There's something about sitting on the steps out back and opening a cold can of beer at the end of summer.
On the steps you're in a place where you can drift. Sitting out there, the big tree overhead, it's a declaration: Leave me be. I'm physically out there, yes, but I've gone pondering.
You can't really ponder in one of those ridiculous man caves with icons to testosterone on the walls, say with a cabinet of single malt just to prove you're a man of distinction. And you can't very well get a good ponder at the table on the deck, where civilized suburban men might sit, men in khaki shorts, looking at the tomatoes, the wife waving through the glass doors.
The steps off the deck are best. They're private, at least until the new neighbors move in next door. You don't want them to think you're staring into their kitchen window. So now, before they move in, the steps are a good place.
It's a good place to consider the bear report. Not football bears, but real bears, the fathers of the forest.
This year, there have been more bear issues than usual up north, according to reports.
Why this is so is not completely understood. Bearologists say there were plenty of berries this year, that other forage was plentiful for the larding on of winter fat, so why the bears are mauling people is a mystery.
Maybe it's not a mystery to the bear. Maybe the bear just felt like ambling out of the bush to grab a human, slap it around some, chew on a head, then amble away.
And then laugh a bear laugh as humans bang their pots and pans, "making loud noises" as we're told to do when a bear approaches. It doesn't always work. Sometimes the bear doesn't give a fig for humans and their pots and pans.
A woman who was attacked said that after it mauled her and bit on her head some, she played dead and it left her alone. But how you can play dead with live teeth in your head is also a mystery. I don't plan on solving it. I'd rather sip that beer.
And not something from a bottle, either, but a can. Definitely not some fancy beer that tastes like fruit and honey, but something old school with a slight taste of tin on your teeth, a thin bitterness back there somewhere right near the swallow. Like Hamm's in the can. I think I can find some.
My dad would drink Hamm's back in the day, maybe one or two a month. He wasn't much of a drinker, but sometimes he'd come home from his waiter's job at the Hilton and we'd watch the Gillette Friday Night Fights on TV. This was up in the apartment on Peoria Street. He'd give me a sip when I was a boy. Maybe that's what it is about the Hamm's. That and the sky blue waters.
My brothers and I had bear troubles up north a few times. The worst one was at a lake about 100 miles east of Lac Seul, Ontario. The people who'd been in the cabin before us had been slobs, leaving garbage around and fish, and we paid for their filthiness with the bears.
The big one came every day, ripping up the cabin, scraping up high on the broken door frame when we were out on the lake. We had put our food up in a high tree 100 yards away, but by then he wasn't about the food. He was there to tell us the place was his.
One day he blocked a wide path between the cabin and the outhouse, lying across it, oblivious to the banging of pots and pans.
Other times he grunted in the bush. It was as if he knew we didn't have a gun.
We took a video of the full-grown male. He was at least 500 pounds. The bush pilot returned midweek to that lonely lake to check on us. At first he thought we were having problems with some skinny juvenile bear, until he saw the video.
"Oh, that's a big bear, eh?" he said, and went back to the plane for his shotgun. He baited the trail with fish. The big bear disappeared. It knew.
That trip happened before the boys were born. Priorities changed. It's been that long since my brothers and I were up in the far north with the big pike and the bears.
And this year, with too much work, I haven't even had time to put a line in the water. Sipping my beer, I tell myself: You damn fool.
Maybe this week, when I take a much-needed staycation, I might find a nearby pond. But a pond isn't a lake. There are no bears there.
In the evenings I'll sit on the steps, feel the breeze and think of what's coming. It always comes at the end of August: A hint of the lands of bears and pike on the wind. Maybe you're thinking about what that wind brings. Maybe you know what it means.