After a noisy, sweaty afternoon of weed whacking, I cooled down with a big glass of iced tea and a book on the front porch.
No sooner had I begun to relax when a loud “crack” in the woods interrupted the silence. I looked into the trees, assuming that a porcupine had crawled out onto a weak branch. Seeing no movement, I returned to my book.
A minute later, I glanced right, riveted by the sight of a big, adult brown bear sniffing in my garden, 20 feet from the porch. In all our years here, I had never seen a brown bear ambling about the yard in the middle of the day. Instead, they prefer the fish-rich creeks nearby. Whether the bear was a boar or a sow, I do not know, but I could see that each of its padded feet was the size of a dinner plate, and the round head was as wide as a basketball hoop. What astonished me most was its stealth. Had I been facing the other way, the bear’s presence could have gone undetected altogether.
However, our ducks were squawking in alarm at the lakeshore, which naturally attracted the bear’s attention. When it swayed its big head and shoulders and lumbered in my direction, I bolted inside the cabin.
In the moment it took me to look out a window, the bear was next to the porch, sniffing upward toward where I had just been sitting. It chased neither the ducks nor the chickens, (which were probably cowering in silence nearby). However, once past the cabin, the bear sped up, trotting past the shower house, through the alder thicket in the direction of my husband, who was working some 400 feet away, over the lip of a hill where I could not see him, probably listening to Aretha Franklin on his iPod.
I yelled, “bear” out the back door and fortunately, between sound tracks of “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” he heard me.
Because I forgot that Bryan kept a shotgun and pepper spray at the power shed, I worried about the unusual appearance of such a big bear headed his way. At first I grabbed his vest by the door with his .44 magnum, but I realized that I was too nervous and ill practiced with that heavy, high-caliber revolver. So I grabbed a can of bear spray with the lame idea of stepping out onto the back porch to protect his approach, if needed. (Note to self: Multitasking is not a great idea when one is nervous.) With my left hand pushing down the door latch and the right hand pulling back the safety catch on the canister, I pressed down on the weapon’s valve, too, emitting a stream of pepper spray at the door about 6 inches in front of me, and thus enveloping my head in the noxious, oily fumes.
I became blinded, suffocated, and my skin started to burn, like I had just drenched my face in habanero oil, which is essentially what I had done. I stumbled to the kitchen sink to drench my face and guzzle water. The latter helped me breath and the former assuaged the worst of the pain, but the dripping water spread the burn to my neck and hands.
Meanwhile, Bryan arrived safely, but as soon as he opened the door, he, too, was overcome by the fumes. He quickly withdrew but, since I couldn’t see, and he couldn’t speak, I didn’t understand why he had suddenly disappeared. So, instead of being relieved that he reached the cabin safely, I got mad at him. As soon as my vocal chords functioned, I started swearing like a sailor and barking orders.
In retrospect, I recognize that I had not felt this much pain, lack of control, and nervousness since labor delivering my first child. With the bear spray, these physical and emotional reactions were compounded by the realization that I had brought this upon myself. Add, “feeling ridiculous” to pain, fear, and anger: What a combo.
Our ignorant efforts to deal with the pepper spray evolved like a scene from “Dumb and Dumber.” With his face protected by a sweatshirt, Bryan braved the tainted atmosphere of the cabin. His vision dimmed and mine nonexistent, he ineptly threaded me through the interior furniture to the porch. I felt like a ball in a bumper pool game, which didn’t improve my mood. Then, he ventured back in to throw open the windows and collect a huge bowl of water and a pile of rags with which I soaked my aching face while he looked up antidotes.
One solution, by the way, is any fatty dairy product. With no ice cream or milk on hand, he grabbed a stick of butter. It provided no relief at all. A second solution made more sense. Since pepper spray is an oil-based product, he squirted dishwashing liquid into the basin. The sopafaction agents could cut the oil that coated my skin. By trading out batches of rags and soapy water, this was indeed effective. Within 10 minutes, I could see, and though my face still burned, I could leave the sink long enough to remove my shirt, which was contaminated by the spray and exuded a sickly sweet smell.
Gun in hand, Bryan walked me to the shower house so I could clean the residue from my hair. As soon as the water released vapors, my eyes squeezed tight against the fumes and renewed pain. I struggled to complete my ablutions fearing that I would add yet another stupid mistake, like slipping on a piece of soap and breaking a bone, to the ridiculous and painful incidents of the day.
When I emerged, Bryan asked, calmly, “How about a drink and a kayak across the lake?”
Both sounded perfect. Out on the pretty lake, the cool water soothed my painful hands, and the view distracted my mood. After a while, I was able to relax and to apologize for being what my husband terms “hysterical,” but which I prefer to consider “loudly in pain.”