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  • Writer's pictureMarilyn Kay Hagar

Bears, Bears and More Bears!

Mother Bear and her two cubs explore my deck
Bears, Bears and More Bears!

A Surprising Visit

There wasn't even time to be afraid. I just desperately needed to find out what was causing this sudden chaos. I had been sitting in my recliner peacefully watching a movie when I was startled by a loud thud. It wasn't stormy but my first thought was that a tree had fallen on my house. "What the heck," I thought as I leaped out of my chair and rushed to the glass door in my living room. I looked out into the wintery darkness. I couldn't see a thing.

Then came a terrible scratching sound from the other side of the house. It was so loud I thought something was trying to tear off the corner of my kitchen. I ran through the dining room thinking all that scraping could be the branches of my imagined fallen tree trying to find their way down the side of my house. I found nothing amiss in the far corner of the kitchen where the sound seemed to be centered. "What is happening?" I kept asking myself.

Like a light bulb turning on in my head I was suddenly reminded of the night four baby raccoons scampered up the wood on the outside corner of my living room. This scraping was ten times louder than that but the memory shifted my imagination and by the time I headed to my entryway I was convinced that this ruckus was being created by a mischievous family of extra large raccoons deciding to wreck havoc on the side of my house. I instantly became obsessed with catching them in the act!

The entry room was dark when I entered. I didn't turn on the light because I was now in sleuth mode. I didn't want to frighten the raccoons away before catching a glimpse of them. I snuck up to the glass door. Bending down and cupping my hands on the glass, I peered into the black night. My stomach flipped when there, just the other side of the glass was a large black nose. "That is not a raccoon nose!" I shouted right out loud as I leapt back and turned on the porch light.

The redwood swing by my door was gyrating wildly and there they were, two bear cubs! The one whose nose I had so closely examined through the glass was right there on the door mat, a writhing mass of shiny dark black fur sniffing and pawing at my entranceway. The other one had climbed up the side of my house, its head almost floor level with the second story. It was up in the Cecil Brunner rosebush that climbs that side of my house, peaking around the corner at me as if to say, "What's up?" The cubs were not at all startled. Instinct clicked in. "Where is their mother?" flashed through my mind. There she was just at the bottom of the deck stairs standing up on two legs, belly exposed, her eyes shining red just at the edge of the light.

There was hardly time to think about any of this, I was just reacting. "Not good for cubs to be on the deck and not be afraid of humans," may have been my thought when I found myself banging on the glass door and shouting "Go away." They didn't. One of them, I think the one on the house, gave me a big deep huff. "Maybe you should get away from the door," may have been my next thought as I scrambled back through the door to my kitchen and closed it. "Hmm... this door doesn't even latch and it is glass too," I felt a little hopeless laugh bubbling up from my belly. "Now what?"

Trying to decide what I should do, I turned around and saw that the cub by the door was turning around as well. It lumbered across the deck, then plopped down the stairs to its mother. The cub on the house was trying to come down but it was caught in the rosebush. It struggled there long enough for me to worry about the thorns hurting it. I even had time to imagine calling the fire department and saying, "There is a bear stuck in my rosebush!" I still can't figure out why the rosebush or the deck railing didn't fall as I watched the cub eventually free itself and amble off to join the others. These were weighty cubs probably born in the spring and now it was December.

I took some deep breaths trying to regain some balance and rationality. Then I picked up a flashlight that was there by the door, went into the kitchen and tried to shine the light through a window so I could see where they were going. I wasn't successful but there was no way I was going to open the door to go outside for a better look.

As I plopped back down into my recliner, my body was full of adrenaline. I couldn't concentrate on my movie. "What was that all about?" I was disoriented. "Why has this night gone so crazy?" I felt like I was waking up from a dream but this dream had been a reality. I called my neighbor and alerted her to the bears presence. We talked for a bit and shared recent wildlife sightings in our forest neighborhood. We see bears more and more often but here in Mendocino they aren't breaking into houses. This was unusual to have them come so close.

I went to bed early that night wondering if I would sleep. Snuggled under my covers I kept seeing that big black nose through the glass and I kept replaying all that had happened. The more I did that the funnier my reactions seemed to me. By the time I fell asleep I felt like I had been the recipient of yet another wild cosmic joke. Like maybe the energies that be, were conspiring about what I needed next. "Well let's send her this and see if it wakes her up a bit." I don't really have a belief that such a thing is possible but sometimes circumstance bring me to that kind of wild imagining. This was the exact day that I had received my second negative Covid test and been set free into the world once again after weeks of isolation. It was a momentous day before the bears came and now even more so.

Why the Bears Came

The next morning I awoke with a start at 4:00 a.m. "The cooling cupboard! They must have come on the deck because they smelled that box of apples in the cooling cupboard," That is what popped into my head as soon as my eyes were open. The corner of my house has a pantry with vents to the outside. The vents are secured so animals can't get in but I never thought about animals smelling what might be in there. The cupboard has been there for years without a problem but that had to be why the bears came so close in.

I was relieved as I needed an explanation. While I like having bears as forest neighbors, I don't want them habituating to people and coming close to houses. Realizing why they had done that settled my mind. I now knew why the bears had come to my door, what it was about for them, but I hadn't yet figured out what it meant for me other than, "Get those apples out of the cupboard and make some apple butter Marilyn!"

Wondering What The Bear's Visit Meant For Me 

That would solve the problem on the physical level but if you read my book Finding the Wild Inside you know that bears occupy a special place in my psyche. They have visited my dreams since I was a tiny girl. They appear in my art. They even appear in my waking life far more often than they do for others that I know.

It had been a long while since I had seen a bear but back in the spring I'll bet I had seen these exact bear cubs. I was driving on a back road not far from here when an adult bear bounded out of the forest and crossed the road just a little ways ahead. I slowed to look and was surprised when two very tiny cubs came trotting along after her. These were the first cubs I had ever seen in Mendocino. The experience put a big smile on my face. I felt blessed by the glimpse I got of them that day. Now here they were right at my door making a big statement. I couldn't help but wonder how this startling event was registering in my inner world.

Exploring With Art

It has been over a month now since the bear's visit. I did the drawing above, Bears, Bears and More Bears, soon after they were here. I wasn't trying to capture the exact event but rather find a way to hold the magic of the encounter which was what I was left with after it had happened. It felt to me like a dream, something outside of time that had popped into my waking reality.

As I said, I don't really believe there is a personalized outside source directing my life. I experience that direction more as an inner voice that guides me. But at the root of it all what I really believe is that outside and inside are not as separate as we have come to believe. Call it what you will, there is something that moves me to make meaning of my life. I do this with my nightly dreams, my art, the synchronicities that surprise me daily and especially with the out-sized waking world experiences that trigger my awe. I knew that this encounter meant that I was in an inner conversation with bears once again. I turned to art to explore this more deeply. I titled this drawing, In Conversation With Bears Again. Over the weeks that followed I came to understand more about why the cubs and I were meeting in this intimate way.

A woman talks with a bear under the night sky and the full moon.
In Conversation With Bears Again

My Book Is Out But...

I was flying high after I launched my new book The Scalpel, the Paintbrush and the Pen in November at The Stanford Inn in Mendocino. (Here is a link to my author talk if you missed it.

A week later, I got a bad cold and a short time after that I got Covid for the first time. The night the bears visited I had been like a bear myself, resting alone in my cave here for most of a month. In the weeks that followed my book launch I had expected to ride on the high energy of that night to help a larger circle of readers discover my book. Instead I had no energy at all. One night I dreamed that a jet plane flying way too low clipped the tops of trees in my meadow and came crashing to the ground just to the side of my house. Indeed, I myself felt like I had made a crash landing after flying so high from my books release.

Landing back on earth I thought to myself, "I had that medical crisis, I wrote about it. It became a book and I released The Scalpel, the Paintbrush and the Pen to my community, end of story, right?" No indeed! My book and its story was out there but the story of me and the Low Grade Mucinous Neoplasms (LAMN) was still ongoing. When the bears came I had just made appointments at UCSF for an MRI and a two year follow-up appointment with Dr. Adam. I was facing the reality that that story was not yet over.

Turning to Art For Help

It was sobering. Once again the fears arose. "What if the tests show a return of the neoplasms? What then?" I tried to tamp down that kind of thinking but I couldn't stop it completely. Mostly I found it hard to focus, hard to move forward until I knew for certain that all was still OK.

I turned to art to help me through that month before my appointment. I was worried about the results of the tests but I was also concerned about the test itself. I had been having CT scans but to spare me the radiation we were changing to MRI's. I wasn't sure what that would be like. Here is what I imagined.

A My  imagined MRI procedure.
My Imaginary MRI Adventure

I gave myself a lot of room in my imagined version of the MRI. When I actually entered the machine a month later it turned out to be much more cozy and much much louder. What an experience! I drew My Mystical MRI Adventure a few days later.

Bears pounding on an MRI machine making all that racket
My Mystical MRI Adventure

Besides the unexpectedly tight quarters, the most remarkable thing about the MRI was an array of very loud sounds including an insistent knocking. Very loud knock, knock, knocks repeated over and over with rhythmic regularity. They sounded urgent. I couldn't help but imagine that someone was out there urgently wanting to connect with me, urgently wanting me to say, "Come in!"

The Bear's Visit And My Medical Concerns

I hoped my drawing would help me process the experience and learn more. The urgency of the knocking had stayed with me. "Was there anything in my life that felt that insistent" I could have drawn this picture with any number of things knocking so urgently on the MRI machine but I was playing and the bears came to mind so I went with it. My drawing connected the bears to my medical concern and the rest of the story unfolded from there. I was surprised that these busy bears had such big hearts. That showed me that whatever they wanted, they came in peace. This drawing warmed my heart.

What did these insistent bears want with me. It came to me that as I faced yet again into this disease where my life seemed on the line the mother bear in waking life had stopped by with her two young cubs. There she was standing at the bottom of the stairs while her cubs romped on my deck. Unconsciously, when I made Bears, Bears and More Bears (Above) I didn't put her where she actually was that night. I think that was because she would have been way too small back there in the background. When this all happened, she didn't seem small to me at all, so in the drawing I made her bigger and placed her closer.

Mother Bear as The Great Mother

Our ancestors way back saw Mother Bear as a symbol for the The Great Mother. She is the one who brings life but also the one who takes life away in the never ending circle of life. My threatening diagnosis had brought me in deep conversation with her power to take life away. I came face to face with my own dying as I portrayed in my painting Remember This in my new book. At that time when I met death along the road of my life I had been allowed to walk on by. As I laid there in the MRI machine with its insistent knocking I was hoping that the results would show that I could keep on walking.

Encountering a skeleton (death) along a road
Remember This

The night the bears came there I was nose to nose with a bear cub and only a thin pane of glass between us. That big black nose so close was like an exclamation point on that encounter as if my psyche was spotlighting it for me. This felt like a waking life dream. Looking at it like I might explore the meaning of a dream I came to see my meeting with the cubs as the opposite of meeting death along life's road. This was a meeting with the other side of The Great Mother energy, a meeting with the one who brings life. That night Mother bear was bringing the picture of good health and vibrant life to my door.

These cubs were the epitome of new life. They were bundles of energy in constant motion out exploring their world. Using their noses for guidance, they had sniffed out the sweet smell of apples now long gone from the trees. What a treasure! "Ahh food," they must have been thinking however that exists inside a bear. In the middle of winter when food must be more scarce, they had found something that would nurture them and keep them going! As shocked as I was to see the cubs when I turned on the light, I noticed the beauty of their fur, how deeply black and shiny it was. These were robust healthy cubs!

A Healing Meeting With Dr. Adam

When I met with my surgeon after I had the MRI that day at UCSF I got the good news that all my tests were completely normal. He asked to see my belly, "Wow you heal really well!" he said as he examined my fading scar. "That's fantastic! Awesome. Awesome! That is great!" he exclaimed with genuine enthusiasm. When he referred to LAMN he was careful to speak of it as something I "had" not "have." We spent the rest of our time talking about my fears and how I can integrate all that has happened so I can find the best way to go forward.

I'm grateful to have a surgeon who relates to me on all those levels at once. He is not just an expert in his field, but also a caring compassionate human being who sees it as part of his job to walk with me through my healing process, even now I guess, two year later. I was thrilled to get such good news and he seemed thrilled to report that to me. The surgery had done what it was supposed to do but I can't emphasis enough that it wasn't just the good news that lifted my spirits. We had managed once again to touch into what lies at the heart of all healing relationships. It is something that is hard to describe or measure. For me it lies in the realm magic and myth and is felt, rather than understood. I knew that for sure by what happened next.

When I walked out of my appointment and made my way down the hallways surrounded by so many really sick people I had a sense that I didn't belong there any more. As I walked to the parking lot I felt myself crossing a bridge from patient to survivor. Later I texted my three sons to tell them my good news. I added, "I feel like this is the first day of the rest of my life." I can't put my finger on what brought me to that bridge or what gave me the sudden ability to walk across it. All I know is that it felt like magic, like a wand had been waved or a sword had tapped my shoulder and I suddenly bore the name Survivor.

Rediscovering My Good Health

On my dawn walk on the Mendocino headlands days later I found myself remembering a conversation with Dr. Adam when I agreed to having the CRS/HIPEC surgery. As we were making the plan and trying to figure out if we could trust one another I told him that I would do everything possible to bring about my healing but that he should know that I am overly cautious and I might need encouragement in that regard. As it turned out my cautious nature was only a minor problem as I healed from my surgery but on my walk that day on the headlands I saw Cautious Marilyn in all her glory, and how she had been front and center in my life for the last several months.

That morning my thoughts seemed nested one inside the other like those Russian Matryoshka dolls. When you open one, another one is revealed and so it goes until you come to precious little one at the center of it all. On the outside, I've known that I am doing very well but my fears and concerns have been just beneath the surface, popping up with regularity. Not a day has gone by that I haven't in some way touched back into the trauma in that whole journey. That morning as I walked along I realized how cautious I had been about embracing my good health. I knew the surgery had removed an imminent threat but good health? That door was closed. It was as if I had been saying, "Good health? Who knows? Don't get too invested. It could slip away any minute." I didn't want to live with that kind of pessimism. Those words bore an edge of cynicism. Thoughts like that could greatly narrow my vision of what might be real or possible for me. We may not like it but shadowy thoughts like these can be extremely useful once recognized. This one led me to discover the real crux of my current situation.

I found myself recalling that moment in December of 2020 when I saw the first sign that all was not well with me, that streak of blood on my toilet tissue. As I wrote in The Scalpel, the Paintbrush, and the Pen, "From one moment to the next, the boogeyman of ill health jumps out of nowhere and says Boo! In that single moment you realize that something is profoundly wrong with you and you witness your remarkably good health slip away before your very eyes." Only now am I realizing that when I felt my good health slip away, I somehow thought that once lost, it was gone forever.

With this misconception unconsciously nestled inside of me I have been treating my good health as if it died back in 2020 and I've been mourning its loss. Yet here I am living my life with health and vigor. In my appointment I could see that Dr. Adam wasn't holding my good health as I was. For him it was still completely alive inside of me. "Medically you are doing great," he told me. "We just need to match that with tricking your mind to align with this vision."

I thought about that insistent knocking in the MRI machine and my desire to shout, "Come in for god sake!" I thought of those bear cubs at my door. I didn't want to invite them in but that morning on my walk I did open my door to the vigor and health they were exemplifying. Tears came as I experienced the resurrection of Healthy Marilyn. She has been there for some time. It is such a joy to be able to see her and fully embrace her once again.

I thought about the mother bear standing at the bottom of the stairs, her eyes red at the edge of the light. Yes the Great Mother gave me life and she has the power to end it. Good to know that and see that, but good to keep that thought in the background of my life, visible but not dominating my reality. In that way my death brings focus on the meaning and purpose of my life. I did title that drawing of my encounter with the skeleton Remember This and I do but for now I'll be embodying Healthy Marilyn. That is after all who I actually am.

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