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My Grandfather’s Blessing

Kai Staats - Humming Bird at Buffalo Peak Ranch

Kai Staats - Sunrise from the barn, Buffalo Peak Ranch

A Good Morning
With the close of last week I completed two months working part time as a ranch hand on the isolated, Buffalo Peak Ranch in the Front Range of Colorado. Each morning the sun rises and I am stirred by its heat, the light falling across my face through the open doors of the second story of the barn where I sleep. I stretch, my eyes work to open.

The sky yet retains the depth of colour of the night sky, mixed with the rising sun. The coyotes howl and the most curious of the humming birds, who have come to know me fairly well, hovers directly in front of me, darting from my left eye to my right and back to the left again before departing with a chirp and a buzz. It is as though she is reminding me to come feed her.

I sit up, stretch, and engage in a few minutes of yoga and meditation to return my heart to a near sleeping state. I work to clear my mind of the anxiety of the final waking moments of sleep when it seems all that lays ahead of me finds form as characters in a dream.

It is not easy, but I want to rise in control of my body, aware of every motion and every breath. I envision email from anticipated sources, mentally run through my calendar of due-dates and deadlines and wonder if I forgot something the night before. I work to quickly sweep these thoughts aside as I realize I am again not living in the moment, the sunrise worth every bit of my attention.

I rise to my feet, arms outstretched, grasping both of the barn doors in order to draw them closed. If I were to stumble I could fall back onto my bed or forward and drop twelve feet to the packed earth below. I like the fact that my head rests near a ledge all night. It reminds me of so many nights sleeping in the desert. It feels grounded, real.

I pull on my shorts and shoes, walk across the plywood floor of the hay barn, down the stairs covered in white bird droppings, and across the yard to the cabin. The moment I open the door, even as I remain outside, a half dozen humming birds fly around me. Some are so close I can feel the movement of air from their wings across my forehead and cheeks.

Kai Staats - Humming Birds at Buffalo Peak Ranch

They know me now. The sound of the door signifies to them the coming of fresh sugar water. A few days ago four of these amazing creatures sat still, wings folded, two on each of my hands. I was able to move my hands forward and back while they kept their beaks engaged in the drinking ports. Eventually, I hope to gain their trust such that I can pet them, but that would take more time than I have committed to building our symbiotic relationship. They receive water and in exchange, I am given reason to smile.

Once inside, I prepare cold cereal or yogurt and granola, a glass of juice or cold, homemade ginger tea. It’s almost a routine, but not quite, for each day there is something unique. Sometimes a few rabbits scurry across the yard. Once or twice, the elk run by, between thirty and forty in the herd.

Kai Staats - Trevor on the new dock at Buffalo Peak Ranch

With a Shovel in Hand
This summer I helped Trevor, the head ranch hand, repair the culvert gate for the upper pond, dig nearly one thousand feet of trench with a rented Ditch Witch and then drop-in a two inch line to drain the bogs into two 275 gallon tanks for the cattle. We hope this will reduce their time in the stream, their hooves eroding the banks and waste polluting the water.

Our ad hoc surveying equipment (a carpenters level balanced across two shovels topped by a camera with zoom lens sighted to a tape measure at nearly 200 feet distance) proved useful as the water flowed through the pipe the first time.

In the final week of July, we co-designed and built a form, mixed thirty six bags of concrete, and constructed a gated dam to restore the third pond just above the road. Every day we worked hard, completing valuable projects which improve the function and value of the property.

Kai Staats - Kai repairing the culvert, Buffalo Peak Ranch

We seldom came in from the pasture until the sun was behind the peak—but then the day was done. That sense of accomplishment reminds me of growing up on our family farm in Iowa. There was nothing else to do once the sun was set, a sense of both living in the moment and letting go until the next day. We accomplished all that was possible. It will be there tomorrow, waiting.

Those were the days before cell phones and the Internet, when the land line phone rang once a day and the most important people in the world were right there, in front of you, sharing stories.

Make Time for the Storm
A thunderstorm swept across the ranch today. At two in the afternoon, the sky grew dark as it would at dusk, the temperature dropped, and the hummingbirds retreated to where it is they go for shelter, the back door quiet without their fighting over what would surely cause diabetes in humans.

The first drops fell and I remained here, at my keyboard. The thunder shook the cabin and the window to my front lit up. It was only then when I realized I was missing the storm outside. Suddenly the ozone was present, cool moisture entering the cabin. I moved quickly to watch the best show on Earth.

Outside, I welcomed the rain as my hair, shirt, and pants grew wet. The cattle in the distant pasture moved from open grass to the cover of trees and behind me, another lightning bolt struck in the Lost Creek Wilderness.

Just as my body began to shiver the rain let up and the lightning ceased. I walked around the cabin to the hot tub, lifted the cover, removed my wet clothes, and stepped in.

Finally, I was there, in just one place and one time.

If only I could live that way, every hour of ever day, as I did those many summers on my family farm. That would be my grandfather’s blessing, a reminder of the value of doing just one thing at a time.

By |2017-08-12T04:55:04-04:00August 5th, 2013|At Home in the Rockies, Humans & Technology|0 Comments

Embrace the Storm

Kai Staats: Rainbow over Buffalo Peak Ranch

I am sitting just inside a large pane glass window which overlooks the meadow and first pasture of Buffalo Peak Ranch. The storm had been brewing all day. Finally it let go, the first, full precipitation to hit the dry soil at eight thousand feet elevation in more than two weeks.

There is something inherent in a thunderstorm and the subsequent rain that causes me to catch my breath. For me, it is completely involuntary, a joy that rises inside. Nothing feels as real, as satisfying as when the air carries the presence of ozone and the bones in my chest reverberate with successive shock waves, the earth shaking beneath my feet.

In my travels, I am often reminded of the differences in both personal and cultural reactions to temperature and weather.

Cold for a Kenyan is weather conducive to a T-shirt and shorts for someone from Colorado. Too hot for a Minnesotan is winter for someone from Dubai. The human species has found comfort in an incredibly diverse range of climates, more than any other single species on Earth. We have claimed home at more than 16,000 feet elevation and also a few hundred meters below sea level, even temporary living beneath the ocean’s surface in submersibles and research stations. We have lived for countless generations in the tropics, deserts, alpine meadows, and coastal plains. Soon, we will live on the surface of Mars, not likely to breathe outside of a dome or pressurized suit for countless generations.

In Arizona people play golf in temperatures over 43C (110F) while in Seattle, it is completely normal to run soaked to the bone, in near freezing temperatures.

In Cape Town, South Africa I was enjoying the beginning of their winter with the close of May. I opened the windows to the guest house room where I stayed each night, the cool, moist air entering with the sound of water spilling from overflowing gutters above me.

I was repeatedly asked by the locals how I managed against the weather. My response was an elated, “I love it! It’s amazing!” the next storm building outside. In response, I received looks of horror, a sense of dread as they wrapped their winter jackets around their torsos even tighter. When the temperature drops to 15C (60F), South Africans go on vacation to warmer climates.

This is not a judgment nor a criticism, but an example of how individuals, how entire societies respond to the weather. I spoke at length about this with my host at SAAO. She suggested that to cheer at a thunder clap or to remain inside behind closed doors is based on how we were raised, if we were brought up to embrace the out-of-doors or literally if we were “sheltered” in that we found comfort in buildings and cars.

For me, modern houses are too tightly wrapped, the lack of air flow stagnating when I want so much to experience what is happening outside. I have friends who cannot sleep without the constant buzz of an electric fan or television in the background. Full silence is as alien to them as is living in a city for me, traffic, gun shots, and sirens challenging my dreams.

Give me a cabin, a tent, or nothing at all as I prefer to be physically and emotionally saturated than remain inside where I am safe and dry.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:37-04:00July 28th, 2013|At Home in the Rockies, From the Road|0 Comments

Buffalo Chip Cookies

Kai Staats - Buffalo Chip Cookies I baked cookies again tonight. Cut the sugar in half, used a mix of wheat and white flour, dumped in what appeared to be the right number of semi-sweet chocolate chips, doubled the eggs, and—they are awesome! Best I have ever made. Honestly, not all that bad for you either. Taste like mini, sweet chocolate chip bread in cookie form.

Trevor and I each had a few while putting the finishing touches on our design for a new culvert diversion damn to increase the water level in the lowest of three ponds. The bypass is now over three feet deep, encouraging yahoos to drive through at top speeds, pushing hundreds of gallons of water over the hood, damaging the road, and often tearing off large pieces of their undercarriage.

I placed the final cookies on a dish and then slid it into a large zip lock bag. Trevor asked how long I thought they’d last, given our shared propensity for midnight snacks. I crossed the kitchen, grabbed a marker, and proceeded to write numbers on the bag above each cookie, an inventory count. We then dated and signed the bag, agreeing to the number at 8:06 pm.

Now, if by tomorrow morning the quantity is drastically reduced, we cannot claim there were only a few left. Yes, home made cookies are a very serious affair at Buffalo Peak Ranch.

1 cup wheat flour
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1/2 to 3/4 cup chocolate chips (mandatory)

(mix dry ingredients)

168 grams (1 1/2 sticks) butter (warm over stove or nuke in microwave oven)
3 eggs
3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Mix the liquids in a glass with fork. Mix the sugar into the eggs and butter.

Mix the dry ingredients in mixing bowl.

Then pour the liquid into the dry bowl, and mix, mix, mix. If it feels too dry (depends on the type of flour, size of eggs, and elevation) you can add a touch of oil until it is the consistency you desire.

Oil a cookie sheet. Place spoonful smudges of the gooey mess in a pleasing geometric pattern. Bake at 375-400F for 8 to 10 minutes, taking into account altitude, humidity, barometric pressure, and of course, the alignment of all the dark matter between here and Alpha Centauri.

By |2013-09-24T11:56:10-04:00July 7th, 2013|At Home in the Rockies|0 Comments

Campfire Cosmology

I just returned from three days on the Colorado river, a section called “The Daily” which runs for some thirty miles above Moab, following HW128 from I70 to the bridge on the North end of town.

Mostly slow, wide flowing brown river. Wonderfully cool in the onset of 108F degrees (in the shade), but warm enough you can remain in the water all day, into the evening without feeling chilled.

On our first night, at the put-in, a few people noted the growing number of stars overhead and the increasing prominence of the Milky Way. It was late when Ali, Clay, and I arrived, people brushing their teeth or already in their respective tents. The next afternoon I offered to provide a brief introduction to cosmology.

I didn’t think about it again. The third night out I walked from the kitchen (where we had just finished eating brownies baked in a Dutch oven) to one of the boats where I would sleep, the gentle rocking motion and gurgling of water through the self-bailing holes a delight.

Not more than ten minutes after I had turned off my headlamp, someone yelled from the campfire behind and above me, at the top of the sand bar, “Hey Kai! You wanna give us that talk on cosmology!? You’ve got a captured audience!” Someone else yelled something not worth repeating. Everyone laughed.

I pulled on my river shorts and sandals, stepped overboard into the water, and made my way back up to the campfire. I sat down to about a dozen individuals, some next to me, some on the far side of the fire. I asked what they would like to learn.

Immediately, the question was posed, “Why are all the stars blue?”

Another, “What is all that stuff, up there,” waving arms silhouetted in the firelight, “anyway?”

A third, “Do you think sex with aliens would be fun?” Everyone laughed.

Someone to my right said, “They are blue because they are moving. The light is shifting.”

I waited for the laughter to subside from the previous comment and then responded, “Actually, the stars do not all appear blue when we look through a telescope, but you bring up a great intro to our first topic. Most objects in the universe are in fact moving away from us, and are shifting to the red end of the spectrum. Those which shift toward blue are moving toward us.”

I used the British ambulance versus American ambulance as examples of how we can determine the kind of ambulance based on the siren, even if the sound is shifted higher or lower is at approaches and then moves away from us, a kind of fingerprint for the source of the sound. The comparison to light signatures given by the elemental composition of stars and galaxies seemed to sink in.

We moved on to the expansion of the universe, looking back in time, the Big Bang versus a more modern understanding of the Big Rip, but that took us to space-time fabric and quantum flux which was too much for my slightly inebriated audience.

As happens in most conversations about astronomy and cosmology, the origins of life came to discussion. Some fully embrace the very real potential of life on other planets, some remained steadfast in the belief we are alone. I ran the numbers: 300 billions stars in each of at least 100 billion galaxies. As we now believe most stars do have planets, if just one out of every one million stars has a planet with life enabling conditions, then we are most certainly in good company.

“But, you can’t just, just shake a box of rocks and get life!”

I quickly countered with a raised but joking voice, “In my classroom, there will be no quoting the Jehova’s Witness Watchtower, please.” Everyone laughed.

He continued, shaking his head, “No. Seriously. Maybe single cell organisms, or bacteria, on a few planets, but not creatures as complex as us?! That just doesn’t seem possible! Someone had to make us, right?”

I added, “If life makes it to single cell organisms, then walking, talking, rocket building life is not a far reach. Evolutionary pressure in an ever changing ecosystem invokes a constant effort to improve upon resource allocation, consumption, and species proliferation. It just takes time.

“But there are too many gaps! We don’t have all the answers!”

“No, we don’t have all the answers, but since the human genome was completed, and that of thousands of plants and animals, the gaps in our understanding of the evolutionary expansion of life across our planet is growing smaller each day. In fact, when we look back at the speed of evolution across the eons, we see many more times of relative stagnation than we do gaps in advancements made to shared DNA. It appears that evolutions works in relative leaps and bounds more often than gradual unfolding.”

Someone asked, “What about those gaps that remain?”

“God,” someone added.

I offered, “Look. Whether or not you believe in a supernatural creator, to relegate him or her to the gaps in our knowledge is, quite frankly, indignant. If you need God in your life, find a better reason than the filler of gaps else God is running out of room. Forgiveness, compassion, hope in a hopeless time or place, are far better reasons for faith than ancillary support to areas which we have not yet explored.”

There was a general consensus of agreement.

We went on to discuss a few more topics but as the fire died down and the alcohol took its desired effect, my audience diminished to that of just two or three who were interested in further conversation.

The last question addressed, given by someone who had had a little more to drink than the others, was “So. So. So, … then … well, like, how does the moose know to drink the water from the lake, and … and … and how does the lake, I mean, well, what if there weren’t any lakes? I mean, what would the moose drink?!”

While his question actually raised a good many profound questions about evolution of ecosystems to support a wide diversity of species, I didn’t feel I could fully address that particular point in the confines of one evening, nor would the person who asked it likely remain awake, no matter how engaging the discussion.

I simply offered, “That is an excellent question, but I fear you have asked it in reverse. Perhaps you should ponder, ‘Why does the lake desire to be drunk by the moose?'”

“Dude,” was the appropriate, received response.

Good night.

I returned to the floor of my boat, crawled into my sleeping bag, and the Colorado River gently rocked me beneath a sky of inky black interspersed with the light of our galaxy.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:37-04:00July 1st, 2013|At Home in the Rockies, Looking up!|0 Comments

When the Elk Thunder

The initial rumblings of a Colorado thunderstorm
are not unlike a herd of elk running across the meadow.

Both cause the ground to shake.
Both invoke a sense of awe and splendor.
Both give startled reason to learn if one should take shelter.

To be alone in the mountains,
sitting, walking, or running,
is to understand that I am also an animal
and cannot control the weather.

By |2013-06-17T18:32:40-04:00June 17th, 2013|At Home in the Rockies|0 Comments

300

This is my three hundredth blog post. Not a tremendous number, compared to some. Not insignificant, for me.

My first entry was set to organized electrons in the summer of 2007 when I ventured to Kenya for the first time. I have since back-posted a number of entries, the first a poem written when I was but six years old. In the past nine months, I have written extensively from Palestine, Holland, Germany, Spain, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa.

Here, now, I make time to write again from a cabin whose floors twist and creak, whose windows shake in the afternoon gusts of looming storms; humming birds land lightly on my fingers when I hold still for just a few seconds, and the invisible coyote will again sing me to sleep this night.

How could that six year old boy, playing in the sand box in Pasadena, California have known where his life would take him? I hope for three hundred more …

By |2017-04-10T11:17:37-04:00June 13th, 2013|At Home in the Rockies|0 Comments

Finding Routine on the Road

For the thirteen years I lived in the historic district just West of downtown Loveland, Colorado I maintained a morning and late night routine which only now, ten months after selling my house do I truly appreciate … and miss. To be clear, my sense of routine may differ from others, for the longest I went without leaving the state was a little more than four months. But for those days in which I was in Colorado, my routine was defining for me.

As one who has been self-employed for most of my working life, my routine is entirely under my control. For those of you who have “real jobs” and dream of running your own company, realize that in this place you are the only one who determines when you rise, when you eat, shop, exercise, work on the house, visit friends, and when you make time to generate income. It is a wonderfully horrible, self-inflicted condition from which you may never recover for the very thought of someone again telling you when you need to be at work causes waves of anxiety, yet, the realization you are one hundred percent responsible for every dollar you earn is enough to invoke a panic attack.

The only way to survive self-employment is routine. Hourly, daily, weekly routine.

As one who is truly not very good at routine as I am forever distracting myself with the next big thing, I do look back to my years in Colorado and realize that in the chaos I called norm, I had a wonderful daily routine which helped me define my self-employed days, both as CEO of Terra Soft and as a contract web developer before and business developer in the past few years.

If I was not sleeping outside on my sleeping deck, I usually slept on the floor of the living room, nestled between the couch at my head, matching sofa-chair at my feet, and home theater system and bay windows to the left. Two or three books, my laptop, and cup of tea stacked to my right closed the boundaries of my safety zone. On rare occasion I even set up my tent in the living room to provide the deepest sleep possible without being out of doors.

Each morning I woke to National Public Radio. No matter what time I went to sleep, 11:30 PM, midnight, or 1 AM, I always woke at 6 AM even if I remained in a slumber while listening to the morning programs. The NPR theme song was for me not unlike the sound of the radio on my grandparents farm in Iowa. No matter where you slept in the farm house, you knew Grandpa and Grandma were awake when the smell of coffee and the sound the of the local news radio filled the air.

On Saturday or Sunday mornings, the voice of Scott Simon was as welcomed as a phone call from my own father. I would prepare my breakfast of yogurt or oatmeal, Colorado honey, granola, bananas or blueberries and juice and then settle in for an hour of listening to and learning from national and global news, personal stories and story telling.

Today, from Buffalo Peak Ranch, two hours west and south of Denver Colorado, after nine months living overseas, I need something to bring me back to that norm. This will be my home for the next three to four months. The isolation is wonderful, the only way I could return to the United States after learning to live in so many cultures, after adjusting to so many norms. At the same time, the isolation is challenging, for I crave the kind of connection which is ever present in Africa, greetings, handshakes, smiles at every corner, in every shop, school, store, and home.

In this place, now, I must make routine again. In this time, now, I must finish the projects I have started. No one will wake me. No one will scold me. The reward of three finished films and at least one finished book will be mine to carry and mine to own.

By |2017-08-12T04:58:40-04:00June 13th, 2013|At Home in the Rockies|0 Comments

From 34,000 Feet

Two years of transition.

Twenty four months of broken inhibition.

Ninety six weeks of exploration.

Seven hundred days of challenged motivation.

Seventeen thousand hours of relentless contemplation.

Just one hour more and I will again be making home in a new location.

For how long will you keep me this time?

Colorado.

By |2013-06-17T18:23:21-04:00June 7th, 2013|At Home in the Rockies|0 Comments

Growth in the dark …

While unusual for me to reference Facebook, a recent thread of responses to a post concerning moving my belongings into storage invoked an insightful, touching display of support from friends, as follows …

I wrote, “I moved the first of my things into storage. I know, I know, people do it all the time. But it feels strange, constricting even, to take much of what represents me from a living, breathing space which I created into a small, poorly lit room. Inside, I fear my inventions, my art, my photographs and books will shrivel and die without the light of day.”

“They are just waiting for the time when you need them again. No shriveling, just waiting … this is a time for growth. Interestingly enough, growth is often (if not always) accompanied by fear. In other words, you’re right on track!” –Stephanie W.

“Stephanie said it better — it’s all good!!!” –Dave W.

“Most growth happens in the dark, seeds come into their emergence through a tunnel of dark, poorly lit soil and then WALA into the light, ABUNDANCE, RESURRECTION, LIFE!!!!! YEAHHHHHHH!!!! congrats on selling your home.” –Cielo L.

“Trust me, [they] will be there … the pages of paper my father wrote on are yellowing and brittle but they survive … I am curing myself of hoarding stuff and things … but some memories must be preserved … wrote poems about it and all” –Vitus

“Just objects, the ideas and creativity that spurred them are stil inside you, ready to be returned to when you have time time and attention to nurture them. If anything its good to clear your physical space and mind like this when you need that focus for other dreams.” –Rebecca C.

“If Kai’s worldly possessions start growing like [weeds] then I’ll finally get some use out of this flamethrower.” –Glenn B.

By |2012-07-18T13:52:01-04:00July 18th, 2012|At Home in the Rockies|0 Comments

The Voice of a Bear

Last night I was too tired, too overwhelmed by the journey of the day to make it out to the hot tub. I watched a re-run of the original Star Trek series and then Mission Impossible, falling to sleep a few times on the couch, here at Buffalo Peak Ranch. I awoke this morning on the bed which lies adjacent to a large, east facing window, my face warmed with the rising sun. It’s an incredible way to wake each morning, naturally, without alarm. Just the increasing heat saying, “It’s time.”

There is a voice in my head which often declares, “I need to work. I don’t deserve to relax,” and the thought of sitting in the hot tub in the morning was today, initially pushed aside. But then it became clear to me that this was an old voice, perhaps that of a prior generation. I work each day. But there are no rules as to when, no right or wrong hour in which to engage. And so I walked to the platform on which the large tub sits, lifted one half of the heavy, water logged cover, and climbed in.

The steam rose from the surface of the water and molded edge of the tub. I settled in for no more than a minute when I heard the snap of a branch behind me, up the hill maybe a hundred yards or so. I spun ’round, attempting to locate the cause. I could not see far enough to recognize what was happening for the land drops into a gully of aspen and ground cover too thick to traverse without a struggle. It opens again on the far side, into a mixture of standing and fallen pine trees.

It happened again. Louder. Something very large was moving through the trees, but out of site. My heart pounded, but I logically assumed it was the three horses pressing against a fallen tree for a morning scratch, or a deer rubbing its antler.

I turned back to face the cabin, settling deeper into the water, only my head exposed.

Another crack, silence, and then what sounded like a tree falling, the echo of its crash resounding for a few seconds before I could hear only the humming birds again.

The top of a tree shaking, on the far side of the aspen grove. I stood up, sweating not from the warm water but from the simultaneous rush of fear and curiosity. I looked to my towel on the rack, over my shoulder to the cabin, and back again to the West, over the rail fence. What if it was a bear?

I waited, holding my breath. Nothing. Not a sound. I sat back onto the edge of the folded hot tub cover. I waited longer still. Horses. It must be the horses.

Then I heard the unmistakable bark of a bear, for I had hear them a few times when sea kayaking at Glacier Bay, Alaska six years prior. The top of a tree nearer to me moved while the others stood still. Then another closer. Still, I could not see what was moving through the thicket. Another bark. Another broken branch under heavy foot.

It came into the clearing between the fence and the trees, just thirty yards from me. It was massive. Not a cub, but a full grown black bear. Both beautiful and awesome, more than four foot tall at the shoulders. I had never seen one this large before.

It did not see me, at first. I slowly sunk back down into the tub. It noticed the motion and stood on its hind legs to assess the situation. My heart pounded. I didn’t know what to do. It sounds crazy, but I wished for a pot and pan to bang together, anything to make a noise it would not expect.

The bear dropped to all fours, grunted, and then lunged forward. It was coming directly toward me.

I did what I had learned in the books I had read on bear attacks many years prior, before ten days solo backpacking in Denali, Alaska. I stood up again and waved my arms as only humans can do. We are not a part of their natural diet, I reminded myself again and again.

“Hey bear! Hey bear!” continuing to wave my arms. I tried to stay calm, relaxed. Don’t show any fear. They can smell fear.

I looked back over my shoulder and contemplated running into the house, but bears move fast and love to give chase. The only barrier was the wooden fence, three horizontal logs with an X brace every fifteen feet. The bear stopped at the fence and peered at me between the top two rungs. I hoped it was satisfied, and would turn to go a different direction.

Instead, it rose onto his hind legs again, paused, and with almost no effort dropped onto the top and then middle rung, crushing them both with ease. I could not break a twig with any less effort, and at that moment it was less than twenty feet from me.

I spun, reached back across the tub’s cover and pulled on the edge, trying to flip it over me. It was too heavy, the angle completely wrong. I nearly cried as air rushed from my lungs. I pulled again and again. I looked back to the bear. It seemed momentarily startled by my motion, considering what to do next.

I had no choice. I jumped over the edge of the tub, ran around the platform to the far side and lifted the lid. It rose up, tall and wide. While holding it vertical, I jumped back in. The lid came down with me, weighing heavy on my head and shoulders. I slipped and fell into the water. I wished immediately that I had turned on the light, for I was immersed fully in the darkness. My face was forced under water by the weight of the cover against the back of my head. I swallowed water and choked, but forced the panic to retreat. I turned side to side, trying to get my mouth above the water line, but could not. I threw my hands over my head, trying to find my bearing in the darkness but my feet kept slipping and I was running out of air.

I held what remained of my breath and remembered there was six inches between the bottom of the lid and the surface of the water. I would only be able to breathe if I flipped over onto my back with my hands and legs spread beneath me for support of some kind.

I slipped a few times, choking on more water inhaled, but found a position which allowed me to breathe. I opened my eyes and tried not to panic. It was dark and hot. I could barely see. My mind raced, How long could I remain here? How long should I wait?

Fortunately, I had placed the tub’s automated circulation on stand-by. Everything was quiet. I could hear only my heart beat in my ears. Pounding.

My eyes adjusted. I could see the edges of the tub inside, the surface of the water just beneath my neck. I turned my head left and then right, one ear and then the other dipping into the water as I looked for the source of the light. It was on the south side of the tub, the side that faces the barn that there was an opening, a break in the cover where it hinged.

I felt a little more calm, for that also meant there was fresh air too. As long as the water remained warm, I could stay here for a while. And I did, for what felt like an hour.

I listened intently, holding my breath from time to time. Was the bear still outside? I could hear only the sound of my body half sitting, half floating in the water, my nose pressed to the underside of the cover. I was stretching my back and legs, trying to relax when I heard the deck moan and felt a subtle movement of the entire platform.

I looked to the gap, but it was dark. There was no light.

Oh shit! It’s right next to the tub! Shit! shit! shit!

Then the light returned, something moved outside from left to right. I could hear it breathe. It pawed the surface of the deck and the entire platform shook, sending ripples through the water which I felt in my chest. I hoped only that the weight of the cover would be enough to keep me safe. There was nothing I could do. I wanted to cry, or scream, but knew either would only make my situation worse.

I held my breath again. Waited. The bear circled the entire tub. I could hear his pads and claws. He was slow, almost contemplative. I imagined he was trying to learn how to get inside.

I began to shake, as though the temperature had dropped fifty degrees, I couldn’t stop. I thought of being in Kenya, malaria overwhelming my body in just a matter of minutes. I felt out of control. I couldn’t stay here. I panicked, held my breath, rolled over onto my stomach, and moved to stand up.

The cover lifted, just a bit. I peered out into the light, looking again at the direction from which the bear had come. The fence was shattered, reminding me of the strength he deployed.

With my hands and arms overhead, the majority of the weight on my neck and upper back, I looked to the left, to the right again, and then directly ahead.

It was right there, in front of me, it’s massive nose over the lip of the tub. I could smell its breath and it looked directly into my eyes.

I slipped and fell back into the tub, the full weight of the lid crashing down onto the bear’s nose, which it immediately withdrew. I was submerged for a moment and inhaled more water. I tried to stand up, but my head hit hard against the underside of the cover. I remembered that I needed to roll on to my back, and forced myself to breathe, slowly, pressing my lips together when I exhaled. My heart was in my eyes, in my hands and head. I waited. I heard nothing.

What came next was confusing, for I thought I heard someone crying. Subtle at first, and then much more bold. Yes, someone was outside, crying. I must have hit my head harder than I realized, or perhaps I was dead. Was someone else out there? The hot tub repair man was not slated to arrive or another two hours. It didn’t make sense.

I looked to the opening and the slit of light.

The crying stopped. But was soon replaced with sobbing. A deep pain expressed by a deep, dynamic voice, “Oh! My nose! My nose is broken!”

What the –?! That’s impossible.

I held my breath, rolled back to my stomach, face in the water, found my balance and stood up. Just part way at first, and then fully, the lid of the tub now balanced in the up right position.

The bear was off the deck, sitting in the grass, upright, his paws covering his nose. Tears streamed from his eyes when he looked up at me, “Why d-d-did you do that?”

Startled, “Do what?”

“My nose. You, you broke my nose!” he growled, the back of his paw stroking the side of his great face.

“I’m, I’m sorry. I slipped … here, inside,” pointing to the tub in which I obviously stood. I felt horrible. “Just a moment. Please.”

I thought, What am I doing? but moved ahead. I sat on the edge of the tub, holding the lid so it would not crash down again. I stopped, turned to the bear and asked, “Are you … are you going to eat me?”

“What? Are you kidding? Look at my nose! I coul–I couldn’t eat a mouse if it jumped into my mouth, let alone eat you!” It paused, the tears fewer than before. It shook its giant head and again I was scared. One bite, one swipe of his massive claws and I would be dead.

Talking more to myself than to the bear, “Ok. I am. Um, I am going to just get out of this … the hot tub … now. Ok?”

The bear looked at me, and then again to the ground.

I stepped slowly to the deck, lowering the lid until it came to a close. Drops of water fell from my body to the deck, each releasing a small puff of vapor against the morning light.

I could not believe this was happening.

I looked to my right and saw the door of the cabin. I could probably make it inside, if I ran. But I knew that a bear this massive could crush the door, no matter how I locked it. I accepted that If he had wanted to eat me, I would already be his meal.

I looked back to my left. The bear remained where he was.

I walked closer, one step at a time. He sat upright and dropped his paws from his nose, asking, “Does it look bad?”

I smiled, hesitantly, “No, it doesn’t look bad at all. It’s not bleeding. Do you mind if I take a, um, closer look?”

He shook his head, lowering himself a bit. I stepped from the deck, noticing that his hind feet were larger than mine, his front pads and claws much larger than my hands. I reached out to his nose, but withdrew. He looked up and into my eyes to say it would be ok.

“This may hurt a bit … I want to see what kind of break you may have. Ok?”

“Ok,” he responded.

I reached out again, touching the bridge of his nose, lightly at first and then with more pressure. He flinched, pulled back and bared his teeth. I involuntarily took a few steps back, tripped and landed onto the platform which held the tub. I automatically retracted my feet and arms, rolling into a defensive ball.

He almost seemed amused, apologized, and promised to hold still.

I gathered myself and rose awkwardly back to my feet. I walked forward and touched his nose again, pressing on the top and sides. It was a massive, beautiful nose, and it did not feel broken, just deeply bruised. There was a soft, swollen spot on top but no sharp edges or fragments that moved.

I explained as much to the bear, and he seemed to be relieved.

“Good. That’s good,” he said.

I sat down again on the wooden platform, my elbows on my knees. I just stared, not knowing what to say. He too seemed short on words, sometimes looking at me, sometimes over my shoulder to the bird feeder outside the front door of the cabin.

After a few minutes, he offered, “I like humming birds. I wish I could move they way they do. I feel awkward, sometimes.”

Surprised, I didn’t know quite how to respond, “Oh?”

“Why are you out here alone?” He was kind, careful with his words despite his size and power.

“I lost someone a few days ago, someone I love very much. This place is healing for me.”

He looked puzzled, “Where did you last see him? Maybe I can help you find him. I have a good–rather, I had a good nose, you know.”

I sensed humor in his words and laughed, “Not like that. She is not missing, rather, simply no longer a part of my life.”

“Oh. I see.” He rose from his seated position onto all fours again. I was instantly reminded of his incredible build. Eight hundred, maybe a thousand pounds or more. The buffalo in the pasture across the road were almost small in comparison, despite their broad heads.

He continued, “What did you do?”

“Everything I could.”

“Maybe that was too much.”

“Yes” I looked to the ground, “maybe that is true.”

He paused, and looked over his shoulder to the ridge to the south and west, “I lost someone too.”

I was taken back, just getting used to the presence of a talking bear when I was again caught off guard by the depth with which he did communicate. For a fleeting moment the scientist in me realized how much we had incorrectly assumed about the animal world. Would this bear be willing to conduct an interview?

“Oh?”

“Yes. A wonderful she-bear. Beautiful to me in so many, many ways. My best friend too.”

“I can only imagine,” I nodded my head and then looked to the ground, “What happened?”

“We were unable to confront our fears.”

“Scared? A bear?”

“Yes, even bears get scared. We put on a good show, crashing through the brush, knocking down trees, scaring campers (which is great fun, by the way). But ultimately, we are very soft in the heart, and we have a lot to say.”

“I am surprised, and very pleased to learn this.”

He moved closer to me but I was no longer afraid. I reached out to stroke the top of his broad head, and rub his ears. He seemed to like this a lot, and to the best of his ability, smiled. He licked the palm of my hand until the salt was gone. We didn’t say much more than this, for the day was young. I went back inside, changed clothes, put on my hiking boots, and requested that the bear show me his domain.

We hiked for countless miles, learning about the terrain I had only begun to understand. The bear was a great teacher, and I felt, a healer of some kind. He had many questions about humans too, mostly why we encroached year after year on their land. He seemed embarrassed to admit he had rummaged through human garbage, in tough times. I apologized as best I could, on behalf of our selfish kind. He said it didn’t matter, in the long run, for all things worked out in the end.

The sun set upon the bear and me, sitting on a giant, fallen pine. We watched as the shadows grew long, the warm rays cooling until there were none. He thanked me for the day, and apologized for the broken fence, explaining that he was rather clumsy, for a bear. He wanted only to talk, all along. His nose was feeling better already, and my heart was lifted too. We promised to meet again some day, in this friendship that was new.

There were encounters with other local residents too, as described in When the Coyote Calls

© Kai Staats 2011

By |2019-10-05T15:06:12-04:00August 18th, 2011|At Home in the Rockies, Dreams|0 Comments