StoryRhyme After Dark: A Winter’s Tale

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A Winter's Tale
By Harry Buschman


Caldwell figured he wasn’t due to poke his nose out of his cave for another two months by his own bear’s winter schedule. It wasn’t a very accurate schedule. A week or so one way or the other was about the best he could do.

With a contented smile he remembered finishing up the last of Mr. and Mrs. Wiggins' turkey the week after Thanksgiving. There were creamed turnips too – and some sweet potato pie left over from dinner. He ate all that and just about everything else they left in the garbage can on their back porch. When Caldwell got back to his cave later that night, he stretched and yawned luxuriously and turned three pages of his calendar all the way ahead to February 25th. Then he shut down his vital systems one by one just as he had every November for as long as he could remember.

He fluffed up his pillow and settled in for a long winter’s nap. He was surprised when he opened one eye and saw ice framing the door of his cave. There was snow outside too and sheets of ice coating the cave wall just above his bed. It didn’t seem right to him. He never woke up in the middle of the night to pee or get a drink of water... “I must be getting old,” he thought, “it’s not time to get up. It’s still the beginning of winter.” He grunted and grumbled a bit... He got up and took a turn or two about his cave and stared outside at the dark wintry landscape.

Then, with a resigned sigh, he crawled back in bed again to finish the rest of his winter’s hibernation. But he was restless. Try as Caldwell might, he couldn’t find a comfortable position in his bed of dried moss and straw, nor could he empty his mind of the things that happened to him the previous year.

He had traveled more than a hundred miles during the summer searching for food and a mate – he had meager success with the former and none at all with the latter. It was a stroke of good fortune that he found Mr. and Mrs. Wiggins in November. They had recently retired and had no friends, and best of all, Mrs. Wiggins thought Caldwell was the cutest black bear she had ever seen. He was all of that and more... Even he knew that. He often looked at his reflection in the trout lake he fished in, and sure enough, he’d never seen such soulful brown eyes and such a long lustrous coat of black fur. All of which brought up the question of why he hadn’t found a mate during last summer. Lots of crusty, battle-scarred old veterans of the forest had a mate and a playful family of cubs for entertainment. He’d seen them every day, but every time he got close, they’d rear up on their hind legs and send him on his way.

Those are the sobering facts of life that keep a bear awake when he should be hibernating. Caldwell rolled over and punched his pillow petulantly. No wonder he couldn’t get to sleep – frustration and rejection. Those were the things that kept him awake. He looked up at the thermometer on the wall of the cave and in the dim light it registered 28 degrees. What was he doing awake! Damn! His feet were getting cold too. It occurred to him it might be a good idea to go over and visit the Wigginses again. He knew for a fact they kept their cabin warm as toast, and if he put on a sad hang-dog, or even a hang-bear expression, they would probably welcome him inside with open arms. They’d have something cooking on their kitchen stove too; he knew for a fact the Wigginses ate three meals a day, Every one of them was a fresh cooked meal – they ate nothing raw. Just the thought of cooked food made his mouth water.

Caldwell was provoked... He couldn’t get to sleep and he was hungry and there was nothing to eat in the forest until the sap began to run in February. That settled it! He was going to go over and call on Mr. and Mrs. Wiggins. He kicked the covers aside and got up. Caldwell took a good look outside before leaving his cave. It seemed safe enough, but he’d never been out at night in the middle of winter before. The moon made things bright as day and the silence was deafening... Just the sighing of the tall pines in the cold winter wind. Although he had no idea of the time, he knew it was late and he didn’t really know how humans spent their time in the middle of the night. Did they hibernate at night the way he did in the winter, or did they cook food all night long? He hoped they did. Caldwell saw the lights of their house in the distance. Good! That meant they were still up and awake – he was sure no one, animal or man, would go to bed with their lights on – if they had lights. He approached the house with caution, put his front paws on the windowsill and peered inside. Mr. and Mrs. Wiggins were sitting on a sofa in the living room. Mr. Wiggins had his eyes glued to a little box standing on the floor in the corner that showed flickering pictures of men in strange uniforms and Mrs. Wiggins was sewing. It didn’t escape Caldwell’s notice that there was a plate of pretzels and two bottles of beer on the coffee table in front of them. 

Caldwell tapped gently on the windowpane with his front paw and Mrs. Wiggins looked up... He could hear her exclaim, “Oh Look! It’s Caldwell! Isn’t he cute? Look at those darling eyes... Why don’t we let him in? It must be dreadfully cold out there.” Mr. Wiggins was involved watching the flickering pictures in the box in the corner, but Mrs. Wiggins put her sewing aside and opened the front door for Caldwell. He ran across the room and curled up on the sofa between them and stared hungrily at the pretzels. “Are you hungry, dear?” Mrs Wiggins asked. Caldwell nodded his head and turned his soft brown eyes on the pretzels. To answer her, he stretched his neck, opened his mouth wide and devoured the entire dish of pretzels, then he cast his soft brown eyes on Mr. Wiggins’ bottle of beer. Mr. Wiggins suddenly came to life. “Now hold on, Blackie! That’s my beer yer lookin’ at! I know a lush when I see one, and boy... One thing I can’t abide is a bear who comes in yer house in the middle of the night while y’watchin’ a football game, eats yer pretzels and casts a covetous eye on yer beer!”

Caldwell thought it over. He was reminded of the receptions he got from bear families during the summer… The old grizzlies would rear up on their hind legs and roar whenever he tried to attach himself to their family unit. In those cases, however, it seemed prudent to slink away. But Mr. Wiggins didn't look all that fearsome to Caldwell. "A little patience," he said to himself. "I'll deal with him later, maybe when he’s outside chopping wood or shoveling snow and Mrs. Wiggins is cooking in the kitchen." Mrs. Wiggins would make a perfect mate. 

(c) 2012/13 Harry Buschman
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