our street, visiting we thought from another state, but never perceived him as dangerous until in a flash he had twelve pounds of my Havanese in his teeth, thrashing him from side to side like a rag doll, a stuffed toy, in a my-God-who'd-have-thought sort of moment. We always hope our instincts will serve us in those moments, but never sure there will be anything but a tragic outcome.
Several hours, several stitches, and several hundred dollars later, my dog came home alive from the emergency clinic. The mystified owner of a rescued greyhound was left to ponder how the unthinkable had happened.
That it happened in the first place was nightmare enough. That the owner chose to shadow us up and down the street in the days and yes weeks that followed, was, well, incomprehensible. Bullying was something I didn't really have to endure as a child--teasing, yes, but not bullying--and not even as an adult, so I found the gestures of a sixty-something man parading the animal that had severely injured my dog and terrorized us both to be lightyears outside the range of acceptable civil behavior. Maybe that retired racer was gentle every day of his life before and after that, but on that day, he was Cujo, and that was enough to mark him in my own mind as a threat.
As spring came to Wisconsin, I learned the bear had returned. More accurately, he had never left. Apparently, according to the government agent, he had hibernated on our street (why not?), satisfied there was a reliable food source at winter's end. And he was right.
Neighbors ultimately complied with the government agent's request that feeders be removed, and within twenty-four hours of a trap being set, it had Yogi inside on his way to a new home.
A month later I was in a movie theater in Florida on a stormy night in Wisconsin, almost but not quite ready to make the return migration north, when I got a phone call.
"It was a stormy night here in Wisconsin," my neighbor told me. I knew already, as I had seen the storm watches and warnings online. "The wind was pretty bad. But it hit only one house on our street."
I knew already. My house. One tree, a large maple, had been completely uprooted and carried across the street. The other, a stately ash, had split in two, the fallen half laying in my front yard. Neither would ultimately survive.
I laughed with the assurance of Garp after the airplane flew into his home. We'd be safe now.