I live and write on Lingít Aaní, and gratefully acknowledge the past, present and future caretakers of this beautiful place, the Jilkaat Kwaan and Jilkoot Kwaan.

So, we hiked up to the cabin to set up a tree stand for moose hunting and found that a bear had broken in the night before ( we are pretty sure, as we had been up there earlier in the week, and it had rained and the bear dragged in a lot of mud.)

It was a shock.

It felt like there had been a burglar. My heart beat fast and I was scared. I mean, it’s a terrible violation.

I was really glad Chip was with me. He or maybe she, broke two windows, the sauna door, and the main door, shoving the dead bolt and latch off the jamb. Then it tore up the tea cupboard and the other cupboards, and tried to get in the pantry and couldn’t, but ripped the trim off. He cracked the closet apart under the stairs too.

The dish soap was punctured and spilled all over the floor, mixed with mud, coffee, cooking oil, spices. Tea bags. Tins and jars that the dry stuff was stored in, to keep it away from mice or squirrels. The bread box (with its chocolate bar stash) was twisted and crushed out in the bushes.

At first, I was kind of paralyzed. It was raining, and that didn’t help. Where to begin? It was like Anne Lamott says– bird by bird– or in this case, section by section. I didn’t take pictures until after we had tidied up some. I couldn’t. It was like a crime scene. I didn’t want to look. I didn’t have time. There was work to do. There were trash bags in the drawer still, so I started outside and then moved in. I took a washtub down to the lake and filled it, dropped in a cap full of Clorox (bears have bad germs for people) used rags and wiped the door, and then picked up the floor. Chip swept. I mopped. He secured the door (for now) and found some plywood to make due until we have proper coverings and new windows.

The broken glass took a while, sweeping the rug full of all those diamonds. There is no electricity, so we can’t vacuum. We shook it out. I washed the pine walls where the muddy fur rubbed. Once, twice, three times. And the counters, and the cupboard doors, and in five hours, it looked pretty good. Chip made nail door mats. We hope they discourage a second try. (And that the bear is not a Yogi…)

At first I was really angry. I told Chip if that bear comes anywhere near here, he needs to shoot it. Get a bear tag “just in case.” A bear that breaks into homes is not rehab-able. He can’t go to bear reform school.

And yet.

He didn’t even tip over my little red chair, touch my jacket, or hat or house shoes. He slouched right by. He didn’t go upstairs. No jumping on the bunks.  He even dragged what little he found to eat outside, and some of Chip’s moose hunting gear, bag and all, as well as a box of paper shop-towels.

He did not break the furniture. Shred the couch cushions. Knock pictures off the wall. Poop in the house. Crack the wood stove or smash one propane light. The fishing rods were on the floor, but unharmed. Once he found anything that might be edible, he left. It was, and is a clean camp. (All that’s left now is a tube of toothpaste and the salt and pepper shakers. ) He must have been desperate.

Stressed and starving.

Or–  he is a bear burglar. In this, bears are much like humans. Most are good. A few are not. And those bears can be very dangerous. I’d say the jury is still out on this one. If he never comes back, and stays away from other structures closer to home on Mud Bay Road, he may be okay. If not? Nope. I am sorry about this. But it is terrifying to have a bear break into your house. My house in town has more windows, lower to the ground, and way more bears walk by here than at the cabin. Fishing on the river, cruising the shore. They could break in easily. But they don’t. Still, as Chip said, there was a stout, locked door on the cabin. It didn’t make any difference.

I went back up the next day and the sun was out and everything looked the way it always does from the back trail side. (I know. It’s funny that my vacation cabin is less than ten miles from my house. This is how much I love this place. There are no two places I’d rather be.)

Inside too, if you didn’t look closely, you’d never know a bear had ever been there. I believe this is a testament to the bear.  It is a gift to live with them. I am lucky.  Even if it’s a pain sometimes. And kind of frightening. This is a first in nearly 30 years. It could have been worse, but it wasn’t.

Of course we will repair the cupboard doors, and the wall under the stairs needs new boards. New windows are on order. We will replace the trim, but I’m keeping the pantry door gouges as a reminder of where we live, and who we share it with. And that old photo of the children playing hockey? The bear didn’t harm it all.