Magical thinking and the big black bear

In this July 2013 photo, a black bear sow pauses to look around as it attempts to open a Pacific Waste garbage container in the Bonnie Brae subdivision on Douglas Island. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Have you ever voiced a thought, only to have it come true in the most unexpected way? One minute you’re saying something, and the next minute you’re seeing it in reality. You think that your words have a magical effect on the cosmos.

 

For instance, you might say, “I’ve never had a problem with spiders in my house,” and then you knock on wood, for fear that your words will call out to the spider king to launch an invasion on your house. Or you avoid speculating on your baseball team’s chances in the postseason, for fear that you will jinx the team. If you do make the tiniest slip and comment on the left-hander’s mean fastball and then the team enters a record-setting losing streak, you know that it was all your fault.

Naysayers put this phenomenon down as magical thinking. They say that the spiders were probably there all along and you were simply in denial, and the baseball players themselves are responsible for their losses. They tell you to stop being ridiculous — it’s not all about you. Still, you know that your words called into being the resulting event.

That happened to me this summer. After church one Sunday I commented that I hadn’t seen any bears at all this summer. Not a single one. That Sunday afternoon I took a drive with my family to the Boy Scout beach. On the way home we saw a bear on the roadside. On Monday morning I saw a movement out my window — there was a bear in my backyard. It paused long enough to relieve itself before disappearing into the neighborhood, only to return a few minutes later. On Tuesday I heard a clatter out back, and discovered the bear getting into stuff on the back porch. He stayed long enough for a few pictures before ambling off into the woods. Several hours later he passed through once more on his swift and silent trek into the woods. He was back that afternoon, lounging in the backyard as if it were his new hangout. One bear sighting on Sunday, two on Monday and three on Tuesday. As the week progressed, I saw a bear in the backyard every single day.

See, here’s what happened: As soon as I announced that I hadn’t seen any bears, I saw a bear every day for the rest of the week. Clearly my words called up those bears. It was magic.

Then there was that time at college when I was heard to say that I wondered what it would feel like to get a pie in the face, as I had never had that experience. The very next day, imagine my surprise when my friends greeted me at the door to my room with a banana cream pie in the face! For the record, a pie in the face feels cold and slimy, but it sure smells good. Again, this was a time when my words called an action out of the cosmos. Magic! Okay, so my words could be viewed as a cause and effect in this case, but that’s beside the point.

The magic can backfire on you, if you’re not careful. There was that time in junior high school when my teacher was late arriving, and I announced, “I hope Mr. Whateverhisnamewas is sick today.” He was standing right behind me the whole time! I didn’t think I would survive the embarrassment. But it’s best not to dwell on the tough times.

So here’s what I’m wondering: can I affect the course of events by merely commenting on them? I speak of a lack in my life, and it immediately gets filled. It’s the opposite of the proverbial three wishes.

At this point, I should mention that I’ve never had someone walk up to me and say, “I’ve got a million dollars to give you.” The Publisher’s Clearinghouse Prize Patrol has never knocked on my door. I’ve never won the lottery, or the Nenana Ice Classic, or even a fundraising raffle with a prize of two round trip tickets anywhere Alaska Airlines flies. And I have not seen a single gold nugget in my backyard this entire summer.

Just saying…


• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and debut author who writes cozy mysteries under the name “Greta McKennan.” Her first novel, Uniformly Dead, is available at Hearthside Books. She likes to look at the bright side of life.


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