Bear Crossing

Bear Crossing

A Story by Debbie Barry

Based on a true story from my children's childhood in rural Virginia.


Bear Crossing


“Bye!” Robin called to his two best friends, Anna and Jenny, struggling to wave at them over my shoulder.

“Bye,” Teddy echoed, much less animatedly, waving conservatively to Charlie, the girls’ older brother.

“Bye!” the three children chorused, hurrying across the lawn to the parsonage, where their family lived.  Their father was the pastor of our little country church, where we had just finished another lively Fun Friday activity with the kids.

“G’night, Miss Deb!” their father called.

“G’night, Pastor Ted!” I called back, turning my attention from trying to buck Baby Kristy into the middle car seat in the back seat of my battered, teal-green compact.  “Thanks!”

“God bless!” he replied, and then the pastor, the three kids, their two brothers, and the teenaged brother and sister of Pastor Ted’s wife all disappeared into the warm, welcoming light that spilled out the front door of the parsonage.  The door closed, and the yard was quiet in the cool, summer twilight.

We were the last car to leave the church, but I wasn’t worried.  Our farm community, in the Piedmont Mountains of western Virginia was very close-knit, very quiet, and very safe.  I turned back to buckling the safety harness between Kristy’s pudgy legs, finally coaxing the stubborn tab into the catch.

“Got it,” I muttered, handing Kristy a bottle of apple juice that was cut half-and-half with clear well water.  Her chubby hands wrapped around the small bottle, and she popped the rubber n****e into her mouth.

Shlerp, shlerp!  She sucked the juice noisily.

“Are you buckled?” I asked Teddy, gently pushing Robin back into his car seat, and reaching for the safety harness.  Robin would be graduating to a booster seat soon, with just the car’s shoulder-and-lap seatbelt soon.

“Yeah,” Teddy said, pulling the seatbelt across his booster, and snapping the buckle in place.

Robin was wriggling, wound up from the two hours of group play in the church’s basement gymnasium.  I struggled to get the shoulder straps flat on his chest.

“Did’ja see that basket?” he asked, excitedly.  “I got it in, an’ Charlie said it was real good!”

“Yeah, I saw,” I replied, kissing his sweaty forehead, as the buckle finally connected.  “Y’ got it in the big kids’ basket.”

Teddy slammed his door at the same time I shut Robin’s.

“Bang! Snick.  The sounds were amplified by the quiet of the deserted parking lot.  Only the low, buzzing drone of nocturnal insects, and the clicking of a few cicadas underlay the quiet.

I tossed the blue-and-white checked diaper bag and my black, faux-leather purse across to the passenger’s seat, and slid in behind the wheel.  In moments, I was turning left onto the long, straight, empty stretch of road that passed the low, red-brick, nondenominational church.

“An’ Ricky picked me up, so’s I could make two more baskets!” Robin chattered.  “An’ Anna ‘n’ Jenny ‘n’ me had a fort under th’ bleachers, but we didn’ let Teddy ‘r Charlie in, ‘cause they wanted t’ be th’ bosses.”

“Did not!” Teddy interrupted.  “We jus’ wanted t’ play with you.”

“Did you get enough supper?” I asked, as I guided the car around a gentle left curve, to stop the squabble before it got any traction.

“I didn’ like th’ meatballs,” Teddy said.  “She put jelly in th’ sauce again.”

“I liked ‘em!” Robin put in.  “I got thirds, ‘fore Miz Cooke said I had enough, but she ga’ me a piece o’ choc’late cake!”

“Did’ja have some chicken nuggets,” I asked Teddy.

“Yeah, they were okay.  I got a bunch o’ little t’matoes an’ some cucumber, so it was okay.”

“Cool,” I approved.  I was busy feeding and changing Kristy during the kids’ communal meal, following the brief Bible story and lesson from Pastor Ted.  The boys had chosen their own food from the small buffet at the side of the crowded conference room.  “Did’ja get some cake?”

“Yeah.  That was good.  Anna ga’ me some o’ hers, too, ‘cause she got full, but Jenny got two pieces.

“Okay,” I said, laughing slightly.

The evening was clear, but warm.  I pushed the button to lower the front windows about halfway, to let in some air.  Immediately, the car was filled with the sweet scent of wildflowers in the meadow, which would be cut for hay later in the summer.  We drove past a neat farm, with a tall, round silo attached to the barn, and a swirl of pungent-sweet cow manure and stinky hog manure tainted the air.

“Phew!” Robin exclaimed.

“Ew, yuck!” Teddy agreed.

Shlerp, shlerp!  Kristy ignored the familiar odors, and drank her juice.

I slowed the car, and carefully turned left, onto a narrow, dirt road.  The setting sun still hung low over the western hills, casting long, crimson-gold rays across the road, as I drove between two low, level fields.  Moments later, we entered the edge of the woods, and the light was reduced to a pale gray, dappled with a sprinkling of scattered sun splotches on the bumpy, dusty road.

“Quiet a second,” I warned the still-chattering kids, when I came to the single-lane bridge over the creek.  “Mommy’s gotta pay attention.”  The road turned sharply left, directly onto the narrow bridge, and then turned sharply right again.  There was no room for even small errors.  The boys, knowing the bridge, fell silent, and I eased the car through the difficult turns.

Splish, splash, swoosh, burble, splash, whoosh.

As we crossed the creek, despite concentrating on my driving, I couldn’t help hearing the music of the cold, clear mountain water, rushing and burbling over the water-smoothed rocks beneath the bridge.  From the corner of my eye, I caught the glint and sparkle of liquid gold sunset on the surface of the water downstream.

Twa-woo, twa-woooo!

A large, dark shape glided from tree to tree across the road, just at the edge of the deeper woods, and the call of a barn owl broke the evening’s stillness.

I drove slowly on the uneven dirt and gravel.  To the left, a narrow ribbon of oaks, maples, and young spruces, crowded by clumps of honeysuckle, separated the road from a hilly pasture.  The cows, usually clustered along the tree line during the day, had already retreated over the hill to their barn, and the pasture was still.  To the right, a dense growth of oak, maple, spruce, and pine, with clumps of birch and poplar, and a dense tangle of brush and briars, between the road and the creek, and running up the steep, craggy hillside beyond the creek, was all ours for a stretch of a mile between the bridge and our driveway, plus a bit beyond.  A sheep farm rolled down the far side of the hill, but the woods that crested the hill were ours.  The light was dim and grey under the lacy canopy of tree branches, which didn’t quite meet above the road.  Over the dark mass of hillside a mile and a half down the long, straight stretch of country road, the first, brightest stars were piercing the periwinkle velvet of the twilight sky. 

“The North Star,” I said, over the boys’ babble, and they both grew quiet, peering forward, out the windshield.  This was part of most Friday evening drives home, and they knew where to look.

A soft breeze rippled through the foliage lining the road, making the dark leaves flutter silver and faded gold in the failing light.  The sun would drop behind the dark, western hills in a few more minutes.

“Look!” Robin suddenly exclaimed, straining forward against his harness, his arm outstretched between the front bucket seats, his finger pointing.

“Roxie?” Teddy asked, surprised and confused.

I immediately slowed the car’s slow roll to a crawl.  About 200 yards ahead of us, a large, black animal stepped out of the trees on our side of the road.  It paused on the gravel.  My headlights, even on high beam, were not enough to let me see it clearly in the early dusk.

“What’s she doin’ way out here?” I asked.  Roxie was our large, black Rottweiler, with the disposition of a newborn lamb.  She wasn’t tied up, as a rule, but I’d never known her to stray so far from the house, still over half a mile from where the creature hap appeared.

I edged the car closer.  The animal, which had sat down on its haunches, rose up on four legs, and took a step toward the middle of the road.

“We gotta take ‘er home!” Robin declared.

I peered through the grey light.  It was a large, dark, four-legged creature, but the legs seemed too thick, and the shoulders weren’t quite the right shape.

“I don’t think that’s Roxie,” I told the boys, doubtfully.  I eased the car forward, halving the distance, the tires crunching softly over scattered gravel.  I could hear Robin straining and bouncing in his seat, babbling on about taking Roxie home.  Teddy was quiet, and the cessation of sucking sounds suggested that Kristy had fallen asleep.  The animal stood still.  I had the impression it was watching me as carefully as I was watching it.

“Oh,” I breathed, as the headlights brightened the gloom.  “That’s not Roxie.”

“Huh?” Teddy asked.

“It’s Roxie!” Robin insisted.

“No, it’s a bear,” I said, softly, amazed. 

In front of us was a full-grown black bear, not enormous, but definitely larger and a good deal bulkier than the Rottweiler.  I knew we had bears living in our 80-some acres of hillside woodland; we had found their claw marks on the large trees on the slope above the creek, and on the rock face outside a dark cave that I had declared off limits to the boys, because it seemed a likely den for the large, black, furry creatures, with long, dangerous, sharp claws on their massive paws, and long, sharp teeth.

“Bear?!” the boys exclaimed in unison, their voices conveying the same wonder I felt at the sight. 

The bear turned its face toward the car, and its bright, black eye glinted like jet in the dim light.  We were too far away to see the texture of the fur, but I knew it was thick, and probably coarse, yet soft at the same time.  That was my experience of bear pelts, at any rate, and I felt sure a living bear would feel at least as pleasant.  In the dimness, I saw one small, curved ear, briefly silhouetted against the paler grey of the dirt road.

The bear, evidently deciding my idling car posed no threat, swung its head, facing straight ahead, across the road.  I saw the slightly humped outline of its muscular shoulders, which had first told my subconscious that this was no wandering dog.

“Where is Roxie,” I thought, mildly worried.  Although I knew there were bears in the woods around the house �" one had once reared up behind the parked car, in the front dooryard, when I had walked outside with a bag of garbage �" I didn’t usually worry about the dog roaming freely.  Now, I worried about what would happen if our sweet, gentle Rottweiler met up with this large, black bear.  I knew Roxie’s teeth and claws were puny, compared to the fearsome ursine ones.  Watching the bear, I shook off the thought.  This bear was far from the house, lumbering out of the dense underbrush of the creek’s western bank. 

Slowly, with an easy, unhurried, rolling gait, the bear walked across the road.  As it moved, its massive, furry head swung gently from side to side.  I had the impression that it was watching the entire world about it, with its sensitive ears, nose, and even its tongue, as it moved so unconcernedly along this scar that human habitation had cut through the much older habitat of the bear.  When it reached the far bank, only a few paces away, the bear paused, turning its head to look back over its left shoulder.  It was clearly looking behind it, across the road, and not at us.


The bear’s low growl ended with a higher, inquiring note.

Looking into the thicket of dusty honeysuckle branches, I caught sight of a small, black nose, just poking out of the shadowy edge of the woods.  A moment later, a small, dark eye flashed, and then a little round head emerged, quickly followed by a small, round, pudgy baby black bear, clearly exploring his first season of life.

“Look!” Teddy gasped, pointing out his window.

Robin strained to see out the far side of the car.  “Baby!” he cried.

The adorable baby bear plopped down on his haunches on the gravelly verge of the road, stuck its little nose up in the air, and sniffed.  It turned its head from side to side, looking like a live teddy bear as it observed the dusty road.

Ru-ar? it said, questioningly.

Ur-roo. the large bear replied.

Watching them, I smiled, empathizing with the mother, urging her baby to come along, to keep up.

“Want a baby bear!” Robin squealed.

“Shh, Kristy’s sleepin’,” I replied, automatically.

“I wanna get a baby bear!” he pleaded, more softly.


The back window started to go down.  Instantly, I slapped my hand on the master window control on my door, closing the window again, and then child-locking the back windows.

“Y’ can’t get a baby bear,” Teddy scolded his brother.  Although there were only 11 months between the two boys, Teddy never let Robin forget who was older.

“I want….” Robin broke off suddenly.  I glanced at him in the rear-view mirror, and saw his mouth hanging open, his blue eyes wide and staring, his face wreathed with pure joy.

My eyes snapped to the edge of the woods, to see what had stopped Robin so abruptly.  The baby bear was on its feet again, and had waddled a yard or so out on the road.  Behind it, a second small, black nose and bright, black eye peeped out between the grey, dusty leaves.  In moments, a second cub joined its sibling in the open.

Ur-urar.  I heard the mother bear coax her children, urging them to come along, but I kept my eyes on the two round, fuzzy cubs.

Click, shhht.

Hearing movement behind me, I reached to lock the back doors.


I was just in time.

Click, click.

Robin’s door clicked, but it remained closed.

“Buckle up!” I said, quickly, but softly.

“Mo-om!” he whined, but he relatched his safety harness.

Click, snick.

“Mommy!” Teddy gasped, his nose pressed to the window.

Robin and I both looked back at the two cubs, but now there were three. 

“Triplets!” I gasped.  Black bears often gave birth to triplets, but I’d never seen a family with more than two cubs from a single litter.  The cubs wobbled and tottered across the road, and I realized this must be their first real walk in the world outside their mother’s den.

“Sit still,” I warned Robin, as he squirmed with excitement.


The mother bear sounded approving, as the first of her babies came even with her hind legs.  Looking at each cub in turn, the big, black mother bear stepped into the thin curtain of leafy bushes on the west side of the road.  One step, two steps, and the bear disappeared into the bushes with her third step.

Crack, swish, crunch.

Even in the car, with the windows shut, I faintly heard the bear moving through the bushes.

One by one, the little bears waddled into the gar their mother had made among the leaves.  The third round, little, black bottom disappeared into the brush, and the springy branches closed behind its tail.  The bears were gone.

My eyes shifted to the meadow, silvery grass under the night sky, visible between the tall, straight trunks of a pair of birches, running up the hill beyond the ribbon barrier of brush.  Had the big bear led her little family under or through the barbed wire fence that enclosed the pasture?  Would they amble over the hill, frightening the sleepy dairy herd, or were they making their way along the edge of the dirt road?  Would they visit the dairy farm, behind us, to the south, or wander ahead of us, to the sheep meadow, over the rise of the dark hill ahead of us, to the north?  Did they live in the rocky caves in our woods, or did they call another place their home?

“I wanted a bear cub!” Robin pouted, screwing his mouth into a deep frown, and drawing his brows down over his stormy eyes.  He crossed his arms over his chest, and kicked the back of my seat, just once.

“Y’ can’t have a bear,” Teddy argued, but his moss-green eyes were fixed, wistfully, on the spot where the bears had disappeared.

“Cut it out.  They’re gone,” I sighed.

Resuming our slow, bumpy drive, I turned the car into our driveway just a quarter of a mile up the road.  When I parked the car in our dooryard, after crossing the long, plank bridge, and winding up a quarter mile of driveway, Roxie came running to meet us, her black-and-pink spotty tongue lolling happily, her stump of tail quivering with pleasure at the return of her people.

“Hello, Girl,” I said, rubbing her large head, before I even stepped out of the car.

She licked my hands, and I laughed.

Robin and Teddy chattered about the bears as I got them out of the car.  They chattered about the bears to their father, when they got inside.  I hustled them through baths, into pajamas, and into bed, and they chattered excitedly about the bears the whole time: about what they had seen, and about their speculations about the bears.

In bed, as I switched out the light, Robin murmured, “I wanted a bear cub.” Then he was asleep.  I was sure his dreams would be filled with three fuzzy, roly-poly, baby bears.

© 2017 Debbie Barry

Author's Note

Debbie Barry
Please let me know if you notice typos; it helps me. Initial reactions and constructive criticism appreciated.

My Review

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Featured Review

You wrote it! And as expected the words are just beautiful. You there in the early evening with your three little ones, the sights and sounds perfectly written to form images in my mind. Mama bear with her three little ones, and me. That's how it felt, I was right there hovering over this magical little scene. You could easily turn this into a child's story, if your inclined that way. Thank you, again for sharing it and putting me right there with you all. Your page always makes me smile, Debbie.

Posted 12 Months Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Debbie Barry

11 Months Ago

Thanks, Karen! I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I had fun calling up the memories, and putting them int.. read more


Mama bear in side and out. haha
This was pretty great. The who thing is so true with kids. It was like I was reading my life but with out the bears.

Posted 11 Months Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Debbie Barry

11 Months Ago

Thanks, Diane! I'm so glad you enjoyed it! It was so cool when it really happened, although Robby'.. read more
Oh and I'm back to work this week. I am a support worker for a low visioned individual, so if I seem distant just know I'll be around when I can to read more!

Posted 12 Months Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Debbie Barry

11 Months Ago

Oh! I fully understand! I often wish I qualified for a vision assistant, but my cousin usually has .. read more
You wrote it! And as expected the words are just beautiful. You there in the early evening with your three little ones, the sights and sounds perfectly written to form images in my mind. Mama bear with her three little ones, and me. That's how it felt, I was right there hovering over this magical little scene. You could easily turn this into a child's story, if your inclined that way. Thank you, again for sharing it and putting me right there with you all. Your page always makes me smile, Debbie.

Posted 12 Months Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Debbie Barry

11 Months Ago

Thanks, Karen! I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I had fun calling up the memories, and putting them int.. read more

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3 Reviews
Added on November 19, 2017
Last Updated on November 19, 2017
Tags: story, bear, black bear, bear cub, Virginia, rural, woods, childhood, wildlife, twilight, children


Debbie Barry
Debbie Barry

Clarkston, MI

I live with my husband in southeastern Michigan with our two cats, Mister and Goblin. We enjoy exploring history through French and Indian War re-enactment and through medieval re-enactment in the So.. more..


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