1.  2-BearIn the High Sierra, her first time sleeping in a tent, my friend Pilar from Barcelona is terrified. She is afraid of bears. She wipes toothpaste from the corners of her mouth, tucks her hair into the hood of her sleeping bag, and cinches it against cool alpine air. She stares at the nylon ceiling. She lies still as a log, attuned to any noise outside. All night she hears it—rustle rustle—a bear in the bushes, edging closer to her, closer. She freezes. Holds her breath. The noise stops. She relaxes. The noise begins, rhythmic: rustle rustle. At 5 a.m., exhausted, her eyes drift shut and—quiet. The sound is her eyelashes against the silky polyester of her sleeping bag. Open, shut. Open, shut. She blinks, stops the rustle, starts it again, stops, starts. The bear is in her bag. She sleeps.

2. A Lingit story tells of a woman who married a bear. From territory to region, village to clan to family, the story moves. Once, I heard this: if you are a woman, and a bear comes close, lift your shirt and show him your breasts. He will see you are a woman, and remember your kinship. He won’t hurt you. I have never had to try.

3. Northern Rockies grizzlies mate in early summer, lumbering towards lowlands in May, meeting up in meadows of glacier lilies just pushed up through snow. For weeks, they do little more than loll and hump and goose each other, frisky or dutiful as aging lovers. The boar gives sperm in great jets. But a sow does not become pregnant then. Her body protects a fertilized egg, un-implanted, for months while she feeds, grows fat and slow on grub-moth-root-fish-beetle-seed. A bear cannot be pregnant before she is full. By late September, when food is leaving and the bear tires of gorging, the egg burrows into her uterine wall. The bear dens up. The cubs circle and twist inside of her; she breaths once, twice every few hours, her heart nearly stopped. Mid-winter, cubs are born. For months in the den, they suck the sow’s milk-grub-moth-root-fish-beetle-seed while she lies on her side dreaming of glacier-lilied fields.

4. Bear a grudge bear fruit bear your burdens bear down bear out bear arms bear the cost bear scrutiny bear left at the corner bear my grief bear a child bear up under pressure bear in mind bear witness bear north.

5. In Glacier National Park, I knew a photographer. One morning in an alpine meadow Lester saw a bear across the hill, a dot on the horizon. “It looked pretty far away. I had to squint to see it,” he said. Lester photographed the bear as it came closer and closer, steady and steady. He yelled, but it came up to him and stood and looked at him, and Lester fell down and played dead like you are supposed to, if a bear gets that close. The bear sniffed him and turned him over (ripped his skin open in long tears on his back) and licked him and sat on his leg (blew out his knee) and shit on his middle, a wet pile. The bear moved on. Lester can still hike, the wrecked knee fixed with metal plates. He still takes pictures in the mountains, awake to territory and perimeter. “I don’t blame that bear for a thing it did,” he said.

6. While his sister wasn’t watching, a young boy wandered off. His village was in a mountainous area in Pakistan, and the family worried. The boy was only two. A search party looked for days without a sign. They were about to give up when one man found footprints outside a cave. Inside, the searchers saw the boy nestled with a bear, curled close to her side, both asleep. The men entering the cave woke the bear, and they shot her and returned the boy to his family. At a hospital, he was examined. The boy had no scratches on him, not a single mark. In the boy’s belly? The milk of a bear.

7. The scent of a bear is a thick, greased wind. Close, you can smell it right away. It precedes any other trace in the air: blueberry or saw exhaust, spruce needle or wood smoke. Old and sharp. It brings to mind adrenaline and rot and sex, and everything I’ve ever known that’s wild.

Christine Byl is the author of Dirt Work: An Education in the Woodsa finalist for the 2014 Willa Award in nonfictionHer prose has appeared in Glimmer Train Stories, The Sun, Crazyhorse, and other journals. She lives in Interior Alaska.

Photo by Frank Dina