By Charles Towne
AND DEATH, NOR HURT, NOR SICKNESS WILL BE NO MORE, AMEN
Praise God the time is coming when there will be no more hurt, pain, or death. Nature, as I have illustrated in my last two articles, can be harsh, cruel, even brutal. This is not playing out according to Papa God’s great plan. He wants all nature, all of creation, everything to be perfect in His will. When we are living our lives according to His divine will, in peace and perfect harmony and evil once and for all is destroyed and the order for eternity is love, then we will become friends to all mankind and true friends and children of God.
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The time is mid-summer and the year is 2002 A.D.
The place is somewhere in that no vast man’s land of lakes and wilderness where Minnesota and Canada indistinctly merge. The black bear waits patiently. Eight years old and in his prime, he is exceptionally large for his kind. At nearly 800 pounds he is considerably larger than most grizzlies.
He lies there watching the small herd of elk. They are as yet unaware of his presence as they continue to feed in his direction. The slight breeze is in his favor and as he waits with a patience born of experience he is nearly invisible, his bulk melding and blending with his surroundings.
Time is not to be measured by minutes or hours but by hunger and need. There are six elk, two cows with their calves, and a mature bull. The sixth animal is a young bull, a yearling that stays on the edge of the herd.
Prey animals usually fall into three categories of vulnerability. The first is the very young, the second is the very old, and the third is the injured, the sick or infirm. For the sake of our story, there is another category, a fourth. It is to this last group that the young bull elk belongs. The fourth category is the careless and it must be remembered that the careless seldom live to a ripe old age. Wild herbivores must be constantly alert for danger, thus they feed for brief stretches, frequently lifting their heads to scrutinize their surroundings, alert for any potential danger. The young bull had grown fat and in his youth, he had become complacent. He fed on the tender grasses, seldom lifting his head, unaware that his feeding would soon place him within range of the black bear’s attack.
Almost imperceptibly, catlike, the bear draws his hind legs under his body, his rear claws digging into the soil for purchase. His head drops low as he stares intently at his prey. The moment arrives all too soon for the young bull elk. Powerful legs propel the bear through the scant space in blinding speed. Nothing can save the young bull. The bear seizes the elk with its forepaws, claws tearing at flesh as it endeavors to bite into the animal’s neck. In a flurry of action the elk, eyes rolling in terror goes down under the terrible weight of the bear. Almost as a dying reflex, the elk strikes out with a rear foot. Dazed from that last reflexive kick of the dying elk the bear stands over his prey. He is unaware of just how badly he is injured until he attempts to feed on the still-warm carcass and finds it impossible. The elk’s kick, striking with the force of a sledgehammer had shattered the big bear’s lower jaw. Unable to eat and in constant pain, the bear lays near his kill protecting it from scavengers. Due to the terrible pain, he cannot rest, thus he paces and pads around the dead elk driving away the foxes and ravens in a murderous rage.
Late in the third day a pack of wolves catches the scent of the ripening elk and following the scent trail they soon come within sight of the bear standing over the elk. At any other time, a bear would surrender its prey to the wolf pack but this is not just any bear. There are nine animals in the wolf pack as they converge on the bear. One, a bold animal, advances. It senses weakness. The wolf pack circles the bear and the dead elk. When behind the bear the wolf suddenly launches itself and its jaws close in a slashing movement tearing the bears hide.
The bear, enraged turns incredibly fast for such a large animal, its paw, claws extended miss the wolf by a narrow margin as it leaps back. Grinning its wolfish grin the wolf again starts the circling motion. The other wolves, emboldened by their fellow’s success moved closer, watching the wolf as it prepared to make another attack. It leaped, almost faster than the eye could follow, jaws agape! But the wolf was not as fast as the bear. The great beast, roaring in fury, struck while the wolf was yet in the air.
There was a single cry; the cry of a dying animal, and the wolf was thrown through the air a score of paces to fall to the ground, dead, from a crushed chest and a broken spine. The life had been struck from it with that one terrible blow. Now wary, realizing that the great one was not ready to yield to the inevitable, the wolf pack fell upon the dead wolf and within minutes it was gone. The pack leaves; they note the non-typical aggressive behavior and sense that all is not well with the bear. Avoiding any more loss to their pack they leave, but their time will come. It is only with great difficulty that the bear is able to swallow a little water at a nearby stream, not nearly satisfying his terrible thirst. He also realizes his vulnerability as well as what must happen.
With each movement the shattered bones in the bears jaw lacerate and tear the tender flesh. Time passes but the agony does not. By the end of that first week blood poisoning has set in. By the middle of the second week the rotting carcass of the elk is being scavenged by ravens as well as several foxes. The great bear no longer paces, nor does he endeavor to chase the scavengers from the elk. No longer can his moans of agony be heard for he also is dead, a victim of starvation and blood poisoning. Indiscriminate in their eating habits the worms feed from below while the maggots are busy above. Two adult black bears move in to feed on the rotting flesh, up until now they have been kept away by the diligence of the big bear but now he is just so much meat.
Soon the wolf pack returns and they remain for nearly a week, driving the other carrion-eaters away, even the black bears. It is not long before all that remains is a confused scattering of bones and the scat that remains from the animals that have been feeding there. The mice scavenge the few remaining scraps of meat and bits of cartilage that remain while a trio of porcupines gnaw at the bones.
And next year and the next and the year after, the grass will grow lush and green in the rich soil of this place and the elk will find the grass sweet and, just perhaps, there will be another bear to greet them.
Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.