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“Bear!”

Tom grabs your arm when he goes down, burrowing into the underbrush like one of the rabbits. All ears, no tail. At first, you resist. You don’t know what’s happening—you like the woods as well as anyone—but you don’t need leaves in your hair and grass stains on your jeans again. Tom’s grip is iron-clad, his eyes dragon-fierce: so serious. He makes you hunch behind the bushes at the bottom of the hill. Low to the earth, you can feel the thrum of the creek over the bend. The spume, the water. Its rush is loud in your ears. The lush trees all around you sway in the crisp, clean air, sunlight dappled between the verdant branches and blinding your eyes.

Tom’s grip loosens enough for you to lift your arm over your eyes. A helpful cloud wafts between Sol and your corneas. Tom’s hand points like E.T. trying to phone home: up in stilted awe.

He points to the big brown bear sitting just up the ridge, and you gasp, you understand: your breath is taken out of you.

It’s huge. It’s bigger than the two of you combined, thicker, fuller, its body so heavy that it must weigh more than your truck and its limbs all like tall trunks, wide enough around that its footsteps must thunder when it walks. Its fur is rich and slick with rivulets of drying water, hide damp but face fluffier—it must’ve held its head high when it swam. Childhood warnings and nature documentaries make it easy to picture a wide-open muzzle, sharp teeth locking around dazed fish. The bear before you has its jaw closed like a sewn-shut teddy bear: friendly and non-threatening.

It’s nature. Pure and wholesome. Life.

You want to touch it, stroke it, but it’s huge, but it’s so cute, with its deep eyes and twitching ears. Your phone’s coming out of your pocket, the camera on, you watch those round tufts turn towards the forest’s sounds and you just want to pinch them. Play with them. They’re like your dog at home but must be so much softer, so sweet—Tom’s turning like he wants to crawl away.

You nudge him and whisper “Tom.” The recording starts. Life’s magical.