Having lived in Mount Shasta for three years, I continued to feel like a stranger in a strange land. As if I had fallen into a life and world that were so foreign to me. Following is an excerpt from a journal written in 2002…
Tonight after dark, I walked the loop road around my wild new neighborhood. Tree spectres, star navigators, I felt like an orphan returned to her original home, finally and afraid. I didn’t know this terrain. I knew huddled box houses, concrete, asphalt-paved city streets, skyscrapers, city lights and the sound of foghorns. Now, living in the mountains, I walked along snow-berm lined roads and felt out of place in the deep quiet that is induced by snow. I looked to the stars for guidance, but didn’t grow up reading them. Foggy nights and shuttered windows allowed neither awareness of the stars nor the sun’s rising and retreating. Is it too late for me to become familiar with nature in her rawness? Aren’t I the daughter of this more truly than anything…or anyone?
Though the road was partially lit by a slightly waning moon, I carried a flashlight. I had chosen to move here, to be so displaced. Even with this yearning to connect with nature, I was surprised by a lurking fear. What strange stalking beast might be watching me? Yes, there are bears, mountain lions and bobcats here. A few barking dogs raced down paths to announce themselves…and me.
A few days ago, at Castle Lake, there were about ten fish, trout I think, about 12″ long, each one laid neatly at the base of a pine tree around which a circumference of snow had melted. The fish lay dead, intertwined, resembling a celtic knot. A single fish laid a few trees away. Where do fish go in winter when this mountain lake freezes over to a depth of several feet? How did this neat pile of preserved fish get here? Away from the water on a higher plane–the water hadn’t risen that high. A mystery.
Were the fish, a bear’s bounty abandoned perhaps when s/he was unexpectedly intruded upon? A bear who fished the lake before it froze, laid them in a neat design beneath the tree and then was driven off by a hunter, perhaps? Or his suspicions of one? Or was it an offering of some sort? Or perhaps a bear scared a fisherman off…but then why did he leave the fish? The cluster of fish frozen beneath all of that snow for weeks and now a temporary melting and no bear to claim this defrosted bounty.
I’d written a mini-writing workshop to share with a circle of friends about winter–exploring their feelings–about this one in particular. This winter had lavishly dumped 90-inches of snow over our town in less than one month! That’s a lot of snow to move around to clear pathways, driveways and streets. Berms grew and city streets were narrowed, slushy and hard to navigate. A precarious and often impossible situation. Some days, I stayed home and checked the weather reports regularly, looking towards a break. Emerging into January, a new year, temperatures rose to the 40’s and rain fell for two weeks dissolving some of the berms. And then, a dry spell, a few visible sunsets causing a body to halt in her routine to witness the translucent alpenglow on the mountain. The beauty, ah yes, I remember why I moved here. Such breathtaking beauty and nature pounding down the door.
Really, though, what does any of this rambling have to do with bear? Or abandoned fish? Or my winter themed writing workshop? Only everything! Terry Tempest Williams and other writers of our times, have likened the hibernating bear to the in-dwelling hidden deep feminine! The introspective cave dweller. The female bear who births her young in the spring. Winter gestations, hibernations, cave dwelling–not to be feared but appreciated for allowing one the time and space it takes to gestate, find her voice and create. Isn’t that what I’m doing here? In Mount Shasta? According to Williams…if you should meet this bear in the wild, open your blouse and show that you’re a woman and you will be allowed to pass unharmed, so the story goes. And where has my cat wandered to after hours? It’s well past closing time. I hope she hasn’t encountered a bear.
And tonight, when I told my lover let’s lay in silence for awhile, “Let’s not talk,” he pinned my hands and I growled like a bear in captivity. Then he left. I felt angry because no man could contain me any longer. Now I have a voice and sometimes I displease a man.