A BED FOR THE WINTER
It was nearing the end of autumn. There was little warmth in the midday sun. The days were steadily getting shorter. There was less and less food around for the old bear to find as she travelled through the hills and valleys. Following the scent on the breeze she had found a birds nest in the tall grass the day before. She had licked her lips at the thought of a tasty treat, but when she cracked the first egg in her huge jaws a horrible rotten sludge had run down her throat. The nest was old and the eggs had gone bad. She had chewed some of the long grass to try to remove the nasty taste from her mouth, but it took a long time to go away.
Next day the thought of that terrible surprise was still with the bear when she heard the distant buzzing of small flying insects. She followed the noise to a large hole in a tree. Now she could smell the sweet trail of honey which the bees had made in their nest in the hollow tree. The bear loved the syrupy honey and pushed her paw into the hole to steal it. The bees were very angry and crawled all along her arm, but her thick fur stopped them from stinging her. The lovely taste of the honey made the bear completely forget the rotten eggs.
Apart from the honey she had not eaten very much at all recently and she was quite thin. She knew that it was time to find a place to sleep for the winter, to hide away from the very bad weather to come, to hibernate until next spring. Because she was a very old bear she was also very big. Usually she moved around on all-fours. If she were to stand up on her hind legs she was over two metres tall. She had lived alone since her last cub had grown up and left her. Now she was too old to have any more cubs.
As she moved through the valley she felt as though she had been there before. She recognised some of the trees, the shape of the hills and the distant smell of the sea. She found the opening to the cave in which she had given birth to her last cub. She remembered it as a big cave, deep in the hillside, sheltered from the outside. It would be ideal for the winter.She slowly crawled in.
She had forgotten how dark it was. She was not worried, she did not feel afraid. She carefully felt around the entrance to the cave with the sensitive pads of her front feet. She soon picked up a familiar smell in the still air of the passage. Her own! Her scent was very old and weak, having been left in the caves during her last visit. But her nose was so good that she could follow it all the way into the deepest part of the caves. Near the entrance she caught the smell of other animals who had visited the cave. Just inside she sniffed at the faint trace of smoke she found in the air. Her paw came down on the half-burnt pieces of wood of an ancient campfire. A little further in there was the musky odour of a pack of hyenas, coming from a small side passage. She went deeper.
When she arrived at the end of the passage she found the dry moss and twigs which she had brought in to make a nest the first time she had stayed here. That would make a good bed for the winter. The old bear curled up on the pile of dry material and closed her eyes. Even with them open she could see nothing at all. Now all she noticed was the distant dripping of water and the faint sound of her own breathing. She felt so tired that she soon fell asleep.
Sadly the old bear died because she was so old and because she had not eaten enough food in the weeks before she went to sleep. Several other bears visited the caves and they too hibernated there, but her bones remained undisturbed on the floor in one corner of the cave. The bones slowly became buried as the caves were filled up with mud. They remained hidden until they were discovered by some explorers many, many years later.