The Wild Animal

November 13, 2009  

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

(written after the Horrorfest known as the evening news convinced me to take a walk through the woods) 

I saw it from atop a small hill where the woods thinned and the river hooked into a lazy L. Just standing there, staring out over the water as if pondering where it had all come from and where it was all going.
It’s presence was not shocking but still unexpected. They’re hard to spot this time of year. The colder months drive them into their dens to sleep and grow fat, turning the forests a bit safer in their absence. There’s less need to cast a backward glance for fear of what may be lurking. And glance you should. The woods are no place to be lost in thought when they’re about. Those creatures are sneaky for their size. Quick. Not there one moment but on you the next, tearing into your flesh without even the courtesy of a “May I?”
I’d seen wild animals in the woods before. Both the tiny ones that cause no harm and the big ones who will gladly do so. This one was big. Bigger than most. It’s coat was heavy and brown and it’s paws left deep marks in the soggy dirt. Even from that distance, it was intimidating. A pang of fear shuddered through me. If it decided to look away from the river and toward me, that small moment of decision would be crucial. Staying put would be a risk. Running would be worse. Everyone knew that running often led to chasing and chasing often led to being caught.
But in the end I decided to stay. Partly because I was afraid of that chase, but mostly because I thought I was hidden well enough. Watching a beast—and make no mistake, this was a beast—is an enthralling experience. We’re all curious creatures, eager to glimpse into the unknown as long as the chances of it glancing back are slim.
It turned and ambled down the riverbank, pausing to kick over a rock and study the underside. The brush on the opposite side of the bank snapped. The sound jerked it’s head with equal parts readiness and apprehension. It remained still for a few moments, eyes narrowed, and then resumed its walk down the riverbank toward the trail.
I followed at a distance, reminding myself of the damage they’ve been known to cause. It’s been said by some they were misunderstood creatures, that far from brutes they had a capacity for higher thinking and deeper emotion. But I’d never seen it. My experience taught me otherwise. 
I’d seen the way they mark their territory, thrashing and growling and destroying. They will tolerate one another, but not for long; I’d seen them fight, seen them argue and threaten, and it’s not for the squeamish. They bellow and growl and bristle. They kill.
I didn’t know if a wild animal was inherent good or naturally evil, but I knew you could judge them the same way you could judge anything else, and that was by what you see them do rather than what you thought they were capable of doing.
I’d seen others at ease with being close in proximity to them, thinking that being “at peace” or “one with” would somehow bring a crude sense of enlightenment. Not me. I knew better. You could break an animal. You could train it and teach it and love it. But you could not tame it. They were wild, all of them. And I could never be persuaded to believe anything other than the fact that beneath their beauty and grace lay a heart that thumped to only the basest of instincts.
I kept its back to me as we travelled, by the meandering river and onto the meandering trail to the gravel road beyond. I stopped there, and it was in the stillness of the shadows that I became aware of why I had been watching it all that time. Not to observe or study or fulfill any lingering curiosity, but just to make sure it was leaving. Just to see it go.
Because the humans have made a mess of their own world, and we bears don’t want them making a mess of ours.

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34 Responses to “The Wild Animal”

  1. I walked up on a sleeping bear one time. It woke with a start and scared me till I shook. What an awesome sight and experience. You spoke it well here.

  2. Katdish says:

    So, you know I love this story, right? Still, I can’t get the visual of you walking around the woods in a fur coat out of my head. I know you only said “it’s coat was brown”, but even so…

  3. T. Anne says:


    I was once between a mama bear and her two cubs while holding my one year old. Oddly I decided to tip toe away quickly. I still laugh at that in a frightened and thankful I survived kind of way.

  4. Bridget says:

    Nice twist… Another great post, Billy.

    I’ve decided I need to move. You get great wildlife and scenic stories, redneck and local humor, small town stuff… as well as coffee shop gossip and more… *sigh*

    I get a volcano (that erupted long before I moved here) and lots of rain… oh and a stray bay every now and then. Ha!

  5. Lynn Rush says:

    Nicely said, Billy.

  6. chris says:

    I love the reverse perspective. amen to the humans messing up the world bit.

  7. tsholo says:

    nice twist at the end there…awesome read.

  8. L.T. Elliot says:

    Oh, so clever, Billy–and sadly true a lot.

    We’re all curious creatures, eager to glimpse into the unknown as long as the chances of it glancing back are slim

    I wonder why we do this. I wonder if it’s because we feel we have to walk the line or glimpse that mortality. You can’t fall off a cliff if you don’t get near the edge. So why do we peer over so often? Food for thought.

    Another excellent post, Billy. You’re amazing.

  9. Lorianne says:

    Love how you weave words.

  10. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by sarahmsalter: RT @katdish RT @billycoffey The Wild Animal : Billy Coffey

  11. Susan says:

    Love the way your mind works.

  12. Ok, you got me. I read it a second time just to confirm that you’re a genius. This was a great little piece!

  13. The master of the Last Line strikes again! Sweet. Write on! Happy Weekending!

  14. Ryan Tate says:

    Outstanding perspective.

  15. Katie says:

    That was pretty awesome. You really got the point across.

  16. Joanne Sher says:

    Incredible. Powerful. And what a lesson. Thank you.

  17. Billy, as much as I’ve enjoyed your writing and appreciated your talent, I’ve never felt envious of it.

    I’ll try not to let something this good provoke me to start now. Try.

  18. Part of the heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping thrill had to be knowing that he knew you were back there, trailing along after him. Having come face to face with a few bears (yes, both the 4-legged & 2-legged variety), respect, distance, and a willingness to flee without hesitation do come in handy!

  19. Brilliant! You handled the twist perfectly. Bravo, Mr. Coffey.

  20. Very nice. Very unexpected.

  21. Goodness. My heart was thumping. Not expecting that last line. Perfect.

  22. *~Michelle~* says:

    Bravo Billy Bravo!!! I love it!

    …from the crazy lady who has some of her best conversations with her farm animals.

  23. Caroline says:

    Quite daring!

  24. Helen says:

    Amazing! I had no idea that this was written from the bear’s point of view until the very end.

  25. Maureen says:

    Once again a perfect ending to a tale well told.

  26. Julie Weathers says:

    Oh my gosh! This was absolutely one of the best stories I have read in ages. Good job.

  27. wendy says:

    as usual —-love it

  28. Corinne says:

    It took me a minute.. but love it :)
    I especially like the line “but I knew you could judge them the same way you could judge anything else, and that was by what you see them do rather than what you thought they were capable of doing.”

  29. Steph says:

    Wow! You totally got me! I loved the twist.

  30. Beth says:

    Verrrrry clever, Billy….you had me going with this one, right up to the last line!

  31. Awesome! Loved the twist! We do make a mess of things, don’t we?

  32. […] The Wild Animal (What I learned today – Billy Coffey – @billycoffey) this one was actually from last week, just forgot to include it then […]

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