Sightings of a Black Bear at the Lake


THE LAKE, purposefully built in the hurried city’s center, is always crowded. It’s shaped like an amoeba. A certain softness emanates there. It’s an escape from the hustle and bustle of the southern metropolis. Every inch of the place is serene. The water is quiet and still, so still that at times sail boaters have to paddle to reach the shore. Piles of pine needles nestle the edge of the walking paths. The foliage shines in the spring and summer and burns red and orange in the fall. Three steep hills mark the last mile.

In June Sumaira visited the lake clubhouse to ask if she and her sisters could walk the 2.91 mile paved path that follows the lake’s edge early before the park actually opened. They weren’t really her sisters, but that was beside the point. At first, Holt, the park manager, told Sumaira that the park only opened at dawn and closed at dusk. His reply was stiff, like his starched uniform, all khaki and tucked in, but that wasn’t good enough for Sumaira. “But, sir, the month of Ramadan is coming,” she said. “The summer day is too hot for walking. My sisters and I would very much like to come early. Even before dawn.” She was wearing the traditional hijab and abaya, both black, and her pink and neon-green New Balance sneakers. She took her time pronouncing her words, keen to veil her Pakistani accent.

Sumaira and Holt went back and forth, Holt made a few phone calls, and finally they agreed. The park would open three days a week during Ramadan – beginning the week of July 7 – at 4:30 a.m. so that Sumaira and her sisters could make the 50-minute trek and share the suhoor meal before the dawn prayer.

A week into Ramadan the summer rains fell hard. On Friday it drizzled all day and stormed all night. There were tornados spotted in neighboring towns. Only Sumaira made it to the lake on Saturday morning. The night before her sisters backed out, saying it was too wet. When Sumaira arrived, Holt was in his green Ford Ranger.

“I’m surprised you made it,” he said.

“Why—because of the rain?”

“Yep. Them some mean rains yesterday. Ya’ll all right at ya’ll’s house?”

“Yes. Thank you for asking. And your family?”

“A few limbs in the yard, but that’s all.”

Holt said he’d be in his truck most of the morning monitoring the water levels and the paths for fallen trees and debris. Sumaira said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I’m just making my morning walk.” She carried a flashlight and a pepper spray canister.

The air was cool and damp. Sumaira walked more briskly than she did when she was with her sisters. She passed the ¾ mile marker and heard a rustling sound in the surrounding forest. Undeterred, she kept her brisk pace, but froze once she felt the noise approaching. The thing was close. Sumaira gripped the canister, ready to spray. She shone the light at it and then it stopped. It was a bear, a black one. On all fours it was maybe three feet tall. The passing seconds clawed at Sumaira. Would it attack her, she wondered. Should I run? She was as still as the lake. What else can I do, she thought. The black bear did not notice her garb, like everyone else at the lake perpetually had, nor did it care she held pepper spray. With a few snorts and grunts, the black bear, turned from Sumaira and ambled back to the woods.
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About Bradford Philen


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Bradford Philen has ten tattoos and reads a lot of James Baldwin. He speaks Wolof and Oshiwambo, but English is his mother tongue. He writes, teaches, and searches for clean air in Beijing, China.
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