Sunday, January 9, 2011

Humor, sadness and the angry bear in a trap

From what I have seen, there is a certain humor to losing you mind. True, it is that awkward, nervous, uncomfortable kind of laugh. But beneath that is a sadness … a catch-your-breath, can't-let-you-see-me-cry sadness, that puts a tremble in your voice to talk about it. Even deeper, there is a sense of betrayal. You can’t trust anyone. Not even yourself. It makes you angry — violent, strike-out, inflict-some-pain angry. There is no peace to the descent into madness. Life is crazy when you are losing your mind.
Back in 1974, Don Wallace was slowly dying, but he wasn’t going peacefully. I guess that kind of thing can make you crazy.
It seems to me, he felt the betrayal, the anger, the uncontrollable, uneasy feeling that makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time.
And when you are dying , I guess you think about legacy. What will you leave here on earth? How will they remember you?
That goes directly to the idea of memory. After all, when you leave, the only thing you are likely to take with you is your memories.
In the end, that is alternately the only thing remaining here — the memory of you.
To Don, though he hadn’t thought of it much before the cancer-imposed deadline, he was thinking about it a lot in the summer of 1974.
Patty Hearst, the Pooka, changes in world affected him greatly. And life on a time limit made him angry as a bear in trap.
My dad told me a story once about a bear that he and his older brother trapped on the ranch where they grew up in north western Colorado. Even back then there was a very strict prescription from Game & Fish regulating how to trap a bear.
But the bear was running off horses and raising heck with the rest of the livestock.
My grandfather had recently bought a sorrel mare from up around Baggs, Wyoming, (40 or 50 miles away) and my dad’s two older brothers spent almost a week tracking it from farm to farm all the way back there, when it ran off because it was frightened by the bear that was knocking around their place on Morapos Creek.
As result, shortly afterwards, they decided to try to get rid of the bear, and in adherence to the conventions of Game & Fish at the time, established a trap set up on the lower 40. Not long afterward, alerted by a terrible racket in early hours of the morning, and after waiting for daylight, soon found that a bear had indeed sprung the trap and took off down the creek, dragging the big log attached over the berms, and gravel bars, through the willows, and out into a grassy meadow downstream.
The bear however, tired from the dragging experience, had laid down somewhere out their in the tall grass and couldn’t be immediately located when my dad and his older brother Bill went to search for it. And they were pretty leery about running out into the tall grass after a wounded bear.
Eventually, the bear did rise up in the grass, as my dad told the story, and my uncle Bill shot it in the head a couple of times (from a distance) with a .30-06 to no avail. The bear once again took off down the creek dragging the trap and log. My dad and his brother returned to the house, told my Granddad what happened, and he, recognizing that they were a bit out of their league, sent the hired hand and his daughter (both of which had more experience with such things) to chase the bear. They were able to bring the bear carcass back later that afternoon and the hide nailed to the barn wall measured just over 11 feet from tip-to-tip according to the story.
That anger, and steadfast determination, was also characteristic of Don Wallace’s fight with cancer. Some afternoons he would be roaring about the injustice involved. Other times, he would lie quietly in the grass, trying to muster strength to rise up and take on his attackers head on.
In the meantime, he was also concerned about what kind of legacy he might leave.
To that end, as I delivered his paper to him one day out on his back porch, he gave me a small, leather-bound volume of poems that would fit in a pocket. He called it "a book about dreams." I kept the book and tried to figure it out, but at that age, I am afraid I wasn’t up to it. The book went in a drawer; with other things I meant to keep … and in time was lost. I remember only a fragment:

“You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.”
__ Edgar Allen Poe

Not long after that, Don Wallace’s presence on his back porch, waiting for news of the latest escapades of Patty Hearst, Richard Nixon, and the return of Florida Skunk Ape, tapered off. By late fall, I rarely would see him and I was busy myself, trying to figure out how to play junior high football. I would wonder about him each time I dropped a paper but there was no sign. By the time I was struggling with basketball, I had not seen him in months. I’d always think maybe I should have someone check to see if he was okay, but I never did.
One afternoon before practice, my friend Lynn (who delivered papers upriver at the same time I deliver them downriver from our houses) told me Ed Gould had found Don dead in his house. Apparently he had shot himself with that .22 pistol that once had rested there on table.
I don’t know what I thought about it at the time, or even now. Since then, however, at times I still think about the Pooka and Patty Hearst, dreams that can be carried around in little books, and the crazed anger of bear caught in a trap.
For me there is a certain humor to it, but it is that awkward, nervous kind of laugh, with sadness underneath that puts a tremble in your voice.

Please click below see related posts:

• Tales of the future, straight from the horse's mouth.

• Smooth and comfortable on the right side of gate.

• Pooka, Patty, Photos, Papers and let's ride.

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