Feeling the pain of fellow creatures

Posted: Friday, May 20, 2005

On the WaterfrontBy Elton Engstrom

While taking my 45-pound dog, Pepper, to the vet with a bad puncture wound in her right shoulder and feeling sorrowful at her pain and discomfort, I thought of the travail of our fellow creatures who inhabit the forests of Southeast Alaska.

I was on a trip up the Taku River in the 1950s with a Forest Service work crew, brushing the trails in the vicinity of Johnson's cabin. Our chief was John LeHay and our cook was Mary Joyce, famous for mushing a dog team on a long trip up the river.

We had an eventful two weeks that included, besides the hard work, a visit to the Taku Lodge on a Saturday night. We were the only guests.

Royal O'Reilly was the owner and as a demonstration of his skills he set about hypnotizing his wife, Elenor, by focusing her attention on an evil-looking eye painted on the ceiling. As she leaned back on a couch in the dining room, Royal said over and over, "Elenor, concentrate on the eye." But she was impervious to his insistent tone, and finally he said, "Gosh darn it, Elenor, you're not concentrating." That was the end of the show. But it was a happy time.

But an awful moment occurred a few days later when one of the crew, I believe from stateside, killed a black bear sow.

The bear seemed to me to cry like I would imagine a human being would cry, when wounded unto death. Of course, the young cub could not survive either alone.

I got a similar feeling when I read that the small wolf pack was destroyed on Douglas Island.

As a person gets older past 60 and even into the 70s, life takes on a wondrous and shining meaning and all the creatures of the plain and forest become vivid and vital.

Of course, there's a grace that is bestowed on the hunter who kills wild game like the deer; he will eat and share with others, just as the Eskimos in the many villages along the Bering Sea who joyously and proudly hunt the mighty leviathan of the sea and then partake of the feast to follow.

But for me it is an empty and sorrowful moment when a bear or wolf lies dying and keens in pain like a kindred spirit.

• Elton Engstrom is a lifelong Alaskan, retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.

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