It is impossible to walk through the forests now without meeting them, the imaginary bears.
We know that the real bears are starting to rise and move, shake off a winter’s worth of sluggishness and snow.
But somehow the real bears are never as tangible as the imaginary bears.
Real bears are confined by physics and space and time.
They are not able to be everywhere at once:
In the crack of weakened branches
In the pungent smell of rising skunk cabbage
In the faint shadow at the corner of the eye, reaching out from the tangle of alder
The signs of the real bears only make the imaginary bears more powerful.
Each scar on the tree rises up into an invisible paw, extending backwards into our heads.
We are not afraid of the imaginary bears, not really.
They provide an added edge to the noises, to the experience of breaking through the last of the snow and the leaf litter.
They make us feel that our intrusion is noticed.
They are less frightening than the recognition that we walk on empty pathways.
That our passage is brief and unimportant.
That we exist here only as imaginary noises at the edge of a distant bear’s hearing.
The passage of bears is well-marked
I like being something that a bear might have imagined.
While I don’t have bears, I do have other imaginary animals available in my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor, over here.