–Colorful Bear by Sharon Cummings
Back in the early nineties, my wife and I found an old abandoned hunting shack deep in the Minnesota backwoods of the Mesabi Iron Range, and arranged with the owner to stay there for free, providing we would work at fixing the place up a bit. We had two small children, and this place was so far out in the boondocks, the school bus couldn’t make it down our road, and a suburban was sent instead.
We had a hand pump for water; I still remember it took 145 pumps to fill the washing machine to wash, and another 145 to rinse. We used an outhouse, and only had a woodstove for heat. We were The Walton’s, but the price was right, and after living for a while in L.A., it was paradise. Apparently, we had become co-inhabitants with the local fauna by proxy. There seemed to be garter snakes everywhere, wolves were often seen in the woods, and…a bear. A big, cinnamon female who was hell-bent on getting in the house.
It all started when the kids, age 13 and 10, came screaming across the field, running toward the house with the bear loping after them. They barely made it inside, and she was there, circling the house, looking in the windows, and pushing on the glass. I had a shed full of garbage across the driveway, but she only wanted to get in the house. All I had was a BB gun, so I went out and shot her a few times, and only succeeded in pissing her off more. I jumped in my Firebird, revving it up and laying on the horn, but nothing worked.
Finally, I realized I would have to find a gun to save the day. The wife and kids went upstairs and waited for the bear to appear on the steps, while I drove to my nearest neighbor in hopes of finding a big rifle in time to save them. When I got there, I realized that they had an iron gate chained shut to keep the meandering cows in. So I had to get out of the car, unchain the gate, get back in the car, drive through, then get out of the car, chain the gate shut again, and then get back in the car…all this while imagining my defenseless wife and kids ripped to shreds while “coward father runs away.”
I drove up to the house and knocked on the door. A woman appeared on the other side, but made no move to open it. “Do you have a rifle?” I yelled, “a rogue bear is trying to eat my family!”
“I do,” she answered, “but I’m not allowed to open the door when my husband’s not home.” I couldn’t believe it. There was only one other house on the whole road, a couple of miles away, and I made it through the gate in record time.
A half-deaf old man lived there, and I shouted out my predicament again. He had an old 30.30 on his wall, and he said, “Hasn’t been shot in years, and these shells are ancient. I’m not sure it’ll work.” I grabbed the rifle and shells out of his hands, and tore down the road, my heart in my throat at what I might find.
As I came up the driveway, I could see the bear still circling the house, trying to find a way in. I slipped into the house and loaded the gun with the five shells the old man had given me. I stepped back out, but by now, it was getting dark, and the rifle had a big scope on it, so I couldn’t even aim at close range. I had shot a bear once before with a 30.06 at about 50 yards, and even though the bullet pierced his lungs and liver, he crossed that 50 yards in seconds, and dropped just yards from me. Now with the bear only a few feet away, I had to try another approach.
“Here it comes!” my wife called from her perch, and a second later the darkness before me turned darker. I aimed the gun as best I could at the bear’s nose and pulled the trigger. Just then our cockatiel went nuts swooping and flapping in the small room with the kids and wife, and they couldn’t see what was going on.
Luckily for me, the bear dropped on the spot with the first shot, but I pumped the other four into her to make sure. Later, my son would tell me that he assumed the additional shots told a different story. I remember the adrenaline coursing through my veins, telling me I was immortal.