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THE BEARS OF METUCHEN
June 22, 2011
 
My daughter used to mix up her senses a bit when she was tiny -- I hear a skunk, she would say, when she meant that she smelled one. The phrase remained part of our family long after she had figured it out. I hear a skunk, someone will say. Yes, someone else will answer, they're very noisy tonight.

We had a skunk family living in the side garden for a time. We'd see the mother parading up the driveway once in a while, on her way to the compost pile for a late night snack of earthworms, her babies following her all in a line. And we had a possum who lived in the woodpile in summer and the garage in winter -- we would drive in and there she would be, the car's headlights catching her red eyes, watching us there in the dark. We had raccoons the tree over near where the skunks lived. We've had rabbits and the occasional deer.

But we never had a bear.

There was excitement here the other day: not one but two black bears came to town! One was spotted over near the recycling center and the other one in a tree on Maple Avenue. He climbed it, I'm sure, to escape the advances of curious townspeople, some of whom were so entranced by the fact of our having our very own bears that some of them were tempted to hazard an unsafe familiarity. The police were on hand -- ready, if need be, to protect everybody from everybody else, ursine and human alike.

We and our two bears made the evening news, a celebrity that sent the one on Maple Avenue even higher in his tree to get away from the television cameras, so high that the people from Animal Control despaired of tranquilizing him. It didn't last -- everyone's fifteen minutes of fame is just that: fifteen minutes. By yesterday afternoon, the bears were gone. I called the police to ask after them. The officer told me they'd been relocated.

Cute story. But it is ominous: they didn't want to be here with us, of course, not in such close proximity. The bears wandered into town by mistake. The terrified deer I saw running down Main Street, dodging the cars -- she didn't want to be in our town. They're wild animals, and they want to be in the woods. We have deprived them of too much of it, though-- too much development encroaching upon their habitat has driven them into ours, a land in which they cannot live as they are meant to live.

Neither can we. The time is growing short for us and the way we have chosen to live. Human to human competition for food and water security has turned violent and deadly on several continents. Life on the earth has always been fragile, but we have chosen not to face this fact until quite recently. Our ancient conviction that it is always right to do whatever we wish cannot stand. My narrow self-interest in the short term is an insufficient guide for my behavior in the world. There really is no such thing as a free lunch, and there never has been.

Wild animals in our midst may be cute. They may be a nuisance in the garden. But what they really are is a warning.

O merciful Creator, your hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature: Make us always thankful for your loving providence; and grant that we, remembering the account that we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your good gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.
-- Book of Common Prayer
The Episcopal Church
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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