B. Looney and THE BEAR


Posted: Friday, February 26, 2010

One July day, B. Looney sat at a picnic table along a Yukon highway doing his two favorite things - that is, drinking a Canadian-style beer and thinking about life.

On this day, B. Looney was so deep in thought he didn't notice when a bear walked from the cottonwoods that separated his table from the green-brown waters of the mighty Yukon River.

The bear reached nonchalantly into the nearby ice chest, opened a beer and sat down on the opposite side of the table from B. Looney.

B. Looney was not quick of mind, and besides, he was very deep in thought. More than a few moments passed before he realized the unusual nature of the situation. In fact, he had smiled pleasantly at the bear when the latter squeezed his bulky bottom into the picnic table seat.

B. Looney's realization made him nervous. He became even more so when the bear drained his last few drops of beer and banged the empty bottle on the table.

"Mr. Bear," B. Looney said weakly after a few awkward moments, "I'd be delighted if you would have another of those beers."

The bear made a curious snorting noise that B. Looney hoped was one of appreciation. Then he-the-bear arose and retrieved not one, but two cold beers. He pushed one across the table to B. and snorted again.

B. Looney smiled wanly and opened the beer. Mama Looney's boy's head was now beginning to ache as he watched that bear and tried to think. He knew something was amiss.

"Do you live around here?" B. finally blurted out, surprised at the sound of his own voice.

The bear didn't answer. Instead, he drained his second bottle and, after casting a sidelong glance at B. Looney's nearly full bottle, leaned over and pulled the whole ice chest near enough to reach the beers without rising.

B. Looney tried to smile as if he was amused, but he wasn't sure what he was.

Anyway, the bear downed a couple of more beers before twisting himself out of his confined seat. He snorted a couple of more times and looked at B. Looney long enough for B. to feel his face flush and his armpits dampen.

Then the bear picked up the beer cooler and disappeared into the cottonwoods. B. could hear him grunting as he turned upriver.

For the next hour, more or less, B. Looney peeled the paper label from his now empty beer bottle and stared into the cottonwoods where the bear had vanished.

Then B. shifted position slightly and returned to thinking about life.

• Richard Stokes, a Georgian by birth, moved to Juneau in 197l to become a charter member of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, retiring in 1994. Since 2004 he has worked as a seasonal nature guide. He has published both prose and poetry. His work has appeared in Tidal Echoes and Poetry Omnibus. His wife, Jane, is a Juneau artist.

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