In the Eyes of a Bear

In the Eyes of a Bear: Lone Bear Courtesy and Copyright Patrick Kelly
Lone Bear
Courtesy and Copyright Patrick Kelly
We call him Old Ephraim up here in Cache Valley. He's a tale known by just about everyone: one of the last brown bears in Utah, shot and killed by Frank Clark, in August, 1923. The account that's usually told spins the bear as both highly intelligent and dastardly, almost even sub-animal, of a creature who is the last because he is the most conniving and monstrous. His death came at the hands of a shepherd who had tracked the bear for nearly a decade, taking over 40 others in his pursuit, only to finally overcome the giant with luck and a repeating rifle. In Old Ephraim's death, he was skinned, burned, and buried. His hide was eaten by moths in the slope of Clark's barn. Today, his skull resides in an exhibit at Utah State University, and his bones have been long poached by treasure hunters. His grave holds no bear but that which we imagine.

What I take away from this story, though, is not what others have typically taken away when I read the accounts. For those long-past authors, it has always been of the glorification of Clark’s struggle; for overcoming the agent of a primeval, and thus incompatible, nature; for the noble easing of future fears by finally taking that monster bear. For me, I take away how Clark, years later, bravely chose to regret his choices, which at the time of their making were too far already decided by habit rather than concise intent. Clark stated about it, “Was I happy? No, and if I had to do it over, I wouldn’t kill him… I could see the suffering in his eyes…” That suffering had been passed on to him, it seems.

Blame for the end of Utah’s last great bear, though, cannot be placed upon the man, nor the firearm, nor the bear. Blame can only be attached to what bonded them as kin: that both man and bear had been dealt their hands by their being, and they played them the only way they had been shown, descendant of a long line of teachers whose most underlying motivation was honest survival. This is what connected the two in the moment of their struggle. They were united by fate because of what made them similar, not different.

In the Eyes of a Bear: Old Ephriam's Grave Marker, The height of the the old grizzley Courtesy & Copyright Josh Bolling
Old Ephriam’s Grave Marker,
The height of the the old grizzley
Courtesy & Copyright Josh Bolling
In his telling of his regret, Clark dared who he was, with who he strove to be, even in his later life. He was, after all, a self-professed lover of nature, and held holy the wild places where he spent dozens of summers. His regret was not a fault, but a truss of strength which honored this deeper value. He understood that, if you allow it, nature will take you to the great questions through flowers and birds and a strenuous life, if even for a small while, and even after you have erred. Nature is a hopeful place; an accepting place. Out there, “its” become “thous”, and the ego and all its fleeting impulsivities are surrendered to the ultimate authority of deep experiences within the land.

Hemingway said that, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” In this reflection, Clark’s story is not only about the fall of a great creature, nor a man who struggled to bring him down, but about how a man painfully earned the bravery and strength to see what he thought set him above, become reflected equal from him, in the knowing eyes of the last great Utah bear.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Image Courtesy & Copyright Patrick Kelly, Photographer, all rights reserved
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Greene, Jack, Bears, Wild About Utah, October 22, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/bears/

Boling, Josh, Old Ephraim, The Infamous Northern Utah Grizzly, Wild About Utah, August 7, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/old-ephraim-the-infamous-northern-utah-grizzly/

Strand, Holly, The Bear Facts Old Ephriam , Wild About Utah, June 17, 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/the-bear-facts-old-ephriam/

Old Ephraim: The Legendary Grizzly of the Bear River Range, Digital Exhibits, Digital Collections,University Libraries, Utah State University, http://exhibits.usu.edu/exhibits/show/oldephraim

Old Ephraim: Utah’s most legendary bear, Lynn Arave, Standard Examiner, July 16, 2015, http://www.standard.net/Ogden-Area-History-Bin/2015/07/16/July-17-history-bin

Final resting spot of legendary grizzly ‘Old Ephraim’ worth a trip, Kate DuHadway, Herald Journal, Jul 9, 2011, http://news.hjnews.com/news/final-resting-spot-of-legendary-grizzly-old-ephraim-worth-a/article_0e974452-a9d3-11e0-8c09-001cc4c002e0.html

Old Ephriam’s Grave, Utah.com http://www.utah.com/bike/trails/old_ephraims.htm

A Moral Dilemma

A moral dilemma: Robin Courtesy & © Rob Soto Used with permission
Robin
Courtesy & © Rob Soto
Used with permission
I had a moral dilemma.

I was driving home from work on a small back road as I usually do to avoid traffic. As I was heading north, two juvenile robins swooped down across the road as they normally do in the path of an oncoming red truck. The first robin managed to cut upwards fast enough to dodge the truck’s hood, but the second broadsided the truck, hitting its door, and fell to the ground crumpled.

I slowed down and looked out my window at the bird writhing in the median of the road, and something inside of me happened that I cannot explain. I pulled over, went over to the convulsing bird, and quickly ferried him to a grassy patch on the shoulder underneath a tree. I hopped back in my car, and continued my drive home. The young robin passed from my mind.

As I arrived home, I decided to kick my feet up with my partner in the backyard and unwind by watching our young dogs play. We call it Dog TV. It’s a hoot. I saw a robin perch and sing on the roof of my garage, and the young broken robin from my drive home re-entered my mind.

I began to wonder if he was ok. I asked my partner if I should go back and check on him.

There were three options I settled on as to his state, and the need for my checking in. Perhaps he was just stunned by the impact and would’ve recovered quickly and wouldn’t be there, easing my mind. Perhaps he was in fact injured beyond saving and would not recover and so it was my responsibility to end his suffering myself. The last option was that he had already passed, and so I would take his body so that it could be buried, or at least given to the crows. I wouldn’t want to be left on the side of the road as a finality, and I doubted he would either.

I asked my partner: do I go and see to an end if any, or leave his fate be?

She thought about this for a moment and finally declared that I should let nature be nature, and to leave him be.

At first, this was not the response I had wanted. Inaction does not suit me, and so I argued this in my head. But am I not nature, too? Can I not act as that agent of nature being nature and choose to do my diligence, to either see that he survived, give him an end, or commit his body back to the world?

I took a breath and decided to pivot my reflection towards my inability to pass the bird by initially. Though the thought did occur to me to pass him by, I experienced that I could not from a visceral place, not the mind. I reacted, and the instinct of care I felt upon seeing this bird could not be suppressed.

I came to a conclusion. What was this instinct of mine but nature being nature? Why did it trigger but as a sign of my own agency as a natural being? Who am I to assume that only I could carry out being an agent of compassion? If this instinct was natural for me, then it is natural for others, and thus could be realized by anyone. This realization gave me hope.

I decided that I was nature being nature, a human being compassionate, and chose to trust the rest of the world to be so with gentle caring, too. I chose to see what I cannot control with goodness, and allow myself to remain abdicated of my control. I chose to have faith that, if I could be struck and pulled to empathetic action from my animal gut, others would too.

I broke my contemplation, and agreed with my partner that I would let nature be nature.

We turned our attention back to our dogs playing, and the robins kept singing. Life continued to be good, even in the face of the unknown.

I’m Patrick Kelly and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:
A Moral Dilemma
Images: Images Courtesy & Copyright Rob Soto, Artist, all rights reserved
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Bengston, Anna, American Robin, Wild About Utah, January 18, 2016, https://wildaboututah.org/american-robin-160118/

Bengston, Anna, Robins in Winter, Wild About Utah, March 13, 2014 (Repeated February 2, 2015), https://wildaboututah.org/robins-winter/

Bingham, Lyle, Richard Hurren(voice), The Occupants on Robin Street, Wild About Utah, July 8, 2008, https://wildaboututah.org/the-occupants-on-robin-street/

Wildlife Rehabilitation, Bridgerland Audubon Society, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/birding-tools/wildlife-rehabilitation/

Spring’s Way

Spring's Way: Courtesy & Copyright Patrick Kelly, Photographer
Courtesy & © Patrick Kelly, Photographer
Springtime in Cache Valley is marked by many events. It is a seasonal turn full of unrelenting life. The signs and the emotions they revive are marked by the beauty found in every hour of the day: from the day’s first bird songs, reviving the world from slumber, to their last evening’s lullaby.

Spring is also the time when warmth returns to the sunlight. After winter, I’ll often need to sit in the celestial rays to warm my bones, always hesitant lest snows reappear in May and I get soft. When I allow myself finally to ceade, the feeling of sun on my bare face in spring can only be described though as relief.

In the sun, too, one can’t help but breathe the smell of thaw, green buds, and warming winds. The many scents of earth remind me of its very mineral diversity, often thought of as monolithic, but truly clay, limestone, sand, gravel, and granite each fill the air’s bouquet differently in the wet and dry. These and other reminders which revise winter’s nostalgic fog breathe fresh life with even more vivacity.

Spring also brings with it labor, for who can truly say to love than those who enjoy its work? For me, I do love chores, especially in spring. I enjoy mowing the lawn, pruning trees, tilling the soil, and starting crops just as the Swede enjoys stacking split wood. It is a natural work to us both, a good work, and a labor of provision.

Additionally, these simple actions signify belonging to something larger than myself. It is how I honor the world around me: by acting in accordance to an older, more widely-shared order. I act as spring dictates, and thus am realized as its agent. Tis good to be an agent of such.

It also feels good to allow myself to slip into this annual cycle with such depth. I work on this, for no worthy cause is without struggle. I engage myself to grow the better in me as I make the choices of participation with the goal that one day it shall be habit. I leave the windows ajar to hear the birds and let their sage songs smudge my home. I walk often and stop to feel the catkin buds, listen to the absence of traffic, and smell big firs. I tend to wildflowers with my attention, nurturing tomorrow’s colors, medicines, and gifts.

So this spring, I invite you to try it on: being an agent of the season. Even if you do not garden, begin by experiencing what a new-born leaf feels like. Even if you do not mow, grab a blade, breathe it in, and harvest into your mind the scent. Even if you cannot understand them, open the windows and let the birds morning revelry and lullabies bookend your days. In these ways, we can all do good and live still by spring’s way.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Spring’s Way-Credits:

Images: Image Courtesy & Copyright Patrick Kelly, Photographer, all rights reserved
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Spring’s Way-Additional Reading

Parkhurst, Emma, MS, CHES, Eight Stress-relieving Activites to Give You a Break from the Coronavirus, USU Extension | Davis County, https://extension.usu.edu/covid-19/mental-and-emotional-well-being

Brower, Naomi, Four Tips for Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude, Utah State University Extension, https://extension.usu.edu/covid-19/mental-and-emotional-well-being

Brower, Naomi, Finding a Cure for the Sheltering-in-Place Blues, Utah State University Extension, https://extension.usu.edu/covid-19/mental-and-emotional-well-being

Swinton, Jonathon, Remaining Coronavirus Calm, Utah State University Extension, https://extension.usu.edu/covid-19/mental-and-emotional-well-being

Spring’s Way

Hope

Hope: Crocus Courtesy Pixabay
Crocus
Courtesy Pixabay
It feels odd to be denning in the spring. Our usual season to escape back into the out of doors has shifted radically for society at-large. It is odd because all the world around us is still warming, flying a little further each day, and here we are, humanity, digging in. It is for the best, for our own survival, but it is still not easy to go against the natural grain.

Hunkering down has affected us all, myself included. At first I was angry with frustration, as I’m sure you were too. I wanted something or someone to blame, to witness and call wrong. I struggled to find meaning in any of it; I struggled to hear anything but fear. It took me a while to come to remind myself that this frustration, this search for orientation, is the human way; it is natural to feel as we do in the omnipresence of the unknown.

What I discovered though is that this perspective, natural as it may be, is harmful if lived too long. My search was a dangerous one: for some externality of blame in an effort to begin to wrest back seeming control. When this is the path you choose to take, you find, as I did, that your anger is not quenched, but instead stoked. My focus was consumed by a blackness; it burned into my eye like a mariner’s missing star.

How then does one change course towards hope, and if not acceptance, then duty, empathy, and discipline for our fellow man? How do we get through such times?

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that “For God all things are good and right and just, but for man some things are right and others are not.” When I do not understand the world, the world I love so dearly, I think of these ancient words. I am reminded of this wisdom as I find myself unconsciously passing judgement upon the things I cannot control, and it stops me. In this wisdom I am reminded that, while there may be something to fear, there is no righteousness to my anger. True righteousness instead stems from the lessons of spring; the lessons of hope: of living on with tenacity, industry, and love, even in the face, however distant, of winter.

The righteousness of hope is found, too, in our choice to harness our actions with humble intention in light of what is happening in the world and the toll that is being taken. And just as fear is begotten in the meandering anger of blame, hope lives in our individual conscious actions. Only together can our actions create constellations for others to follow: cosmos among the chaos, shining brighter than the void’s pull. That we will all choose to do what is right, though it will not be easy, even in the face of doubt and fear, gives me hope.

So from the crocuses, the robins, and the fresh mud of our beautiful Utah spring, don’t forget that the world is still good and continues to be every day, even if sometimes it does not feel like it. Remind yourself of the lessons of spring by opening your window, listening to the birds, smelling deep the thawing air, and choosing to den in these times, fulfilling the spring lessons of tenacity, industry, and love. Choose to fix yourself as another orienting light of hope for those who still only see the night, or those who do not look up at all, for the world is good, it is everywhere, and we will always be of it. Here is to the persistence of life and hope found in us all this spring.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Hope-Credits:

Images: Image Courtesy Pixabay
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Hope-Additional Reading

Campbell, Joseph, Moyers, Bill, The Power of Myth, Bantum Books, Knopf Doubleday Publishing, Excerpt Courtesy Google Books, Heraclitus said: For God all things are good and right and just, but for man some things are right and others are not.