Brounabin (Broon’ah-bin) and his wife Leruda (Lure-oodah) are two brown bears residing in a forest mostly comprised of Eastern white pine and cedar trees. They call home a wide perimeter of nature at its finest. Boulders protruding from wavy lagoons of fern and clusters of wild fauna growing on raw wood that washes away into the soil, more and more every year. It is late September. Gone are hazy afternoons filled with the rise and fall chorus of cicadas. The nightly thunder that first cracks distant and stomps closer has past for the season. Storm air that reveals the pale underbelly of oak leaves has long since been.
Brounabin waits in a clearing, near a dried up brook. He sinks a little into a pliable bed of pine needles. His back is to a trunk, and his legs carry the burden of a weight. The bear can feel the warm air is fleeting and summer evenings like this one are numbered. Feelings of change jab at him as he lifts his massive paw to swat a cloud of gnats. In the other paw is a box that says ‘pregnancy test’ on it, in bold, blue lettering.
Maybe three minutes have past since Leruda took the strange white strip of plastic and retreated down a deer path. Bears are very private creatures. Especially in comparison to deer, who bask in the attention of humans and turkeys, alike. Brounabin exhales a hot breath of air that disorients the gnats. His gaze is lazy and unfocused on what sits around him. Leruda will be back soon. Back with her news.
If I have a male cub I am going to name if after my Great Uncle Canister. I will teach it how to avoid persons and what sorts of plant syrup can heal abrasions. My son will know how to steal from person garbage and hunt possums and badgers. My little cub will know when skunk cabbage is ripe and where it is best to cross loud rivers.
Brounabin clumsily rotates the box in his paws. The cardboard is so flimsy compared to even the softest of tree bark.
If my cub is female I must be vigilant in protecting her from determined alpha males. But I am an alpha male myself. Male or female, I am not of age to raise a young one of my own. Leruda’s father was foolish not to protect her from bears like me. Stupid bears with no judgment.
A dragonfly slows its wings on a skunk cabbage leaf and prepares for death. The dried up brook is a stretch of dark, cold sand.
I will have to migrate North. This wood is far too small for a cub to find its legs. The cubs I’ve encountered here are mostly daft and simple minded. Persons are always exploring with their bows and loud orange vests. I would enjoy south western Alberta, but Leruda has always been partial to the lower Mcconnell valley. I’ve never liked it there. Their moose are strange and pretentious. Fairbanks. We could go as far north as Fairbanks, yet not to where the seal eaters live. But it is so cold, we would hibernate more and be too fat to climb trees for robin eggs in the Spring.
A stirring of dry leaves catches Brounabin’s attention. He calls out to Leruda, but his voice is dry and feeble. A squirrel darts out from under a poplar and hesitates by the thirsty bank.
“It has dried sir.” Brounabin tells him. The squirrel glances over its shoulder before scampering back into the thick of the underbrush. Most of the squirrels Brounabin encounters speak broken Italian. Once he knew an old squirrel who also spoke French, but he was very timid and introverted. Squirrels in general are not very versed on the topics that bears concern themselves with.
Brounabin arises and begins pacing around the clearing, flattening the dead needles into a dense cushion. He stares past branches, bowing in the currents of wind. Falling leaves disappear in the corners of his peripheral vision. Bears don’t have perfect eye sight but Brounabin can make out the shape of the distant mountains. He reflects on time gone by and wonders if others are doing the same on the other side of the wood.
I miss being young. I was carefree then and only eager to learn of my surroundings. Warm breezes can beckon rich feelings and happiness so quickly that it is easy to lose of sight of better reasoning.
His earliest memory of being on his own was quietly observing a gathering of human people. They would either move in quick, abbreviated movements, or stay still for long periods of time. He still has the memories of the music they would play for each other. Brounabin often dwells on these odd sounds, and how they would combine within a harmony that soothed a place that was hard to find, inside his big ears. Like on bright mornings when sparrows and chickadees screamed at each other at the same time.
A home on Juneau would be out of the question. I once knew an old brown bear from there who was a killer of men. Not because of home invasion or confrontation battle. This was a strange sow who stole the breath of persons by her own privilege.
Brounabin imagines Leruda hunting persons, which causes him to shudder. He hastily reverts to the first time he saw her, hunched over a nearly frozen waterfall, chasing brilliantly colored salmon with her eyes.
Leruda makes her way down the path into the clearing. He studies her watery, sunken brown eyes for an answer.
No offspring. Relief washes over Brounabin. His shoulders sag as he makes his way over to his wife to nudge her affectionately. Her scent is one of happiness and relief, as well.
“It would’ve been too soon,” he roars. They both turn to leave the clearing. Brounabin notices a thicker winter coat forming on Leruda. It is rich and deep like the contrast of bee honey against pine cones. Optimism fills his bones as he thinks onward, wondering what the next summer will bring.
The two animals disappear down a path, leaving only a mangled cardboard box by a dried up river bank.
Listen to the soundtrack of A North American Brown Bear’s Brief Stream of Consciousness (Translated from French)