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  • Writer's pictureMarilyn Kay Hagar

The First Bear of this Covid19 Summer

I was awakened at 6:00 a.m. the other morning by a loud snapping sound. Being somewhere between dreamland and waking life, my first thought took a moment to slip into my consciousness, "Is there someone in the house?" I listened and not hearing anything else, I turned over and let myself drift back to sleep.

Later that morning, settling in at my desk to begin writing, I looked out into the meadow. What I saw was anything but settling! My plum tree had been badly thrashed, large broken branches hanging in every direction. What a mess!

I knew immediately that that much damage didn't come from the raccoons or the foxes. The first bear of summer had visited and he/she was hungry for plums! Bear scat in the driveway and a video on my wildlife camera showing the bear in my apple tree that night, confirmed my suspicion.

Later that day, it dawned on me that that early morning snapping sound I had long since forgotten, must have been the bear, breaking all those branches. Oh how I wish I had roused myself enough to look out the window and at least get a peek at my hungry visitor.

A big part of my book Finding the Wild Inside, tells the story of my life long inner relationship with bears. Over the years, I've found that whatever the inner meaning, when the bears visit, there are outer world consequences to deal with. In tending to those consequences, more often than not, I discover the synchronous meaning hiding inside the event itself.

That morning I knew I needed to take care of my poor tree. Not having started my chain saw in a number of years, I didn't have what it took to try to use it, so I found myself with my old rusty orchard saw, using my muscle power to saw off the dangling limbs. I hoped I wasn't damaging the tree further. I guess the bear didn't care that the plums on the tree were not yet ripe. Cleaning up, I found this last remaining plum on the ground underneath all the chaos.

The sawing was harder than I expected so I was laboring. As each branch fell to the ground, my interaction with the tree began to remind me an awful lot of my life in these pandemic times. In the wake of this virus, so much has fallen away for so many of us. I'm fortunate that I don't yet know anyone who has been hospitalized or died from the virus, but my life has been radically altered. There are no more airbnb guests, no more creative retreats, no more using the yurt/art studio to see clients, no summer family visits, no gathering with friends, a radically pruned social life in general. No more movies at the theater, no more concerts, no more eating out, disastrous financial consequences. I'm sure we all have our lists. My list feels endless, though I know it is not.

Days later now, here is what remains of my plum tree. It is about a third the size of its former self. The deer have come to devour the leaves on the discarded branches, an unexpected treat, now within their reach. Each day when I look at the tree, it is much easier for me to focus on what is gone rather than what actually remains, a truth I experience in my own life as well.

I wonder how the tree will manage. Can it repair itself from so much cutting away? Hope springs eternal inside me. The roots still send food and energy and the sun still nurtures those branches that do remain. If the tree survives, hopefully it can sprout some new growth come Spring. Other trees in my orchard have survived such adversity.

Something similar might be true for us as well. All of that energy that went elsewhere is still with us, we just need to direct it differently. Certainly, with so much gone, we'll need to dig deeper to see what of importance still remains.

That is what I am trying to do. I am here. I am breathing and moving around my forest home. I rarely get into my car and am shocked when I do, at the speed it can go. I'm reminded, as I was in my mid-life backpacking adventures, that life is very slow when we rely on our feet to take us where we need to go. I am settling into that slowness.

When I think about my former life, I see it as if in a rearview mirror and wonder at what it was all about. All that scheduling, all that rushing about, all that energy, suddenly irrelevant. With my slower pace, I find myself much more in the present moment throughout the day. I have more time for contemplation and I am finding simple pleasures in the most ordinary things. Each day I ask myself, "What still wants to be lived?" The answers that come are both large and very small.

Thinking back to my morning with the plum tree, I'll admit that when I first went out to get a close up look at the damage, I did try to lift some limbs and fantasized that maybe I could prop them up, or bind them back some way. Of course, I soon realized that that was foolishness. Actively taking the saw to the tree, participating in the cutting off, was the obvious best thing to do.

In my life as well, I don't want to resist the change that, like those tree branches, is falling down all around me. I don't want to live in victim consciousness, about the bear smashing my plum tree or about the virus altering my life. I don't actually want to put my life back together exactly as it was. Living creatively, I want to trust into these times when everything is dissolving. I know they are also times when amazing new possibilities for our lives can reveal themselves. To move forward in the chaos, it does require grieving what has been lost and then, most importantly, staying with the changes long enough to see what new might be coming our way. My biggest fear about these pandemic times is that we will all grasp at normalcy, and miss this important opportunity for change both personally and in our larger world.

I find myself willing to let much of what is obviously gone, fall away. Other parts of my life, are not so easy to release. Those, I cling to, resisting, with a good deal of denial about how long the pandemic is going to be with us. But like realizing my folly in trying to raise those branches and put them back into place, I do come to my senses, recognizing that what is gone is indeed gone and there is no certain promise of its return.

That morning, I was thinking about my grief over the difficult changes, as I sawed the biggest branches to the ground. As they fell, I felt my resistance falling away as well. In its place I have been surprised to find my deep curiosity. I can't wait to see how such severe pruning will mold and shape me into someone new.

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