Bear Consciousness

Two weeks ago we were visited by a four legged neighbor, sometime between a significant rain the night before and the time I started breakfast. As I began preparations in the kitchen, Sue’s voice came through an open window above the potting table, “There are some very large tracks out here.” I love reading tracks and dropped what I was doing to see what she had found.

Large indeed. The entire length of the back of the house contained, right next to the house, a one-way trail of easily distinguishable bear tracks, walking quietly and uninterruptedly on its way, showing no interest in a running water spa which attracts all manner of insects, birds and other animals, a low hanging bird feeder, a hummingbird feeder, and most notably, the five pound batch of organically raised Black Angus ground round transforming into jerky in a food drier in the mudroom, flagrantly aromatic with garlic, spices, maple syrup, and chocolate.

This bear was clearly out for a morning walking contemplation, and had neither eye, nor nose for the mundane daily trivialities typically attractive to average bear consciousness. Our house and its surroundings were an unperceived nothing to this fine bear whose five inch wide front paws indicated a respectable size.

Backtracking, the trail led to the far backyard, where we momentarily lost it as the grass grew thicker. Sue and I drifted apart at that point, she heading back the way we had come and the bear had gone.

Still backtracking, I picked it up again passing a retired chicken tractor, then back into thick grass where I eventually found obviously crushed grass where paws had landed after having jumped our five foot fence which showed the stress of momentarily bearing two hundred pounds of agile bear. Choosing not to imitate the bear, I detoured around through the locked chainlink gate accessing the two acre meadow which constitutes the northern part of our property.

Following the fence line back to where the bear had crossed, the story of its journey became more obvious. The bear had wandered up our unfenced meadow and discovered itself confined by the sharp acute angle of our fence meeting our neighbors’. “Why turn around? Just jump over and keep going—I Am,” guided this bear, lost in contemplation.

Unlike the bear again, I turned around and began looking for its path up the meadow. What I found convinced me of the spiritual nature of this bear—certainly, at least, the light-hearted nature of its level of consciousness on this particular morning. My own contemplation of this bear reached its own satisfying conclusion there, and I turned around and let myself back through the gate, and locked it, to find what Sue had discovered.

Long story short, she had found where the bear had continued past the end of the house and straight out to the street, where it took a gymnast’s leap across that fence, and moseyed across the street and into the woods. “Don’t mind me—I’m out for my morning contemplation…”

Sue doesn’t always appreciate the details I find so interesting and compelling as I traverse my day. Nonetheless, I decided to share with her my discovery of the first sign of this bear’s entry through our lives. On its way up the meadow, it had paused at a large mound of red ants, and there were its distinctive, bare, baby-like hind heels dug into the soft dirt, where it deposited a very large pile of bear, um, evidence, strategically placed precisely on top of the anthill.

Couldn’t have done it better myself.

Soul is a happy entity—always—carefree and unfettered by morals, concerns, self-consciousness, or modesty. Playful, and completely one’s self, in the moment. I admire this bear’s choice of expressing itself in such unencumbered, and sometimes comical bearness.


I’m prompted to write this at 2 a.m. on an exceedingly still night, brilliant under a recently full summer moon in an open-windowed house. From where I sleep, I can’t hear the large kettle of broth simmering on the gas stove, reeking maddening fragrances from the carcass of a Pollo Real organic French Rouge chicken, previously baked with handfuls of garlic in a Römertopf. The only sound I hear is my own wide-awake pulse in my ears, louder than the melody of the water feature, punctuated by occasional, startlingly peculiar noises, evoking the image of our friend’s visit two weeks ago—should we be so graced.





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1 thought on “Bear Consciousness

  1. Having shared this contemplation on a neighborhood forum, a friend replied:
    “I’m curious about your ‘chicken tractor.’ I pictured twelve chickens harnessed to an old fat wheel tractor.”

    And thus began an entirely new contemplation:

    Yes, Joseph, that’s exactly what we had in mind to clear a ‘paradise paddock’ around the perimeter of our property for our Icelandic horses. Would’ve been ideal, but the chickens caught wind of our plans and flew the coop.

    Actually, chicken tractors, also called pasture pens, are a late twentieth century innovation in chicken farming, originating from real farmers, like Joel Salatin. Ours is a slight variation on one of the common designs, a two foot high eight-by-eight frame surrounded in chicken wire and metal paneling for half the sides and roof. It housed about twenty-five mostly Dorking chicks, and the pens get moved sequentially around the property at least once a day.

    So the chickens level the vegetation the pen is sitting on and fertilize it at the same time. By moving the pen continually, they have fresh forage, lots of fresh air and sunshine in pretty reliable protection. Since you’ve seen our property, you can imagine it’s not quite ideal for such an endeavor, unlike Salatin’s several hundred lush acres in the Shenandoah Valley. Both we and the chickens only lasted a season. But it’s a great system. To accommodate our terrain, we added pneumatic handtruck wheels at the corners, and that helped immensely.

    For pictures and a pasture pen tale, you might enjoy visiting

    Tom Delehanty, at Pollo Real in Soccorro, the first organic chicken farm in the US, has been using this method since 1996, and his are the only chickens we buy these days. Just saw him this morning at the Corrales Farmers Market. He surprised me with turkey livers, having just harvested his first fifty birds this year. They’re my favorite!

    Much more on chickens in an entire chapter of my new book, Breakfast Like an Emperor. See or

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