Adventures with Bear

The raspberries are ripe, which means it’s time for picking. Fortunately, our cultivated patch is right in the yard, so when Kara arises in the morning and puts on her water-proof dairy overalls to wade through the dewy canes, she can enjoy the process undisturbed.

When it was blackberry season as kids, we’d load up our buckets and head for the woods. Sometimes we were not alone! Once, I mistook a peripheral view of blackness as Grandpa’s black lab Meg, only to see Meg bounding my way from the opposite direction! Time to leave that part of the patch to the bear, before Meg found it.

This spring, a teenaged black bear made a few visits to Farmstead, tipping over the dumpster (which was locked and barred, so his efforts were thwarted) and eyeing up the place. As it ventured from the woods onto the road across from Farmstead Creamery, we made a ruckus and let the bear know that this behavior was inappropriate, and that he should find a new haunt.

Stories of bears and their mischief abound, and there is no end to the Up North bear woes I’ve heard from visitors! But here is a favorite bear folktale to share, originally from Norway. I could see our teenaged bear visitor getting himself into similar trouble.

How Bear got a Short Tail

Of course, we all know that bear has a little stumpy tail now, but this wasn’t always the case. Once on a time, bear had a long, luxurious, bushy, black tail. And Oh, bear was so very proud of his tail. He was indeed convinced it was the very BEST tail in all the forest.

Bear would trounce about the forest, intimidating the other animals. “Do you like my tail?!” he would demand. And squirrel and raccoon and deer and all the others would cower and nod.

“Yes bear, we like your tail. It’s certainly the best tail….” They had to because otherwise bear would become fiercely angry, and that terrified the other animals.

Now, also living in the forest was fox, and she thought she had a very fine tail indeed, and she was growing quite weary of bear’s behavior and treatment of the other animals. So, she hatched a plan that would teach bear a lesson.

She waited for winter, deep into winter when the lake froze over solid. Then the took her fishing pole and went down to the lake, cut a hole in the ice, and fished all afternoon until she had a nice, long stringer of glistening fish. She stashed her pole behind a tree and went sauntering up the hill to the forest, humming softly to herself.

Well, the fish hadn’t been out of the water long before bear smelled them, and he came barreling through the forest, right up to fox.

“Where did you get those fish?!” he demanded, “I want some fish. You must tell me!”

“Well,” said fox, considering. “I suppose your tail is good enough for catching fish.”

“What do you mean, GOOD ENOUGH?! I have the BEST tail in all the forest! Tell me right now how you caught those fish!”

“Oh, alright,” resigned fox. “First, go down to the lake where it is frozen solid. Make sure it’s good and frozen, so you won’t fall in. Then take your big claw and cut a hole in the ice. Fish out the ice, then back up to the hole and stick your tail down into the water. You may have to wait a while, but the trick is to twitch just the very tip of your tail. When you feel a bite, you’ve caught a fish, and you can pull your tail out.”

Bears eyes glistened, his lips tingled, his tongue wagged, and without any further word from fox, he barreled down the hill to the lake, down where the ice was thick and strong. He used his powerful claw to cut a hole in the ice, pulled the ice out, then sidled up to the hole, feeding is long, black, bushy tail into the icy waters below. Fish, all he could think of was fresh fish for dinner. He would show fox! He would catch twice, no—three times as many fish as she had! His tail wasn’t just good enough, it was the BEST!

Bear sat there, dutifully twitching the very end of his tail, when Oh, he felt a bite. Should he pull it tail out now? Oh, but that’s when bear got greedy. Nah, he would leave his tail in a bit longer and catch another one. Ooh, he felt another prickling sensation on his tail, surely this was another bite, and now he would have two fish. Should he pull it out?

No, bear got greedy again and he waited and waited. Then, finally, he decided that surely he had the biggest collection of fish on his tail, and it was time to pull them out of the water. So, bear went to stand up, but he found that he couldn’t. “My,” he mused, “There must be an enormous amount of fish down there. I can’t get them out!”

Bear pulled and he pulled and he pulled with all his might. Then, suddenly, POP, he pulled off his tail! There were no fish, and the lake had frozen around his tail and held it fast. Now all that was left was a stumpy little nub of a tail. Bear was so embarrassed; he ran back to his den to hide…which he still does every winter to this day…and now there are no arguments that it is indeed fox who has the best tail in all the forest.

See you down on the farm sometime.