The next time the bear came down the ridge, my father was waiting for him. He says he waited until the bear got close enough—about 25 feet—and then he shot him in the chest. The wounded bear fell down but then managed to scramble back into the woods.
That’s when the game warden showed up. He asked my father what happened to the bear.
Buck said, “I just shot him.”
They went into the woods and found the bear, crumpled in a heap—dead.
The officer wrote up a ticket. Buck showed me the receipt. I recalled how my father had always railed against the system. He was a refusenik when it came to taxes, licenses, permits, paperwork, child support, insurance, credit cards, and savings accounts. Somehow he managed to square his feelings enough to cash his Social Security checks, but paying for a dead bear? That’s where he drew his imaginary line.
Buck decided not to pay his $800 fine, $2 per pound of bear. He called one attorney who said she wouldn’t take the case because she sided with the bear. In the end, he retained the services of an old, retired lawyer in town. I pictured the two of them shambling up the steps of a courthouse, each wearing his only suit, my father managing to look somehow handsome with his necktie knotted thickly against his throat.
The argument was self-defense: The young bear, a menace, not only damaged his hives but charged down the hill at him. My father was being scrappy, his favorite attitude.
The judge said they could take payment in the form of a money order.
There would be an appeal. My father pulled out some papers to show me and started shuffling through them. There was a precedent. He thought a lawyer for the farm bureau over in Harrisburg might agree to represent him.
I asked my father if he’d learned anything from killing the bear. I asked him if he saw the bear as a metaphor for something else and if he could explain that to me. The questions I really wanted answers for went unasked. I wanted to know who he was, what he longed for, and why he left all those years ago, cleaving my childhood in two.
“Ummmm, I don’t see things as metaphors for other things,” he said.
I asked Pat what she thought of all of this. She said she had cooked bear meat before and that it could be very tasty as long as it was not old and tough.
My father walked me to the car. We had spent the bulk of the day together. I realized that in my whole life, I had never spent so many hours all at once with him. We said goodbye and Pat came out. I waved to them both as I drove away.
I wondered if I would ever see my old man again. I guessed there was a chance I wouldn’t. I reflexively looked in the rearview mirror, but he was already gone.
My father doesn’t see things as metaphors for other things, but I do. As I drove away, I tried not to think about the jobs, the wives, and the children that he left, but about the bees and the honey they make. The honey stands for the sweetness of life, while the bee brings the sting. My father, the self-aggrandizing bear killer, was both the bee and the honey to me.
A few days ago I got an envelope in the mail. Inside was a tear sheet from a notice put out by the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau about a new state regulation that expands the means by which farmers can legally kill game, including bears, ... causing or about to cause damage to farm crops, fruit trees, vegetables, livestock, or beehives.” That part was underlined. My father attached a note:
I made enough noise that the state changed some of its rules. Now we have a right to protect ourselves and our stuff.