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10-Minute Stories – A Grizzly Encounter

Brave is not a word I have used very often in my four hundred years, I told her, but you know what, we can only find out how brave we are when we face great danger. Ha! The look in her eighteen-year-old eyes was priceless.

We sat at the kitchen table. I always considered that sweet little neighbor of mine to be a friend, much like a grand-daughter might be a friend. We had a lot of fun chatting or playing cards together. But today she was serious. What danger was I going to share? I could barely hold back myself. I loved to tell her stories. I still do.

We sat, then, each with a second piece of my delicious birthday cake and a cup of tea, and I began telling her about the day I went camping in the wild and came face to face with an uninvited guest.

I was young too then. A friend had invited me on a weekend camping trip way up in the wilderness of Quebec. It took an entire day to get there, and then we reached a suitable campsite by canoe after several hours, and barely before sunset. The silence was deep. It was like rediscovering the sense of hearing.

We set up our tent and could hear something play in thew water in the distance, but could not see what it was. A little while later, coyotes started singing to us. We had been warned by the forest ranger where we rented the canoe: “Do not bring any food inside your tent. Leave it outside and away. Hang it in a tree if you can. If you hear any noise over night, stay put. Do not try to see what it is.”

I secretly wished to see some creatures face to face, as long as it was something peaceful, like a deer maybe. We were there for three days. On day one, we returned from a canoe trip and found our bread was missing. A corner of the tent had a slight rip in it too, but we could not decide whether we had done this ourselves while setting up.

At that moment, my friend stopped her fork mid-way up and I don’t think she put the cake in her mouth until I was done with the whole story. I loved watching her eyes grow wide. I paused, for more effect, and then continued my story.

On the second day, near dinner time, I joked that we had been there 48 hours, out in the wilderness, and the only creature I had really seen was a salamander. After a while, we realized that we had not heard a single bird song or coyote for several hours.

ps - 0507 - grizzlyThe next morning, as I unzipped the door to get out of the tent, I immediately felt something was different. The hair went up on the back of my neck. I was not the only one. I stood there, my fingers still on the zipper of the open door, face to face with a giant bear standing on his hind legs with the hair on his neck as straight as if he had been wearing gel.

“Ho gosh!” said my little audience of one.

He was howling at me, or whatever it is that grizzlies do, and moving forward. I just froze and it felt like everything happened in slow motion. And to make things worse, my camping companion was still sound asleep, and snoring.

“Did you wake him up?”

No. Absolutely not. I was afraid he would panic and make things worse. Then again, I was afraid he would become this big furry guy’s morning snack too. But as much as it felt like time had stopped, I knew I had to figure something out very quickly. Something very odd happened then: I went from feeling extreme fear to extreme peace instead, and that’s when it hit me.

“The bear? The grizzly I mean? It hit you? Ho!”

No. Not the bear. Something I had read long ago came back to mind. That’s what hit me. I remembered some naturalist or some such saying that when face to face with a bear, you have to make yourself as big as he is and loudly claim your space. So I did.

I puffed myself up like a sailor with a bad mouth and screamed at it: “This is our tent. You know where the food is. Help yourself, but leave us alone, you big fatso! Go on. Leave!” And he did. I swear he looked at me with a face straight out of a cartoon. I almost saw question marks pop out of his head. He went back down on all fours and gently walked away. I turned around and my friend was sitting up, clinging to his sleeping bag and white as a sheet.

“Wow! That was close.”

Yes, it was, and I felt bad later.

“You mean you suddenly felt fear again?”

Not quite. I felt bad that I had screamed at this beautiful creature. We were the ones trespassing, after all.

“Did you see it again?”

You know, I almost wished I would. But he did not return. At least not so that we could see him. We left later that day. We still had some leftover fruit. I felt I needed to let the poor thing know I was not actually mad at him, so I walked away into the woods as far as I could, sort of away from the camp site, you know, and threw the fruit into the distance. Then I screamed one more time, but with a kind voice this time. I said, “Thank you for not hurting us. This is a gift for you. You are beautiful. Be well.”

She put the piece of cake in her mouth and sipped a bit of tea. We sat in silence. We both had tears in our eyes. I had forgotten how touched I had been by this encounter. As for my young friend, she understood that it was not a scary story at all.

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Topic: You just turned 400-years old. An 18-year-old at your birthday party asks you to tell her a story about when you were her age. You tell her about a bear, to scare her a bit. Begin with these words: “Brave is not a word I have used very often in my four hundred years.”

The Book: Take Ten For Writers

10-Minute Stories – Gatherings at The River Tay

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. It was Jules who first suggested that the first strike of the bell after noon shall be the call for the companions to join in their weekly gathering.

ps - 0419 - bell

They had laughed, knowingly, upon hearing this rule. It made perfect sense, given their purpose, and they appreciated his wit.

At first, only three friends had come together. The conversation seemed to wind its way to philosophical matters, quite naturally. The thoughts and words flowed with ease. It was always possible to reach deeper depths, yet never arrive at a conclusion. Thus the conversation continued each week. Before long, there were seven. And then more.

In essence, their goal and passion was to explore the many dimensions of truth, depending on perspective, mythology, experience and beliefs. For instance, they considered the possibility that life does not “happen” to us, but that instead it unfolds exactly as we imagine it will.

“All of us, at some point, have experienced great success in moments when we felt confident, and great failures in moments of doubt,” had observed Adrian. “The confidence or doubt preceded the success or failure; not the other way around. It is the very thing the mind focuses on that brings the outcome.”

“But what if I feel very confident and fail anyway?” asked Ryan, merely to raise the question and fuel the conversation.

“Then perhaps the failure is not a failure at all, but rather a stepping stone leading to the proper change of course toward success,” immediately suggested another companion. “The real failure, in this case, is in believing in failure and giving up instead of believing in the inevitability of success, without a doubt. If our scientists believed in failure, their careers would last but a few days!”

The gatherings often lasted the entire two hours of the customary afternoon recess all villagers enjoyed. The sun was very hot during those hours and men, woman and children gathered in courtyards or near rivers under large trees to restore their bodies before returning to work until late in the evening.

Joel was the one who coined a name for the companions. They had had an especially inspiring conversation that day when they suddenly came to the realization that though they embraced different beliefs and views, they never argued. “Some day,” he mused, “some historian will talk about our village and its uncommon gathering of companions at the thirteenth hour. When faced with the necessity to name us, he will pen down, ‘The Neorightarians of Sheluvac.” They laughed.

And indeed, centuries later, Master Historian Donovan Greer, who specialized in the history of Sheluvac on River Tay, would smile with delight upon coming up with the term Neorightarian: A person who partakes of philosophical debates not from a sense of righteousness, but rather from deep reverence for exploring all facets of truth in search of a new, broader perspective.

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Topic: Select 1 each from a list of 18 prefixes, 18 roots and 18 suffix to form a new word. Use the word in a story. Selection: neo-right-arian. Begin with the phrase, “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” (1984, George Orwell)

Exercise Book: Take Ten For Writers