The gentle decline makes a long, gradual arc hugging the hillside,
trees tight on either side. As he comes around a blind curve he finds
himself in a clearing and sees Sadie, perched on a boulder above the
trail. The last of the sun slants into the clearing, and he pockets the
flashlight. He plants his hands on his thighs and finds his breath and
lets the tension wash out of him. A bit light-headed as he approaches, he
sees it’s not a meadow or clear-cut. An old rockslide, wide as the interstate, has ironed a lane through the trees. Weathered deadfall and broken branches litter the granite-cobbled slope that extends a few hundred
yards above the trail.
He hears the bawling again, but it’s weaker now. Sadie dips her head
and raises it. She turns and looks at Parrish. She whines. The rattle of
collar and lead normally brings her running, but she ignores it. He
threads his way through the rocks toward her, but the gap narrows, and
he has to climb up to stride and hop from boulder to boulder. When he
gets to her, she stays put. He’s guessed the source of the bawling and is
not happy to be right.
A black bear cub is wedged between boulders. It is easy for him to
imagine: Sadie, stealthy as a shadow, coming upon a foundling cub,
trying to shepherd what must be, to her, a reluctant puppy. She caught
it in the open, or it would have launched itself into a tree. He can see
faint scratch marks on the speckled granite where it has tried to free
itself. The sandy-brown cub looks tired but unharmed, apart from being
stuck. Sadie yelps at the cub. Parrish collars her and pulls her leash, but
she pulls back hard.
The caterwauling has been going on for a good ten minutes, maybe
more, and all he can think about is getting out of the area before the sow
bear shows up. The unaccompanied cub makes him skeptical—at thirty
or forty pounds, it’s young or a runt, in either case unlikely to be roaming alone. If the sow is within earshot, she’s bound to appear soon. He
gives a tentative pull on the leash, but Sadie is adamant. Parrish reaches
down to catch her up, but she shies from him and hops to another rock.
“Damnit, Sadie.” He puts his hand through the loop of the braided
leash and takes up the slack as he moves to the rock she now occupies.
She darts in and tries to grab the cub by the scruff, surprising him. This
triggers a fresh round of bawling, and he snaps at her, “Sadie, no!” Up
close, the cry of distress is like metal scraping metal. He considers the
energy and trouble it will take to wrestle ninety pounds of uncooperative