Bears in the Orchard
Road Stories 06, #3
Two nights in the Beatty’s apple orchard in my little mesh tent, ears tuned to the roar of a creek that’s usually a mere trickle at this time of year, and grateful for maybe the first time in my life for the barking of dogs. All these fragrant apples ripening in the autumn sun are pure ambrosia for the local bears, and this has been the year of the bear in the Huachuca Mountains. The Beattys know of 15 that have had to be trapped and re-located, or shot, in the last two or three months, and this is not a big mountain range.
The property here is surrounded by a 7 ft. wire fence, but the bears clamber over it. When I pitched my tent under the oaks and Tom started telling me bear stories, I have to admit I got to feeling pretty nervous. These bears have become accustomed to associating people with food. Over at Parker Canyon Lake they’ve been breaking into cars. At an isolated cabin a couple of canyons north of here one got up on the roof and was tearing the tiles off.
Most of the time the five big dogs here give chase and the bears take off, usually climbing the first big tree they come to. It’s mostly young bears, one and two year olds, that are causing the problems. But there was one big fellow coming in that stopped running from the dogs. When Tom went out in the night to see what was happening, the bear charged him. He had his rifle with him and he shot it. It weighed 350 lbs. When they gutted the bear they found bits of plastic bags and cello wrappers in its stomach.
What people are theorizing is that these bears are coming up from Mexico. These mountain ranges in southern Arizona are extensions of the still wild Sierra Madre. Increasingly the illegal immigrant routes are through the mountains now as they try to avoid the ever tightening border net. The routes are always marked by trash and these bears are probably following the trash trails, maybe also learning they can scare people into abandoning their food. The Beattys found a shredded backpack just outside their fence one morning. Unknown, of course, whether it was snatched or abandoned.
They tell me that ten years ago bears were pretty much unknown in the Huachucas. The handful that were here remained in the wilder parts of the range and kept out of sight. If this theory about how they’re coming to associate humans with food sources is true, it would be yet another unpredictable bit of fallout from the unresolved immigration problems down here.
I can’t help but dream, futile as such dreams may be, about what it could be like if we had political leadership with enough vision and courage to create real solutions. All they’ve been able to agree on so far is Let’s Build A Fence. It just seems like by now our thinking could have progressed beyond that primitive stage. The world cheered when the Berlin Wall came down. Now here we are building one of our own. I guess it goes along with a mindset that says it’s okay for us to torture people, to incarcerate them indefinitely because someone has decided they’re a threat, and to rescind any right to habeas corpus. It becomes inceasingly difficult to discern just where our vaunted Freedom and Democracy can be found these days. We’re supposedly exporting it to the Middle East while willingly giving it up here at home.
Didn’t intend a rant this morning. There’s something about being in these borderlands where the immigration issue is so visible and real that sets me off. The Mexican side of the border cities is lined with American-owned maquiladoras. These companies have already put Americans out of work by moving south for cheaper labor, and then even there they barely pay a living wage, so desperate folks come north looking for a way to sustain their families. Imagine what could happen if the executive officers of these corporations were to take a 1% cut in their benefits package and pass that along to better wages at the low end of the echelon. Imagine what could happen if we all realized we’re inextricably linked to each other. If we knew in our bones that when you deprive people of the basics they need to survive, they fight back and after a while you’re putting all your energy and money into building ever higher walls.
It seems to me that whether it be the Buddha’s words about recognizing our interconnectedness, Jesus saying to love our neighbor as ourselves, or that hopeful 60’s anthem exhorting people to get together and love one another right now—the truth about how things could work, what we are capable of as a species, resides in us whether we wish to recognize it or not. How is it that we allow greed to determine the course of the world?
If I look inside I see the answer to that question. Greed, attachment, desire for more of what I like and less of what I dislike—it’s the Buddha’s first noble truth. The cause of suffering. An intrinsic part of the human condition. Yet all the great teaching traditions of the world point to ways out of these conditioned responses. We are the species with the capacity to choose.
As I write this I’m sitting at a picnic table by a shaded area hung with hummingbird feeders. Anna’s, Black Chinned, and Magnificent hummers are swarming around them, stoking up their tiny bodies after a chilly mountain night. Soon they’ll be migrating south. Monarch, Queen, Pipevine Swallowtails, and Clouded Sulphur butterflies are feeding at a big yellow lantana bush. In the night bears came and were chased away by dogs. Somewhere in the high country above groups of people are hiding, waiting for darkness to travel their dangerous routes north in search of work. Below me clear water splashes and flows over all obstacles filling the canyon with its music. Across the creek a lovely organic apple orchard sprawls up a sunny slope. The trees are not set in straight rows, but are fitted to the contours of the land and all the ground around and between them is thick with sunflowers, morning glories, asters and wild grasses. Chickens cluck softly to each other as they scrabble about after bugs. There are ponds here that provide homes for the endangered Ramsey Canyon Leopard Frogs.
I sit, in short, in the midst of a tangled web of life. This web also has clear threads of connection with the landscapes of northern California that I love so dearly. A Hutton’s vireo is feeding in an evergreen oak; the Anna’s hummingbirds are long-time familiars. Though there are different species of trees here, they bear close resemblance to their California relatives—the Arizona sycamore has smaller more deeply cut leaves, the madrones have a longer and narrower leaf, the manzanitas lack that satin smooth mahogany color but are easily recognized nonetheless as manzanitas. And though I sit in a place I deem wild in the best sense of the word, human hands are also part of it, as am I, sitting here absorbed in and by the intricate interweaving of this beauty.
I was going to say that I forget how crucial time in places like this is for my well-being, but that’s not strictly true. I remember it in my head. What I lose is the visceral reality of what it’s like. The last three months I’ve been too much in tamed places.
I moved this summer. Left the yurt which has been for several years the place where my heart and spirit felt so truly at home, and moved to a little house of my own in Albuquerque. The move has felt from the beginning like the right thing to do, and it continues so, although sadness at leaving the yurt also lingers.
I live in an old neighborhood with mature gardens and trees. My street is only 3 blocks long and it’s quiet and there are neighbors I’m becoming real friends with. There are roadrunners in my neighborhood. One morning I looked out and one was snatching bugs on my front porch. I’m going to be happy living there. What I need to remember to make time for is getting out enough to the wild places. Sleeping under the stars, living with the sounds and the silence of a world more lightly touched by our noisy inventions.
I often think, when I’m in places like this where the interconnectedness is so obvious, that it’s here the power lies; here the sweet deep mysteries at the core of life reveal not their secrets but their very mysteriousness and wonder. Here I am humbled, and I use that word not with any connotations of humiliated or diminished, but rather as a satisfying recognition of being part of a much larger whole. The grand tapestry becomes apparent, and the sense of isolation that seems so much a part of our experience as Americans, disappears.
Could we bring our leaders here, our heads of corporations, our political power brokers, and show them what we destroy with our greed, our short-term thinking, our simplistic expediencies that do not and cannot fathom the full range of destructive ripples they set in motion? Is there some way we can help them/us realize that we, too, are inextricably part of this web, that our survival, too, depends on its overall health?
What I recognize here is a kind of equality of being. A respect for each visible and invisible thread, knowing that each is needed to maintain the integrity of the fabric. When I act from this level of awareness, my choices are very different than when I see myself as a separate and isolated being driven by my own desires. It’s in this way that I feel renewed at the most profound level of being. And it’s from this perspective that the possibility of real happiness arises.
There must be twenty or thirty hummingbirds zooming around here, and more butterflies than I can count arriving as the day warms up. I think it’s time to stretch out my own sun-warmed muscles before I have to pack up the tent and leave this lovely spot. A ramble through the orchard gathering a sampler bag of apples seems in order.
Ah, yellow butterflies on red flowers…
Oct. 1, 2006