The Bear emerged
from the wildfire
a smoldering, wheezing ruin.
His paws had been
nearly completely seared off
by the superheated
of the Sierra Nevada foothills.
His coat was singed and maimed
by ash and ember.
His eyes and nostrils burned
from the unsparing smoke he had breathed.
The Bear felt
the slightest pinch
behind his shoulder,
and his eyes grew heavy.
When he opened them again,
he was in a new place—
an incomprehensible place—
a place of straight lines
mathematical precision and artificiality.
He had heard rumor
that such places existed—
the forest spoke of them
hurriedly but indirectly.
He had seen other bears return
with foreign things
inserted through their ears or ringing
their necks, inescapable and alien signifiers
of having encountered
an otherworldly form of existence.
The Bear had lost his strength and could
no longer walk. His paws were wrapped
in linen. He smelled fish skin
just beneath it.
came and went—just like
the ones he had
seen and smelled before in the woods.
But these apes were much quieter,
and less afraid.
They only visited when he was
half-asleep or having trouble breathing.
The Bear drifted in and out
of consciousness like this
until he lost track of day
and night and time.
After one long but fitful sleep
he came to.
He smelled the forest again
before he had even opened his eyes.
His paws were no longer wrapped,
although they still smelled of fish.
He braced his massive frame
against the warm, dry earth and pushed.
His strength had returned
Three of the apes were standing
just a short distance away.
The Bear did not fully understand
why they had intervened,
or why they abducted him as he was making
peace with his own death.
He thought that they could be divine.
But he decided to stay wary of them, as bears do.
The Bear walked back into the forest,
scorched but now healing.
He wondered who or what would intervene
to help the ones who had saved him,
wondered whether they, too,
have some incomprehensible celestial stewards
that wait to rescue them
as they themselves wheeze and smolder
and shamble, unknowingly,
toward death’s door.
Based off of a photo published in the New York times after the California wildfires of 2017.