THE FEEDING by Suzanne Farrell Smith

Strawberry juice seeps between my knuckles as I open the back door and say, “Hi chippies!” to the three chipmunks now hopping toward the vegetable garden. I toss my boys’ breakfast remnants—Rice Chex and fruit salad—under the birdfeeder where squirrels, songbirds, woodpeckers, wild turkeys, doves, and the chipmunk trio will forage. In an hour, a hawk will circle overhead, and I will find leaf tufts here and there, apple seeds on the patio, half a blueberry abandoned on warm stone.

Every day, the town tells me not to hang birdfeeders, not to spread food scraps. In a public service announcement, the town reports a black bear sighting (and possibly one more but it was dark). On its website, the town posts a list of dos and don’ts: do add ammonia to trash and don’t add meats or sweets to compost. The wildlife division slips a pamphlet in our mailbox: bears like fruit trees and pet food and grills, so please secure fruit trees and pet food and grills. The mayor shares photos of a bear, right there on a resident’s lawn, front paws only inches from a knockout rose. A miniature horse is attacked a mile west of our house, and the town suspects it was a bear. I had no idea there was a miniature horse nearby.

My boys sit on slate under the willow, and I feed them graham crackers. I tell them everyone must eat, even the bear. I tell them the narrow slit in the granite face on our back hill, beyond the fern field, might be a bear cave. Here in the grass, surrounded by hemlock and mountain maple and sassafras shoots, I want them to imagine what might be. I teach them about mermaids and dragons and other mythical creatures. I mix nectar for the hummingbird feeder and tell tales of goddesses, heroes, and monsters. I point to the rusty copper bunny sculptures the boys lovingly placed among the pachysandra and ask if they’ve ever seen a jackalope. I scrape corn and show them how to dangle silk from branches for nest-making birds and maybe fairies. I spin a story of nighttime battles between a black bear and a miniature horse.

But the town is worried. I am worried about the town being worried—about the neighbors’ pets, the aging Bernese Mountain dogs and twin Maine coons, about the sheep-goats and llamas at the farm up the road. And now there is a wounded miniature horse to consider. I don’t know how to feed them all, the boys and birds and rodents, without feeding the bear too.

In an hour, after the hawk withdraws, I will scoop the bite from the stone, unhook the birdfeeder from its rope, and rake the chaff from the grass. For just a little longer, I’ll ignore the bear, while berry tops beckon the turkeys and deer and hummingbirds and hawks and three nervous chipmunks, all waiting for me to pull back into the doorway.

Photo courtesy of the author, adapted with permission.