After spotting the ursine marauder, Dad did not reach for a phone. He reached for a lawn chair.
My eighty-two-year-old father-in-law has acquired a bear. Until now, it never occurred to me to worry about him. A retired machinist, he's the most capable guy I know. He can make a prizewinning lasagna, back a thirty-four-foot RV into a crooked campsite, repair a dishwasher in twenty minutes.
But a bear? On the phone this morning he describes the pillaging of his birdfeeders by an ursine marauder getting bolder by the hour."How big?" I ask fretfully.
"Good size," he says, which, translated from Dadspeak, means massive. Gargantuan. Seven feet standing up.
"What did you do?" I ask, trying to remember whether you're supposed to play dead with bears, run like hell, or stand your ground with your hands on your hips to make yourself appear big and threatening.
"What did I - ? Why, I told him to get out of there."
"In person, you mean? You told him in person?"
It comes to light that after spotting the bear, Dad did not reach for a phone. He reached for a lawn chair. And set it up in the dooryard, thirty feet from Bigfoot, the better to have a tete-a-tete about property rights.
"What did the bear do then, Dad?"
"He growled at me."
Oh, God. "Then what?"
"Why, I growled right back."
For the record, Dad's faculties have not been diluted by age. It's just that he gets a big kick out of wildlife, always has. He never really took to hunting as a boy, though he still has the guns. I've sat next to him over the years - long, quiet hours - waiting to glimpse a beaver or a falcon or some other cryptic creature. Dad is a disarming combination of Practical Old Yankee and Nature Boy. A soft-hearted pragmatist. He carries no grudge against the bear for destroying his bird-feeding complex - a multitier structure of platforms and sheet metal built to thwart squirrels, whom he feeds at a separate station. The bear destroyed the squirrel station, too, but Dad assures me that he's placed his lawn chair "not too far" from the shed door. In Dadspeak, "not too far" could mean five miles.
Thoroughly defeated, I hand the phone to my husband. "Dad's communing with a seven-foot bear that ate his feeders. Talk some sense!" My husband's half of the ensuing conversation consists mainly of laughter, possibly at my expense. When they hang up, I ask, "Did you get him to take the chair inside?"
A shrug. "What's the worst that could happen?"
Wrong question. My hands go to my hips, the better to make myself appear big and threatening.
He adds, "It'll make for an interesting eulogy. There are worse ways to go."
He names two: cancer; dementia. I cede the point - the two points - and call Dad the next morning.
"Did the bear come back?"
He pauses - to look out the kitchen window, I hope, though it's possible he's adjusting the angle of his lawn chair. "Nope. I guess I scared him off."
With further probing, I learn that the bear de-parted only after Dad moved the sole remaining feeder, hung it from a mangled basketball hoop attached above the barn door, then heard a crash an hour later and discovered the door torn off its track. The door is more like a sliding wall - a thick, splintered slab that still carries a rusted sign from a feed company. The whole shebang existed unmolested for decades - until now.
"You didn't scare him off, Dad. He decided to go. Just as he'll decide to eat you if he takes a notion."
Dad chuckles as we hang up, and I fret awhile longer, until I envision the rest of his day. He'll get out his tools and reattach the door. Then he'll drive into town, where he'll have lunch among people he enjoys. If the truck breaks down en route, he'll pull over and fix the damn thing himself. If he spots a loon on the river or a hawk in the trees, he'll likely slow down to get a closer look.
Dad has always said that when his time arrives he wants to go quick. But I don't want him to go at the hands - the paws - of a bear. I don't want him to go at all. And he probably won't, not for a long time yet, given his constitution and stubbornness and affinity for small pleasures. Still, if you should come across a headline - RUMFORD POINT MAN EATEN BY BEAR - you'll know that he went the way he wanted, dispatched quickly in a dooryard that's been his since childhood. And you can assume that his eulogy was really, really interesting.