I recently discovered a torn up patch of earth in a meadow up the valley. The plowed ground stood out in the short grass of spring. The disturbance was old, the furrows and mounds dug out sometime last fall, as evidenced by the crusted dirt and pocket gopher casts – dirt packed into snow tunnels over the winter – draped over the digging. Amidst the clods and masses of upturned grass roots were bones: a scapula, a broken leg bone, part of a skull. This was a bear stash.
Grizzly bears often stash carcasses, digging out great swaths of earth and burying the meat. The stashes display the strength of the bear: the diggings in the meadow are more than ten feet across, with a lot of dirt moved. The bear buried what looks like a deer, or what was left of it.
Years ago, I sat on a ridge with a friend, deep in conversation. My dog sniffed around nearby, then started digging in the sagebrush. She pulled a soft hunk of something from the earth, and then came over to proudly present me with a piece of rotting flesh, crusted with dirt. The conversation ended, and we rapidly moved away from the ridge and the freshly stashed bear food. Without the dog we may never have known the stash was there – leaving the question, how many buried carcasses have I walked by? With the bear not far away, watching me pass?
A bear digs up its stashed carcass, devours the meat, strips the bones clean, licks out marrow, leaves nothing but remnants. There is no malevolence in these stashes, yet they have an eerie quality, with the feeling of an exhumed grave. Disrupted earth, gnawed body parts, the echo of the bear’s power. The wind picked up while I stood at the stash, and the surrounding trees began to talk, voices echoing through the meadow. I didn’t stay long before moving up the valley, where the grass grew green and undisturbed.