The Fire Bear

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Logs were drawn up in a rough circle and the smell was stronger. I stirred the ashes and found enough coals to start a new flame, so I banked them back the way they had been left. Maybe the bears were watching us from the bushes even then. I tasted one of the newberries and spit it out. It was so sweet it was sour, just the sort of thing you would imagine a bear would like. That evening after supper I asked Wallace Jr. We found her sitting on the concrete front porch of the Home, watching the cars go by on I The nurse said she had been agitated all day.

Every Fall as the leaves change, she gets restless, maybe the word is hopeful, again. I brought her into the dayroom and combed her long white hair. She blamed the bears. I thought that was a pretty liberal view for a state commissioner. Of course, he had a vested interest in not paying off. In fact, he looked worried after we left and I asked him what was wrong.

She had told him forty-eight miles a day for thirty-nine years, and he had worked it out on his calculator to be , miles. Plus there were the football trips. Plus, old folks exaggerate a little. She did it every day and raised a family, too. Dad just farmed. I usually get off the interstate at Smiths Grove, but that night I drove north all the way to Horse Cave and doubled back so Wallace Jr. There were not as many as you would think from the TV—one every six or seven miles, hidden back in a clump of trees or under a rocky ledge.

Probably they look for water as well as wood. There was a card from Wallace in the mailbox. He and Elizabeth were doing fine and having a wonderful time.

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Not a word about Wallace Jr. I was on the road. I work Saturdays.

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My heart literally missed a beat when I called in and got the message, but only a beat. I had long been prepared. Ran away, gone. Your mother has escaped. What about her tobacco? I asked. It was gone.

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That was a sure sign she was planning to stay away. I was in Franklin, and it took me less than an hour to get to the Home on I The nurse told me that Mother had been acting more and more confused lately. Of course they are going to say that. We looked around the grounds, which is only a half-acre with no trees between the interstate and a soybean field. I would have to keep paying for her care until she was officially listed as Missing, which would be Monday.

It was dark by the time I got back to the house, and Wallace Jr. This just involves opening a few cans, already selected and grouped together with a rubber band. There was nothing more to be done. I sat down and tried to watch TV, but there was nothing on.

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Then, I looked out the back door, and saw the firelight twinkling through the trees across the northbound lane of I, and realized I just might know where to find her. It was definitely getting colder, so I got my jacket. I told the boy to wait by the phone in case the Sheriff called, but when I looked back, halfway across the field, there he was behind me.

Happy birthday, Smokey Bear! See 75 years of the famous fire prevention mascot

I let him catch up. He was carrying his. It was harder climbing the government fence in the dark, at my age, than it had been in the daylight. I am sixty-one. The highway was busy with cars heading south and trucks heading north. Crossing the shoulder, I got my pants cuffs wet on the long grass, already wet with dew. It is actually bluegrass.

The first few feet into the trees it was pitch black and the boy grabbed my hand. Then it got lighter. At first I thought it was the moon, but it was the high beams shining like moonlight into the treetops, allowing Wallace Jr. We soon found the path and its familiar bear smell.

I was wary of approaching the bears at night. If we stayed on the path we might run into one in the dark, but if we went through the bushes we might be seen as intruders. We stayed on the path.

Smokey Bear & Sparky The Fire Dog | City of Williamsburg, VA

The light seemed to drip down from the canopy of the woods like rain. The fire was mostly of sycamore and beech branches, the kind that puts out very little heat or light and lots of smoke. They did okay at tending it, though. A large cinnamon brown northern-looking bear was poking the fire with a stick, adding a branch now and then from a pile at his side. The others sat around in a loose circle on the logs. Most were smaller black or honey bears, one was a mother with cubs. Some were eating berries from a hubcap. Not eating, but just watching the fire, my mother sat among them with the bedspread from the Home around her shoulders.

Mother patted a spot right next to her on the log and I sat down. A bear moved over to let Wallace Jr. The bear smell is rank but not unpleasant, once you get used to it.

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