We were up at our writer's retreat over the weekend, the house by the lake where bats and bears live. It's pretty quiet up there; the woods are all around. We've seen bald eagles, beavers, wild turkeys, deer, turtles, frogs, loons, and a bear we call Hammock. And this was a weird weekend, even by our standards.
I let my kid drive us into town to hit the Meat Shoppe (which is not the name of the business, but I like using the word Shoppe, so there you go). She's learning quickly; like her father and my father, she's an instinctive driver. Me, I've gotta think everything out and sometimes I still end up in the ditch. The little brat is already better at parallel parking than I am. (No Christmas presents for her this year, the lousy show-off.)
So anyway, we came out of Ye Old Meat Shoppe laden with bags of meat. The kid hopped into the driver's seat, I climbed into the passenger side. She checked mirrors, she looked behind her, and then she slowly started to back out. Then she stopped and (fluent in the local dialect we call Minnesota Nice) waved an older woman and her on-crutches husband to go ahead and cross behind her. The lady shook her head, so my kid began to reverse again...then hit the brakes. Hard.
"My smoothie!" I wailed. "Nooooo!" Then I realized: the man had fallen, and Chris had seen him disappear from her mirror. Aw, shit. Also: my smoothie!
While mourning said smoothie, I popped my seat belt and hurried out of the car. My daughter was right on my heels as she always is when she thinks someone's hurt, or that Mom's over her head. (So she's on my heels a lot.)
Turns out the poor guy had fallen...he was pretty unsteady on his crutches. His wife was trying to help him up (tricky, as he outweighed her by a good twenty pounds) with one hand while clinging to their dog's leash with the other. So I stepped forward, gently took the leash from her and said, "I'll hold him for you." And as I did that, my kid flanked me and tried to help him up from the other side.
What? Listen: the kid's got the strong legs and back. She's also, due to extensive martial arts training, much much more coordinated than I am. If she'd grabbed the leash and I'd hustled over to help the gentleman, not only would I have fallen on my ass, but the poor guy would have broken my fall. Why should we both get our hips broken?
Meanwhile, a few guys had pulled up and hopped out of their trucks to help. So while they tried to get him settled, I soothed the dog, one of those big friendly golden labs, the kind with a head like a fuzzy cinder block, and a tail three inches in diameter that numbs your shins in an instant. I think I did too good a job of soothing him, because he sure cheered up: "Ow. Ow! My shin! Uh..." I saw they were looking at me while still tending to the man. "I'm fine. Don't worry about me." Nice one, MJ. Your ass isn't the one on the pavement (for a change), so suck it up.
Someone came over with a chair, so he could sit and regain some strength and then try to get back on his crutches, and someone else brought him a bottle of water. Meanwhile, I was getting pretty enchanted with the lab...I've always loved hunting breeds, and this one was typical of labs, what with the friendly slobbering and the tail thwacking and the shin numbing.
Just as I had decided to encourage him to leap into my car (they'd never catch me! and my kid would probably be able to catch a ride home with one of the Good Samaritans in the lot), the crisis had calmed. "Thank you so much, and your daughter, too, for helping us," the wife said, reaching for the leash. I'm afraid I held onto it a little longer than was proper, and we had a brief tug of war over who got to kidnap the lab from the Meat Shoppe parking lot. She won. She was elderly, but spry and with wiry strength. So, dog-less, I slunk back to the car.
As we pulled back onto the highway, my daughter asked why I'd gotten out of the car and run over to the man on the ground so quickly. I told her, "I didn't know why he fell. I worried he'd had a heart attack. I know CPR, so..." I shrugged.
"So you would have done it? If he'd needed it? Done CPR and mouth-to-mouth and all?"
"Sure, if there wasn't an off-duty paramedic or nurse or whatever around."
"I think that's cool," she said, delighted. "You probably know CPR because Grandma taught you."
(My parents suck at retirement, and both got certified so they could go on ambulance runs at all hours of the night in the middle of the Smoky Mountains. Because that's their idea of retirement: take tons of classes and a new job and invite strangers to haul your ass out of bed at 3:00 a.m.)
As it happens, my mom didn't teach me, but she sure could have. When she was learning CPR she and her partner had to practice on a dummy (one of the creepy ones, whose eyes follow you) to get certified. The instructor is supposed to push a button after a few minutes, which makes the creepy-eyed dummy appear to regain its pulse (eeewww!).
The button was broken, but no one knew. So my mom labored over the creepy-eyed dummy for twenty minutes. By the time the instructor clued in, Mom was thinking that even Jesus couldn't pull a Lazarus on the wretched thing. Natch, she passed the course, and the instructor loved that she didn't quit after four minutes and complain. A closed-heart massage will pop a lot of calories; imagine doing it for twenty minutes! I would have complained. Actually, I probably wouldn't have gone near the dummy in the first place. Natural selection, baby. If the dummy was meant to live, it'd live. Otherwise, let it and all its creepy kind die out.
So we saved the day (not really) and home we went. We'd had our adventure for the day. There weren't any more surprises in store for us.
Enter Hammock the bear. And then, enter me.
Some background: I hate working out. Frankly, I hate leaving the house. I'm working really hard on phasing myself out of my family's lives so I can make a fort out of sofa cushions and never leave the safety of said cushion fort. I love my sedentary lifestyle and I'm looking forward to being a shut-in. But I have to admit, walks outside (as opposed to a treadmill) make me feel good. And not just the ones where I bring chocolate Zingers in my fanny pack. (I feel safe wandering around the woods knowing I'm loaded with carbs, sugar, and fat. I cannot explain this. At all.)
Back to the walks: I'd grabbed my iPod, hollered to the kids that I'd be back in half an hour, hosed myself down with bug spray, and then out the door I went. Fifteen minutes later, as I was listening to the theme from the A-Team (my iPod is an eclectic place) I mused, "This isn't bad. It's maybe fun. And by doing this, I'm being kinder to my body. Really, there's no downside to...
(At this point, I glanced to my left and observed Hammock the Bear staring at me from the ditch about seven feet away.)
...aw, shit. Being mauled by an American Black Bear is not being kinder to my body. It'd be safer if I'd taken up smoking crack. Should have stayed in the house and broken open a new pack of Zingers.
I instantly resorted to survival skills learned in high school: I dropped eye contact with the popular kid. Caaaaaasually turned around. Slooooowly started walking away. Thinking: oh shit oh shit oh shit. Thinking, they can run thirty miles an hour. Thinking, don't YOU run. Thinking, maybe I can strangle him with the cord for my ear buds. Thinking, like I need another reason to hate exercise?
As I mentioned in an earlier blog, after Hammock the Bear had been spotted in our backyard a few months back, my husband insisted that I strap a fillet knife to my hip for my walk that day. So like all loving wives, I took that as a signal to scoff and mock him. Weeks later, in the middle of trying not to be run down and devoured, I remembered the scoffing and thought: Tony's gonna be heartbroken when they find my gnawed remains, but also vindicated. But mostly heartbroken. Prob'ly. He does sort of get off on I-told-you-so, almost as much as I do. Irony, why do you hate me? Well, that's it. If I lived through this, I wasn't gonna tell him. Because being devoured by a furry omnivore is actually preferable to an I-told-you-so. Don't ask me to explain the logic. It just is.
As I passed our ironically-named bear box (the thing we keep garbage in to keep Hammock out), I risked a glance over my shoulder. Hammock had left the ditch and was standing in the middle of the road, still watching me. I reminded myself that the black bear hardly ever attacks over territory; it's more likely to try to pull your face off if you accidentally scare it. A sedentary writer with dreams of a sofa cushion fort, it must have known, was no threat. Ever.
So I risked breaking into a brisk trot...our front door was only thirty feet away, and Hammock was now a ways behind me; I couldn't even see him anymore. I trotted more briskly (brisklier?).
Inside the house, my kids were puzzled, since they could hear my sneakers slapping on the gravel. "Who's jogging?"
They looked out the window. "It's Mom!"
"What's wrong with her?"
"I don't know! Look at her, she's coming in pretty fast. Maybe it's a seizure? Some kind of weird seizure that makes her run?"
"I didn't know she even could run."
"Maybe we should call the cops. Maybe that's not Mom at all."
My kids looked at each other, beyond confused, and then heard me hurl the door open, then slam it shut. "FUCK!"
"It IS Mom!"
"Thank God. I didn't want to take on a robot or pod person or whatever. Uh...Mom? We heard you running. What's up with that?"
While wheezing, I related the tale. Then I went to my room to lie down and have a heart attack. Once my pulse had dropped, I cranked up the laptop and double-checked to make sure my Hammock knowledge had been accurate. It had been. Then I got on Amazon and ordered four cans of bear spray, which you can apparently squirt at them from ten or more feet away. Because I don't want to shiv Hammock with a fillet knife (this is the wilderness, not an episode of Oz), and strangling him with my ear buds seems iffy. But squirting something that will annoy him enough to keep him back without causing long-term effects looked like the way to go.
The funny thing is, I actually preferred the bear encounter to the whole bat thing this past winter. By a LOT. How dumb is that?
And to think: I had no idea what I was going to blog about this week. It's just been too peaceful around the joint. Thanks, Hammock.