They put it on his headstone: “Death is a part of life.” His nephews organized the funeral and burial and they chose the epigram. They knew that Abernathy meant what he said, that he lived by it and he died by it.
It was a canal rider who found him, his ATV off the trail and upside down in a brilliantly frost-painted patch of sarvisberries. He was clear of it and still holding his little dog to his chest with his one arm, though they were both bloody dead, victims more of blood loss and shock than being torn up.
Montana Fish and Game guys came at once to track the bear on foot, not using an airplane to search because they wanted to know the ground and the signs on it. In a nearby aspen grove, now glowing yellow in the slanting fall light, they found the carcass of a colt, which was probably partly why the bear was so aggressive, now that it was hyperphagic, getting ready to hibernate by packing on fat. It was defending its kill so as to eat the whole thing over time. Nearby in a clearing they found the mare, still alive and recovering though her side and rump were raked. Her brand was intelligible so they could notify the owner.
When the little team of wardens found the bear, it was a big boar and not one they knew. No collar, no ear tags, no distinctive color. Just sitting there. The grizzly bear specialist, Stanley, killed it with a shot to the head in the thin place between eye and ear. No fuss. Then they did ask for a helicopter, but none was available, so they made a stretcher and carried the carcass out like a person. When they did the autopsy, they found the mare’s attempt to save her colt. She had broken his ribs.
It took Stanley the better part of a day to do the documentation. Of course the media went sensational, shorting the information in the interest of capturing readership with gory details. The readers split into the usual us-against-them opposition, half wanting every bear on the East Slope to be killed and half blaming Abernathy for invading space that belonged to the bears.
The nephews went up on horseback to see about reclaiming the ATV. They thought they might have to haul it out and tow it with ropes, but it was a sturdy little machine and started up once it was back on its wheels. They re-walked the ground, using much caution in the aspens where the colt’s bones were whitening, already stripped by magpies and bugs. The mare was gone.
But the interesting find was the little Go-Pro, not that finding it was easy down there in the sarvisberry tangles. Finally, sunlight glinting off the lens caught their eyes. Looking at it on the scene, they could match the angle and see what had happened.
It was not unexpected. At first there was only scenery, then the bear, clear enough to confirm that the wardens had killed the right bear. The rest was shadows and flashes, sky, brush, the little dog, and finally a big gaping maw of a head full of teeth. Impossible to really decipher. Probably it was as mixed up in Abernathy’s head while he tried to understand and react.
No bear spray, gun, or other gizmos could have been deployed fast enough to do much good. No law could have anticipated and prevented the event. When a bear and a human cross paths, the scenario plays out quickly and inevitably through forces already in play. This bear was not the product of too many bears — he was just one bear who wouldn’t tolerate interruption. Maybe Abernathy could have been persuaded to change, but it wasn’t likely.
The nephews understood all this, both the ones who were mostly white and those who were pure Blackfeet. They sat together on the bank of the canal, smoking while they processed what they thought. They didn’t say much in words, but a lot of communication passed among them while their horses grazed the tall grass that grew along the trail. It was as though ancient stories about people and bears over the millennia were summoned, acknowledged, and dismissed until next time.