Serendipity: Wounded Bear

No, Not Donald Trump—This Time

The following consists of the opening paragraphs of novelist Trygve Gulbranssen’s Beyond Sing the Woods (1933), set in 18th century Norway. The novel reads almost like an old Icelandic saga. It is a pity that it is not better known.

The crags above the depths of Maiden Valley were deepening to blue and their lines softening in the raw air of the autumn evening. Behind them the sky flamed, with a streak of blood where the sun was setting. Upon the outermost crag a bear stood, dark as the rock itself, and sniffed towards the Broad Leas where mist lay over tarn and water-way.

His head was lean and sharp, his neck long and scraggy and sparsely covered with fur. These last few autumns he had been late in hibernating; for all his plundering and devouring the comfortable, lazy, autumnal heaviness of his younger days was slower every year in coming, and this year there was something gravely wrong. Somewhere in his body pain snarled at him, and meat had lost its savor. The greater part of every carcass he left lying, and when he gulped a little warm blood, half-living hearts, and other such light fare, he could eat no more.

No longer could he stalk elk in the forest, for his body soon stiffened and wearied, and the pain had gnawed ever since that dread reëchoing bang came at him from the man away to the north in the Björndal woods. The bang had torn its way into his flank so that the blood gushed, and the wound ached and gnawed at him long afterwards. But though he could no longer go after elk, he had felled cattle and stolen many sheep.

This autumn people had housed their animals too early. On one or two evenings he had had to venture as far as their dwellings under cover of dusk, and break in the cattle-shed doors to find blood and meat. Men had come after him with yells and shouts, but he had dashed his paw at one of them so that he fell and lay still. After that they had followed him no further.

Both men and dogs down here in the Broad Leas were different from those northward in Björndal, where he had raided in his young days. There they had hounds that hurtled upon one, and yapped and barked and drove one out of one’s wits, while the men came quietly without yells or shouts, and one was not aware of them until they were close—then would come a bang shivering through guts and bones, leaving a pain that stayed. Down here in the Leas dogs slunk scared behind the men, and there was only noise and uproar, and no bangs. He would stay here, and in the evening when the lights were out make his way down to the byres.

He remained standing for a long time, pitch-black against the sky now darkening to blood and night. His head stood out sharply, his ragged neck stretched at a slant from his powerfully built body, shrunken now, with pointed shoulder-blades sticking up under his coat.