From out of the mouth of Autumn (when they say the living and the dead are so close, we can hear each other breathing on either side of the veil), a bear came like an angry spirit and snatched one of my goats over to the other side. My youngest female, a virgin sacrifice. Blood on the wall in the morning, her body uneaten, the other goats huddled wide-eyed in the the corner. I had never expected it, the gate broken, the fence ripped out. And maybe the bear needed her over there, on the other side, for some reason. Or maybe the bear was just angry, like those bear hunters all around us, with their vicious dogs, or like the humans who are angry all around the world, all the time lately, making violence without rites.
I haven’t learned yet about anger, or evil, or why. Or how to understand bears differently (who came to me in nightmares all my life but whom in real life I always loved and never feared, until now). I will soon learn, perhaps, how to properly electrify an old and awkwardly built barn. But what I first learned is, where we are trapped is where we die.
For seven years, it felt so cozy, as darkness fell, to know the goats were locked up safe. This was my evening ritual, before I could go out, before supper could be finished: get the animals in, lock up the barn, check the latches. They were safe, and I felt safe. Locked up in the innermost stall, the room they were born in, the place they always ran to, their only concept of home—we all breathed a sweet, hay-scented sigh of relief.
Now every night, I just let the goats out. I open the barn doors. I open the gates to all the pastures. Sometimes I see them looking back at me, eyes twinkling in the flashlight glare, huddled high on a rock across the field, the vastness of the cold night their only security. And I can’t tell them, ever again—you’re safe now, you’re safe here. They are never safe. But I tell them, you’re safer than you were. Because now you have your senses and intuition joined together with your long legs and sudden leaps. You have your running and the space to run in. Your freedom is your safety— that’s the only safety you’ve ever had, only I didn’t get that until now.
So I don’t feel any better, and I dread every night, but I’m grateful for the lesson. That all this time, maybe I’ve tried to stay safe by building walls. By trying to control and enclose and hold tight what is precious. But really, I made myself a death trap. Really, living without fear means walking into the night accepting the unknown, without limit or security, and trusting only to my own capabilities in the face of whatever happens. Abilities which I only have access to, it turns out, if I am free.
Last time I posted about the sacred hunger of gods. But this turned out not to be a story about hunger, or even about predation. The bear, stuffed with corn, wasn’t hungry enough to eat her kill. She came for curiosity. Then she saw, and heard, those trapped things panicking. It got her blood going, triggered a frenzy within. Unnatural containment triggered unnatural violence. She felt she was called there, to set something loose, to break up an illusion of safety, to shake things up. Well I feel shaken up. Good. So I feed the goats at dusk and let them go. The bear took the youngest, shiest one. The innocent. I walk with a prayer for her. I walk back up to my house with nothing separating me from forest but a thin sliver of autumn wind.