I was just standing around, minding my own business as usual. Soaking up moisture in the gritty soil, eating sunlight, having the wind twirl my leaves while I felt for vibrations in the ground. Kind of a busy spot I got here, you see – the mobile ones move by here everyday. Little mice and voles, rustling through the grasses that grow with me, but who doesn’t have that kind of traffic. I hardly feel them, the scurrying of their anxious feet, the swish of their tiny tails. Always in such a hurry.
But the big ones who can move tend to show up from always the same place, walk right by me, pressing the soil down against my roots, and then disappear in the same place. I wasn’t all that worried about it anymore, after all, it’s not like I’m still a little sapling where a bull moose will whack you with his antlers when he’s trying to get the velvet off, and then you stand there with all that bloody mess on your branches, your crown broken and the earth littered with perfectly good leaves.
No, I was too tall for that now. Not very big yet, but getting there – until the day when this bear comes along. Little guy, you know, first summer without his momma. I feel his paws vibrate the ground, scratch around, feel the soapberry bushes next to me cling a bit tighter to the soil as he pulls their branches through his teeth. He shifts his weight and sits down when I feel a vibration from that place where they tend to come from. Far off still, but strong. Stronger than this little guy, who doesn’t seem to be paying attention to it at all. He’s busy with those berries.
Suddenly, there’s fast thumping on the ground – a big bear galloping right for me, for the soapberry bushes, for the little bear who freaks out, starts clawing up my trunk, faster and faster. At first I just feel his claws scratch my bark, but he’s not really heavy. The big bear huffs and puffs at him, sinks his claws into me, pulls himself up against me. Not necessary, if you ask me. What do I have to do with all this? But they are always so hectic, the mobile ones, so stupid. Don’t think at all, apparently. They’re just all movement.
The little bear is trying to get away from those swiping paws and keeps climbing higher. I start to feel his weight as he’s showering my branches down on the big guy. He climbs and climbs, pulling me this way and that in a storm of claws. I’m only a poplar, not a spruce, you idiot, my crown won’t hold you, I tell him, but he doesn’t listen. The big bear is growling and as he also tries to climb up, the little bear inches up higher – too high, and suddenly my heartwood gives way as he topples over with my crown, falling hard on the ground in a flurry of leaves.
He didn’t wait around to wrestle with the big bear, though – I’ve felt some pretty fast running of the mobile ones here over the years, but never as many vibrations as that day. I’m not sure how it all ended, they both disappeared faster than a wind gust, and really, I don’t care. So here I was, all scratched up, bleeding sap, branches and leaves strewn all over and my beautiful crown hanging down by a few strands of sapwood. At my age! You know the risks with all those injuries, fungal infections, frost trauma and all that.
Well, I hoped to heal up. What else can you do? Never had much in the way of health problems before, except for a few bouts of leaf miners, so I figured I might still be alright. See, I thought that was the end of it. But far from it – now this big bear, I think it’s the same one from the rhythm of his walk, has shown up a few more times and scratched me some more. Not only that, but sunk his nasty teeth into me as well, making me bleed all over again. There’s something wrong with me now, my bark feels all spongy somehow. I hope I’ll heal again, but either way – I’m trying to time it so that when my crown finally falls off, it’ll hit one of those bears on the head. See how they like those vibrations.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.