Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Canada: Getting Stupid

     The winter is not my friend.

     Once upon a time, when I was a young and stupid child, I decided that when I grew up I would move to Alaska. I liked the cold. Fifty-shmifty. Just you try to send me off the school with a jacket. Turn away one second and: bam! Jacket’s stuffed to the bottom of the Lost and Found; buried beneath a dozen unclaimed unwashed gym uniforms. I liked the snow, too. I’d seen plenty of it before: on television and once in the seventh grade. Snow was like frosting. Snow was like Care-a-Lot, all fluffy clouds and fun runs hosted by fat, fuzzy bears. Cush. I was gonna live there.

     Then I realized that snow is one: not soft, and two: fucking cold, and I moved to Hawai’i.

     At the time this happened, I was working on my third novel. There’s a snow-mobile chase in it and I lacked the first-hand experience to write the scene properly, so I decided to take a field trip to Canada. I rented a cottage in the woods and dragged my dumb tropical ass up into the heart of winter.

     I was about half way through a handwritten first draft the day the bear arrived. It was a small bear, by any measure, but that didn’t change the fact that it was a bear. And I didn’t know it was there.
Yes, this is me.
     Research time. I stepped outside, dressed like a maniac, ready to learn. What is it like to actually touch the snow? What does it taste like? What is the sensation of spilling off a snowmobile, smacking face down into powder and scrambling away, half running, half swimming? These are the questions I’m here to answer. This is the work I do.

    Pulling cautiously at a glove, I pondered the idea of holding this snow in my real hand. The kettle interrupted me and I jumped at the chance to return to the warmth of the cabin and pour myself a third cup of Earl Grey. I’d be back to work in a moment.

    But I hadn’t accounted for the bear.

    In my haste to leave the snow, I’d left my journal outside. I’d left six months of work on the crackly crust of the drift that surrounded my house. I’d left my baby unattended.

    By the time I emerged again from the house, the bear had my journal in its slobbery mouth.
Bears are mean.

    I’ve never been a mother but I’ve heard it makes you do crazy things. A mother will kill a shark with her teeth to save her young; she’ll lift a bus to free her baby. There is a click and something shuts off in her brain. She becomes teeth and claws and will, like, well, like a mother bear protecting her cubs. Caution to the wind. Danger be damned.

    There must have been some part of me that knew this was terribly wrong. Surely some measure of sanity must have spat out its gag and screamed, “Stop! What are you doing?” If I think back on it now, I can almost hear that little voice, a rational whisper crying out from beneath a sea of instinct. But my body is fast and it didn’t hear the warning in time.

    I woke up, as it were, from my adrenalized rampage with both hands on the book and one foot on the bear. My hands were pulling with all their might. My foot was at the tail end of a kick.

    Go back to your middle school self-defense class for a moment. A stranger grabs you and what do you do? Kick, break away, punch, run. There was a reason they threw in the extra punch: it's to keep the assailant from coming after you once you get yourself free. There was a reason I didn’t: a bear has teeth the size of knives.

     I stood silently in front of the bear I’d kicked, studying his face, clutching my novel to my chest. Was he angry? Scared? Hungry? WTF? We watched each other, gaging next-moves for a few moments. Then it occurred to me that there was no way this bear was alone.

     I have never run so fast. In fact, I don’t think I ran. I think I sprang. One big leap. I reached the door to the cabin, slammed it shut and looked out the window.

     Momma Bear stood staring back.
     I phoned a friend.

     “I think I just pissed off a bear.”

     “What did you do?”

     “I kicked its baby in the balls.”

     She laughed for a very long time.

     I stayed indoors for three days.

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