My days are no longer taken up by mothering and motherhood. Both of my children are adults and living their independent lives. But I felt an old familiar mother bear come out the other day. As I walked the dogs down our county road, a dark pick-up with a camper shell passed by going well over the speed limit without moving over or making any attempt to slow down. While I’m not familiar with the driver, I have come to the conclusion she now lives someplace in our rural neighborhood because this wasn’t the first time we’d been dusted off. Whatever the driver saw ahead of her on the road, she didn’t register a human being with dogs waiting carefully for her to pass by. I suspect she experienced a one dimensional view –something like blank paper dolls that had no meaning, context, or connection.
This ribbon of the road that heads west from our ranch has always been the place where I move out of the chatter of my daily life and into the physical landscape of the Elk River Valley. Each time I step onto the road, I know my round trip will be about two to four miles. When I head out these days I’m usually accompanied by my dog, Emma, Pete’s dog, Griz, and frequently our daughter’s dog, Brody. All the dogs know when they hear or see an oncoming vehicle they are to return to me, sit, and wait. We are a safe and congenial group journeying down the road to Long Gulch and Deep Creek.
As we travel we are often met by Bill, the mailman; contractors in pick-ups sometimes hauling low boys with heavy equipment; Art, the UPS man; and in the summer, ranchers driving tractors and bale wagons. Then when friends drive by they often stop to share some news. My neighbor, Ann, used to drive one of her sons to town every day for work in her maroon GMC. One February afternoon she stopped me on the road to say, “I just had to tell you I spotted the first Blue Bird the other day. I think it’s the earliest I’ve ever seen one here.” When a sage Subaru SUV approaches I know it’s my long-time neighbor, Jerry, a physical therapist and mother of a daughter who was born the same year as my son. Her friend, Larry, grew up just down valley and when he passes by in his little black pick-up or his diesel truck and horse trailer, he always slows way down. When I thank him for watching out for us, he says, “I know when I’ve got dogs in the truck, your dogs might want to jump in, so I’m very careful. I wouldn’t want anything to happen.” And then there’s Harriet, who co-leads our local writers’ group. She always slows and sometimes stops, like she did recently to inquire about Emma’s cataract surgery. Then as easily as the conversation began, she smiles and with a wave, she carries on home.
In the mother bear’s protest my angry words sailed silently down the road behind the speeding truck. I entertained the idea of reporting the license plate, make, and model of the pick-up to the Sheriff’s office. And then after I returned home, I imagine one day stepping out into the middle of the road and waving down the dark pick-up. As the driver gathers her bearings, I imagine introducing myself and my three dogs. I’ll ask if she has heard the neighborhood news: CJ got a new job; Jo broke her back; there’s a birthday party at Travis’s; Van forgot his shovel when he headed out for a day of snowmobiling and shyly and uncharacteristically confessed to having to go back home to get it; or did you hear that the Fair Cookbook committee needs your recipes for their 100th Anniversary Cookbook?
After sharing the narrative of our neighborhood landscape, I’ll step back from the cab and encourage her to slow down, “You never know what news you’ll hear as you pass by. I hope you’ll stop now and then and say, “Hi!”
Although I imagine the mother bear’s fantasy will never come to pass, I believe in those briefest of moments when we see and we are seen, when we know and we are known, we acknowledge each other's presence in the physical and material world. And within the daily ritual of the smallest of communications on a ribbon of road, a simple narrative forms and contributes to the sacred fabric of our of communal and relational lives.