Ursus Americanus
by Larry D. Thomas

Word is the black bear
returned to the Big Bend
sometime in the 1980s,

having ambled hundreds of miles
from the Sierra Madre Oriental
of Mexico to the Chisos Basin.

The three hundred pound sow
first appeared as a dark shadow
moving through underbrush.

In no time she blocked The Window
Trail I was hiking that late October
morning, freezing but a few feet

in front of me. I had already frozen,
suppressing fear because I knew
she would smell it. I slowed

my breath and pulse almost
to the point of passing out.
She turned her great head

slowly toward me, and our eyes met.
Each of her three-inch claws
retracted in the black leather pads

of her paws was a relic
of all the wilds of Mexico.
Her belly stretched taut

with sotol hearts and juniper berries,
she wasn’t a threat as long as
I kept my fearless countenance

and stared her down sans blinking,
willing myself, brain,
heart, muscle, bone, and soul,

to the lacquered,
inanimate hickory
of my walking stick.

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