Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Ursus Americanus

image borrowed from bing

Ursus Americanus

“Whatever happens to the beast, also happens
to the man--all things are connected.”
--Chief Seattle.

When I was ten, I watched my grandfather
skinning out a large black bear. He had shot it
along the Carbon River, near Mt. Rainier,
in the forested foothills of the Cascades. 

It was a big Brownie, probably ran 350 pounds--
it had attacked him while they were both salmon-
fishing. He killed it with five blasts of the .357 Magnum
pistol he always wore while out in the woods. He had
killed bear before, but he often feared that one day
regardless of its wounds, he would meet the bruin
that might have the spirit to keep coming,
and take his life, the pair of them 
dancing with death.

“Never shoot them in the head, it won’t stop them.
If you can get them to stand up on their hind legs,
you shoot them just above the peter, & break
their pelvis, & while they are dragging around
their back legs, you can just walk right up to it,
look him in the eye, & finish the job.”

Working with the carcass in his backyard,
he had removed the head, & as it hung there
on three stout timbers, it looked like a crucified
thief, Barabbas reborn, or like Dan, our
Norwegian mailman; so human-like
it stunned me.

My Pop was a devout Evolutionist, 
& he believed that Bear were a distant relative
to man; it had sweet meat, like pork,
like man himself according to cannibals--
that at some point it just branched off
from great apes, & joined the pack
of Caniforms, letting its snout elongate,
& developing sharp non-retractible claws.

“I call this big guy, Bjorn; notice his cinnamon 
blond color, just like a handsome Swede. I’m
going to make a vest & some house slippers
out of his hide, and a spirit necklace out of
his claws.

He talked about the Native Americans
who worshipped the Bear Totem, respecting
its free spirit, with its definite element of
unpredictability, capable of moving from
berry-eater & fish-catcher to raging warrior
at the drop of a pine cone. 

“Remember, Butch, they look clumsy, but
they can run up to 30 mph, & they climb trees
a hell of a lot faster than you can.”

He told me about hunting Polar bear, Kodiaks,
& grizzlies in Alaska: “I once witnessed
a 1500 pound polar bear attacking a float plane;
tore that plane into corn flakes.”

He always amazed me with his outdoorsman
expertise: “They don’t really hibernate, you know,
they just find a cave & chill out for a couple months,
what they call their “winter sleep”--but they rouse
themselves to crap or piss, or eat some of their
stored up food. So don’t enter a bear’s den during
winter just for the thrill of it, because it will notice,
& it will fuck up your holiday plans.”

In history class I had read about how the Romans
loved to pit bear against lions, gorillas, & even
elephants; how most of the time the bear
were the victors.

“In the wild there is only one predator capable of preying
on adult bear--a tiger; but its real enemy is us, man;
cutting down their habitat, building tract houses
& ugly strip malls, reducing the proud bear clan
to garbage foragers, & pet-killers.
It’s a damn shame.”

Glenn Buttkus

Posted over on dVerse Poets Poetics

Would you like to hear the author read this poem to you?


Mary said...

Watching your grandfather skin a bear must have been something for a ten-year-old to see. I could never even watch my dad clean fish. (LOL) I think seeing the head hang there like the crucified thief would have freaked me out. I do know that bears were nothing to reckon with. I was in Yellowstone and Glacier camping once and learned that; and wore jingle bells on my shoes when hiking to keep the bears away. Interesting bit of Roman history you presented as well, Glenn!!

Claudia said...

it is a shame... a guy from romania told me the bears come close to the cities, robbed of their natural environment and roaming the rubbish... we have a typical swiss name that means bear - it's Urs - and then Ursula as well

Brian Miller said...

have uncles that hunt...so i have seen many things skinned...bear is a rather greasy meat too...i hate to see sport hunting....much like pitting animals in a pit against each other...too much sport for others pain.....seen a couple bears up close...had one sniff my head one night camping....freaky...ha

Anonymous said...

Glenn your serving of knowledge in your poems never ceases to amaze me. >KB

Marina Sofia said...

What a childhood memory, and what a fabulous description of that moment - I was experiencing it there with you! Yes, bears were very significant to Native Americans and more generally to Northern tribes on all continents. There is something about their massive strength, their agility (I've seen them climb up trees), their cunning. And yet they are quite shy creatures really - but now with their habitat disturbed...

Wolfsrosebud said...

Yikes... polar bears

Björn said...

Ah.. we both choose the Bear.. there is a such human-like nature in them... and what a memory--- My father bought the skin of a brown bear that I have now.. Brown Bears we have hear are closer to Grizzly bears but smaller and much more timid...

mrs mediocrity said...

Wow, what a tale! Something about bears I find fascinating... I have a funny camping story about me and 3 guys from a big city and which of us ran away from the bear, and which one us stood her ground... but anyway, all that to say that I love this poem.

Aida Karanxha Bode said...

I loved it. I've had similar experiences with my grandfather; not bears, but sheep, cows... anyways, this poem also reminded me of Gibran's take on animals. Your verse that identifies your grandfather as an Evolutionist is so close to Gibran's suggestion. This is a great read. Thank you!

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Such a powerful write. I could see it all so clearly, and your grandfather's voice is written to perfection. I once saw a bear stand up, place his front paws on the side of a small car and rock it back and forth till the windows popped out. Then he climbed inside, after some food that was in there. Your grandfather was right about what humans have done to the bear population....and every other species, for that matter. Including ourselves, fools that we are.

Gabriella said...

I enjoyed your poem, Glenn! In my part of the world, there are no bears, only in the Pyrenees. For me, bears evoke Canada and the north of the USA.

Anonymous said...

No bears here, except in zoos (which I can't bear, no pun intended). What a stunning experience for you, and what a contrast to Bjorn's poem on the bear. I loved the story quality to this, just like you were sitting down in a bar, telling us stories from your past...

jo-hanna said...

You create the connection between human and bear so well. The uncomfortable feeling that man is going to get his cpone-uppance one day, from revenge. I am beginning to get that feeling when I step on a woodlice or swat a fly. How Bjorn got into your story I didn't quite see :-)

Anthony Desmond said...

I really enjoy your writing, Glenn. You have such a great element of storytelling in your pieces.

Watching a bear get skinned must have been pretty awesome, right? Also... didn't know shooting a bear in the head won't stop it... good to know if I ever get attacked. smiles.

Glenn Buttkus said...

In Swedish, Bjorn means Bear; I'm surprised he didn't mention it.

Glenn Buttkus said...

Freya, what a lovely compliment for a poet-story teller, jokester such as myself; thanks.

Grace said...

I love the bear story Glenn ~ I have never seen one but would be terrified if I do see one ~

And of course, man is always ultimate predator & killer ~

Kamana said...

i have never seen a bear in the wild, but i have a friend who loves to chase them with his rifle.

lynndiane said...

A fascinating read, Glenn! We met a black bear face- to-face on a trail in Canada once...both he and we decided to head in opposite directions...slowly.

Anonymous said...

This takes me back to reading Peter Hathaway Capstick

We used to go out, boys with a pellet gun or 22 and shoot pretty much anything that moved, squirrels, rabbits... One day I realized how pointless it was for me to harm anything

Weekend-Windup said...

I have not heard killing of bears. Sweet memories!

Lasha M said...

Gr8 story to remember.........

Victoria said...

This really drew me in, Glenn. The bears in the Sierra NV have been coming into Reno as humans continue to encroach on their territory and the drought makes food more scarce. This autumn we had one in our neighborhood (we are on the outskirts of town, in the foothills. It hurt me to see Nevada issue bear hunting permits the last few years but they say they are concerned with overpopulation. I admire the Native American attitude toward hunting. They hunted only for necessity and used every single part of their prey. And before killing, they thanked the animal for its life and asked pardon for taking it. Hunting for sport needs to be done judiciously and with that same attitude as I see it.

Beachanny said...

Hard for me to understand - I have so much compassion for animals - but I DID grow up and old in Texas and I know that there were hunters who understand the nobility and importance of keeping animals in their habitat and providing a place for them. We have as a nation, I think, lost that sense of responsibility. You write of this so beautifully. Reminds me Faulkner.

Anonymous said...

The story telling element was lovely to read. I 'hit' on Bjorn too, albeit differently.