(Read part I of this story here.)
After settling in at their cabin in the Tahoe forest for Thanksgiving, the Anthony family is sitting contentedly around a crackling fire. Into this peaceful moment, Joey dropped his announcement. “Marcy and I saw bear scat in the forest behind the house.” Pausing, he added ominously, “And it was fresh.”
The first to react was Pinky, who shot up off the couch, unseating a stunned Kotty. With wide-open eyes and mouth, she blurted, “You’re lying, Joey. Bears hibernate in the winter.” Turning to Dad, she said fearfully, “Daddy, make him tell the truth. He’s just trying to scare me.”
Dad sent an unfriendly look at Joey, whom I am sorry to say was wearing a nasty little grin. Mom and Hattie looked interested but not particularly worried. Answering Pinky, Dad said, “Sit down, honey. You are safe in the house. You are even safe in the forest if you calmly walk away if you see a bear, and you will never be alone. Our black bears do not generally want anything to do with humans.”
Mom added, “I read that the bears are not hibernating, because humans provide food for them by not securing their garbage. When there are less tourists and snow starts to fall, they will go into hibernation. But Dad is right. You truly you don’t need to worry, Pinky. Come sit with me under this cozy blanket. You will be okay.”
With a worried frown, Pinky cuddled up with Mom, and soon the fear faded from her eyes.
The next morning, the family awakened refreshed. After a hearty breakfast, it was time for our traditional Thanksgiving hike. “Guys, it is only 22 degrees outside,” Joey informed us enthusiastically.
“That’s why we have to wear all this stuff. Duh, Joey!” Pinky clearly was not feeling kindly toward Joey. “Even Marcy Mary has to wear a thermal coat.”
The coat in question was not even a designer coat, but when the door opened and an icy blast whipped up the embers in the woodstove I didn’t care. We were soon headed downhill through the woods, and everyone was walking briskly. The humans’ cheeks and noses were rosy, and their voices were echoing against the mountain, but I had other things on my mind. I had caught the distinct scent of three different bears starting in front of our cabin. Fortunately, only benign creatures were spotted on our walk, most of which my human family missed. Sometimes they can’t see the forest for the trees.
After our walk, Mom, Joey, and I hung nuts and seeds in bear-proof containers in the trees for the small animals and birds that wintered in the forest. “These little creatures sometimes have a hard time if the winter is harsh or too long,” Mom said.
When we walked up the steps to the front deck, I noticed it was surprisingly warm, so I plopped down, feeling the warm wood against my belly. As Mom and Joey headed inside, I heard Joey ask, “Are you going to put anything out for the larger animals?” But I didn’t hear the answer since I was distracted by the sound of flapping wings and scrabbling feet.
Looking up, I saw that a Stellar’s jay with an injured wing had landed on the deck rail where Joey had scattered a few seeds. “Isn’t the sunshine lovely?” He cocked his head as he looked down at me. “Thanks for the seeds, and before you ask, my wing was injured when I was learning to fly. But I am grateful that I can still fly—and grateful for these sunflower seeds. What are you grateful for?”
It was at that moment that the door opened and Mom and Dad joined me on the deck. The Stellar’s jay flew away. “George, I don’t know about frying the turkey out here. It will be very cold when the house shades the deck.”
“We have been over this, Lee. The directions say not to fry the turkey inside the house, near children or pets, or to leave it unattended.”
Pursing her lips, Mom went back inside to prepare other dishes, but we all know the turkey is the main event.
Later, when we were all eating our Thanksgiving feast and everyone said what they were grateful for, I thought of the blue jay with the injured wing and I said my own prayer of Thanksgiving to the Creator for good health and my loving family.
That night, I was sleeping on my blanket by the dwindling fire when I was awakened by rapid footsteps on the stairs. Pinky’s blonde hair, illuminated by moonlight, appeared as she headed for our parents’ bedroom. She bellowed, “Dad, there are bears outside!”
Overhead, there were more footsteps. Pinky’s loud declaration had awakened everyone. I took a deep, confirmatory sniff. Soon, everyone was in the living room. “They are over there,” Pinky said, gesturing toward the side yard.
“Let’s check it out,” Dad said wearily.
We all gathered round the sliding glass door and looked down on a scene that could only be labeled “The Bears’ Thanksgiving Feast.” Moonlight revealed three bears, each with a gallon container of peanut oil that they had easily opened. When some of the oil splashed on the ground, it was eaten as if it was pate. They sat on their haunches and wandered around in a tight group as if they couldn’t believe their good fortune. In the forest, smaller eyes glowed, waiting for their opportunity.
“Oh no! I stored the peanut oil under the house,” Mom said. “It was taking up too much room in the kitchen. They must have opened the door to the cellar. I hope they don’t get sick from all that oil.”
After a while, Dad said philosophically, “Well, we might as well go back to bed. It looks like this party will last some time. You can sleep with us, Pinky.”
As we all went off to our separate beds, I heard Joey say, “See, Mom? You even provided a Thanksgiving feast for the bigger guys.” And so she had.