No, I didn’t used to know all this. I was, if you didn’t know, a bear. But dying opens certain things. I saw much farther then.
The night I almost caused the end of the world began with a barbed wire fence. Minnesotan Winter. Ordinarily, I would have already been hibernating -- but the base made life easy. It had trash in the dumpsters by the edge of the parking lot, warmth in the melted snow by the exhaust pipes. The sun had long set, and I could smell something sweet and rotting in the wind, old meat and fruit. I followed it until I hit the fence. Beyond it was a flat expanse of tarmac, that artificial stone that stored the day’s heat. The fence was so thin beneath my paws, I could almost push through. I started to climb, feeling it sway beneath my weight.
I heard a pop and felt several sharp stings at the same time as I heard yelling. A man was standing on a balcony holding something which flashed dully in the thin moonlight. The stings were spreading into a warm damp. I sagged down beside the fence, and watched the man disappear inside. Moments later, a piercing artificial sound rang from the building. Repetitive, insistent.
And that’s when everything began to widen: I saw the entire airfield. I saw inside the fluorescent lit hallways of the compound, the flashing lights on the alarms, the men hurrying to their places. And further, I saw the nearby airfields, where one by one, alarms began to ring out. New sets of hurrying feet, shouted orders, telephones ringing in darkened homes. And farther still, one airfield where a different alarm was sounding. And here, men were boarding airplanes. Grim men, resolute in the predawn dark, saying prayers and zipping up airsuits.
Further still, I saw the world sleeping. Sunlight breaking across the Atlantic. And further, in some daylit place, a place with endless, snow covered trees, men sat in fluorescent lit offices waiting by their telephones, surrounded by their own barbed wire. There was a tautness in their shoulders. An anxiety, some grave apprehension, some dark and fretful knowledge. And I had it too: I felt rather than saw some great power. Some great disaster cloaked in metal silos, strapped to boats far beneath the sea, on those planes in Volk Field, those planes rising towards the air. And like a premonition, I saw forests crisped, wasteland, slow and sludgy rivers choked with ash.
But something else: one man in a car. Driving onto that distant airfield. Into the path of the planes. He’s shouting. He’s honking his horn and flashing his lights. One man against disaster. The planes are slowing to a halt. Men are coming out to speak to him. He shakes his head emphatically and gestures them all back inside.
“It was a false alarm! Just a false alarm. Get back inside. A bear tried to climb the field at Duluth. They thought it was a saboteur.”
They found my body by the fence. Did you know they buried me? They said a prayer when they threw the dirt over me, “Lord, we came so close to disaster. Teach us how to be patient, how to know when to act. Grant us the time to learn these lessons, grant us the time to become wise, or better yet, the time to become gentle.”
- Dramatized retelling of one of the (far too many) nuclear close calls. This one took place on the 25th of October 1962.