Little Bear

Started on the 126 freeway around Santa Paula and Somis where fields of agriculture, some sweet and some putrid in scent, flourished in horizontal rows. While I drove on the two-lane freeway with green strips on both sides, the occasional wooden Victorian-style house or old-fashioned red barn flashed by, dotting the pervasive greenery. City limits signs started popping up in ironic terms - I apparently was passing through the "City of Industry" - population 11,000 - which was only five miles away from the outskirts of "Industry Valley". It is true that agriculture is an industry, a vital one at that. However, when one says the word "industry", it conjures visions of concrete behemoths horizontally striped with telephone wires and circled by pigeons awaiting the lush gutters and trash cans to spew forth the soaked sediments of trash to be feasted upon. One does not say "industry" to envision lush green vegetables stretched out to the surrounding mountains nor to describe the olfactory inhalation of the puckering tart of an orange or the rancid stench of a broccoli crown. I smell smoke, spilt gasoline, the production of rubber and cement, the waft of garbage and old, pasty air.

My mind came out of this train of thought and I was soon turned around on my way back to from where I came: the suburban landscape bereft of clean air or water, yet flooded with children and slurpees. I was on my way to visit my family in Saugus, CA. Although my parents had moved away well over a year ago, I continued up the familiar canyon road to the old abode of my lesser years. I turned the curved corner to find my old yard lush and green as if it had just rained. Ice plants still covered the hill leading up to the grass. There were two younger boys sitting on my porch, transfixed on a cardboard shoe box. As I approached, I could sense a bizarre fascination with the contents of the box. I had guessed it was a captive mouse or rat, or perhaps it was an oversized mutant beetle. My worst suspicion was that the box contained something dead, covered in maggots like the drowned squirrel I had unfortunately uncovered in the spa of this very house some odd years ago.

Since I noticed no putrid smell, I carefully bent down and lowered my head to the box. Inside, nestled in some paper towels, lay a tiny hazelnut brown bear, merely the size of a mouse, about five inches long. Huddled in the Brawny blanket, the bear was wincing with discomfort. Blood had soaked into part of the box and the creature seemed very weak. I couldn't understand where it had come from and then one of the boys said to me, "It's dying. Right now, it's going to die."

Looking closer, I saw that the bear's fur had been sliced around the shoulder and hip joints. Skin hung loosely from the underlying muscle and the blood was dark and dry. I seized the box, taking it into my old home. My purpose now was to save this unimaginable creature. I grabbing rubbing alcohol, needles and wire thread, and prepared to sew the dying bear back together. I tried feeding it a tiny bit of aspirin and liquor to lessen the pain but it was hardly conscious enough to swallow. As I cleaned and dressed all of the wounds, the bear passed out, squinting and wincing in pain. I then proceeded to sew the precisely incised skin together as if it were a cleanly ripped tear on a skirt.

Once I was finished with my haphazard operation, I blanketed the little bear with a microwaved hand towel to keep it warm. I then placed the box in a darkened bedroom as the bear needed rest. Knowing that it would probably not make it through the night, I decided to return the next morning to check up on, and possibly bury, my miniature patient.

Night passed and the morning arrived. With little patience, I drove to my old house and burst through the door. The cardboard nest was now in the living room by the old upright piano against the wall. Sensing a stir in the box, I looked in to see the bear squinting due to the sunlight; it was also shifting positions under the hand towel. I was amazed - the little creature had survived.

Over the course of the next few days, I watched over the bear, removing its stitches, cleaning, and feeding it. By the fifth day, I had dressed him in fine pastel textiles and doused his cardboard bedroom in confetti and streamers. It was a celebration, I suppose.... The bear was back on its feet and healed somewhat, so I decided it was time to let him go, back to the wilderness of the suburban yards from which he came.

When I approached the box for a final look at my slumbering recovered patient, I shrank back in horror. The small bear was now scaly and bubulous, no longer furry and round. The bear, although still miniature, was morphing into a mini stegosaurus, the herbivore dinosaur with the plates and spiked tail. No longer soft with his hazelnut brown coat, the creature stirred in its red and green leathery hide. Awakening to my horrified countenance was probably no more pleasant than finding your "patient" has mutated into a dinosaur. Suffice to say, neither of us seemed reluctant that the dinobear would go back to its natural habitat, wherever it may have been.

I tilted its cardboard resting place and it crawled out from the soft paper towel to the cold gray concrete. Slowly inching forward in a series of awkward steps, the little bear looked back at me. I'm guessing it was for reassurance or maybe out of a longing to be taken care of by something he could never understand. I lifted a leaf for it to crawl under and I wished I could have done the same myself, just lay under a freshly watered leaf and dig deep into the soil until I could fall asleep.

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