This is the year I became a bear-oholic. Lily, a three-year-old black bear who is one of the bears being observed by the North American Bear Center (NABC), gave birth on January 22 to a single cub in her bear den near Ely, Minnesota.
In anticipation of the birth, NABC staff in early January arranged for the placement of a video camera outside the den’s entrance. I couldn’t resist checking out the NABC Web site, www.bear.org, to observe the inhabitants of Lily’s bear den, dug out under a red pine log. The camera provided an exceptional live view, with sound, inside the snug den, where Lily cared instinctively for her firstborn cub, who weighed approximately ¾ of a pound at birth.
I was one of hundreds of people from all over the country, and some foreign countries, who daily checked in on Lily and her cub. The cub was named Hope in February when her gender was finally confirmed. Viewers could visit the den cam Web site at any hour of the day or night, thanks to the presence of a passive infrared light, to see the bears either sleeping peacefully (completely oblivious to their audience) or awake and interacting.
Lily wrapped herself around Hope, periodically blew her breath on her to keep her warm, and reassured Hope with soft hoots and murmurs.
As a newborn cub, Hope was not hibernating. She needed to eat and grow — after all, she was on a feeding-on-demand schedule. Even though Lily’s metabolism, as a hibernating bear, was reduced, she was not sleeping away the winter. Hope, who emitted surprisingly human-sounding baby cries if she was cold or hungry and needed attention, often awakened her mother.
Lily was a righteous bear, doing what a black bear mother is created to be and do. She wrapped herself around Hope, periodically blew her breath on her to keep her warm, and reassured Hope with soft hoots and murmurs.
I, along with the rest of Lily and Hope’s Internet community, watched as Hope grew and started to make regular appearances on camera, her eyes opened (March 2), and she became more active and vocal. Her frequent nursing was accompanied by chittering sounds of contentment, and her frustration was heralded with screams. The cuteness factor went off the chart in March as Hope’s sleeping Teddy Bear head poked out of Lily’s fur, and Hope stretched her miniature bear paws into the air.
One day in late March, Lily exited the den, leaving Hope behind. A little bear alone in a den is a lonesome sight. And an even lonelier sight was the completely empty den, when both Lily and Hope left it for the last time on April 1. I wasn’t the only one suffering from bear withdrawal that day and the days that followed.
Those of us who have watched Hope since her birth content ourselves now by viewing the videos of Lily and Hope and their life together outside the den that are regularly posted online by the Bear Center staff, along with written updates. Hope is climbing trees, and exploring her environment. Lily continues to tend to her, play with her, and teach her the ways of a black bear.
I hadn’t thought of the metaphor of “God as mother bear” until I started watching Lily with Hope this year. Like God, Lily curls herself protectively around her cub, breathes on her, feeds her, and provides Hope with the essentials she needs to survive. Outside the den, when Hope wanders away, Lily goes to her, picks her up by the scruff of her neck, gives her a little shake, and puts her back on the right path. God has done that to me a few times. Totally unaware that she is doing so, Lily bears witness to the essence of God.
Jean Johansson is the office manager and director of advertising sales for Metro Lutheran. She is a member of Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer in south Minneapolis.