Friday, 17 September 2010

Bear attack

You wait for ages for a bear, then three come along at once

It had been a good celebration, after all, the volleyball team had won an area trophy, and  beverages had been consumed. He got a taxi home at 9.30, but didn't ask it to drop him at his door - the main road would do, and he would walk up. When you have grown up with bears around and nothing happens to you for thirty odd-years, you assume nothing will happen for the next thirty. It was dark on the small road up through the village and the allotments, but he saw it coming for him, a black bear that had probably been surprised raiding the kabucha pumpkins. It was on him fast, raking his back and legs with deep claw marks, and catching his nose as he scrabbled to stand up again and run. He managed it, and made it to his door, bleeding but in one piece, thankfully for his wife and two young children.

Lots of stitches and a few days in hospital later, he was home again. Enquiries and solicitations were met with abashed apologies - they were really were so very sorry to have caused people worry, really very sorry. Had the bear been shot? Well, probably that wasn't going to happen. After all, it was just unlucky, and what with the numbers of people working and growing vegetables and rice in the hills above the village, it would be dangerous for hunters to begin shooting there.

This was the first bear attack in our village for ten years, but it had felt that it was only a matter of time. Despite the regular warnings of sightings on the council's public address system, the fireworks let off in the evening, and people exchanging stories about which of their crops had been raided, there was no discernible change in people's behaviour. It is seen as a chance occurrence, that happens or not, and so be it. In fact we had a party of our own in the village that night, after which my wife's cousin, wove uncertainly with a big smile on his face, down the main road, despite our protestations and offers of a lift "Daijobu, daijobu..." he said, fuzzily ("It's OK, its OK..."), and as luck would have it, he was.

Suddenly it filled the windscreen, huge and sprinting in freeze frames, Muybridge style, burnt into the retina, lolloping across the road, bleached in the full beam headlights, it's shaggy pelt flowing in waves like an Afghan hound.  Half way up the road past the ski centre in the dark at 8.30, our first full on broadside sight of a bear - a big one. We must have surprised it crossing back into the woods from raiding the allotment on the right. I'm glad the brakes worked. I'm glad I wasn't on my bike. We sat for a few minutes as it sank in, a thing not to be forgotten in a hurry. Further on, more moonstruck animals leaped before us - a Tanuki, and a few minutes later, a Japanese marten ran down the road in the lights for half a mile, not turning into the safety of the forest. A night of full moon, a week before the attack.

It's head, comically exactly and unmistakeably bear-shaped, after eighteen months of expecting to see one any day, poked out like a theatrical prop on a stick from between someone's house and their car at the edge of the village - the biggest village that stands in for an actual town round here. Bloody hell, that is actually a bear! What happens if someone steps out for a smoke or to nip to the shop? It clocked my headlights, and ducked back in sharpish, looking sheepish (for a bear) a bungling teenage criminal looking for a main chance. My first bear sighting, luckily from a car, ten days before the attack.

The trucks and cars on the valley road are probably more dangerous, but with that progression, we really don't need a fourth bear.

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