Apparently Jewel the black bear’s labor was reported a little prematurely. It’s been a few days, now, and obviously I need to keep doing my work. Who has time to watch bears sleeping all day? (Right, those lucky, lucky bear scientists!)
Still, I’ve had Jewel’s den cam on in the background whenever I’m near the computer. Whether I’m reading, emailing publishers, or revising my dissertation, my work is accompanied by the sounds of bear breathing. Or bear scratching, sighing, and chomping on bits of ice. It’s as if my life has been set to a new rhythm, tethered to a being whose needs and habits are almost utterly different from mine. It seems to slow my breathing, and it certainly gives me a wider perspective. I think of Wendell Berry’s poem “Manifesto: the Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” where he writes,
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
And I think of Jewel. And then I think of all the unknown beings out there, whether hibernating or waking, bearing new life in their bodies. I think of seeds and rootstocks and runners ready to make new plant life; of frogs with cellular “anti-freeze” under the muck, ready to set up a tremendous cheeping in the spring to call their mates; of the foxes who are mating right now, and the turkeys who are trying to stay alive to mate this spring. I think of Judy Collins’s song, “I have learned to love the fallow way,” and imagine all who, despite the season, are not fallow. How hard it is to stay alive when you don’t have grocery stores. How vulnerable a newborn bear cub is. How hungry its mother will be in the spring. How much life is outside our awareness and our ken.
And at least for a little bit, I imagine a world in which, to judge our actions, we ask ourselves,”Will this satisfy a bear sow satisfied to bear a cub? Will this disturb the sleep of a bear sow near to giving birth?”