In defence of bears
SNOW fell steadily in the wild woods of Siberia for three and a half weeks. Every day Pyotr’s windows were crusted with a thick new layer of frost; every day the snowbanks rose higher against the green door of the snug little cottage. There was no question, now, of Nikolai going anywhere. Pyotr and the hunter learned three new harmonica songs and improvised twenty variations of ‘O Susannah.’ Nikolai learned how to make black bread and beans, and he taught Pyotr how to turn some of his blueberries into a dark, runny jam.
One evening after the dishes were all done, Pyotr asked,
“Why do you hunt bears?”
Nikolai thought about that, turning his teacup around on its saucer.
When the first crane of spring flapped past Pyotr’s window, its huge white wings as white as the melting snow, Nikolai knew that it was time to leave.
“Thanks,” he said, standing awkwardly in the
doorway. “I had a good time.”
“You don’t have to go,” Pyotr replied. He coughed gruffly. “I’ll miss you.”
“I know. I’ll miss you too. But I’m not a bear — I have a family, and friends in the village. I have to make tea for my wife, and tuck my children into bed, and play the harmonica in the village band.”
Pyotr pondered these words. He wished he had a family, and friends, even though this wasn’t normal for a bear. He wondered if perhaps he wasn’t as much of a bear as he had thought he was.
“You can visit me,” Nikolai continued. “That will certainly surprise the villagers. We can pick blueberries — there’s a great patch just behind my house.”
Pyotr smiled as he thought of picking blueberries: it had been a long time since he had sat in the sun, swiping the tiny berries with his huge paw.
“I guess I could do that,” he said. “Maybe later we soak in the swimming pool.”
So it was that Pyotr the Bear and Nikolai the Hunter became friends, not just for a season, but for the rest of their lives.