This topic made me consider standing one’s ground in some alternate contexts, since I don’t have many occasions to stand my ground in a personal way these days. Not old enough to be feeble or young enough to attract most kinds of harassment, even my occasional outbursts of outrage in adolescence are pretty fuzzy now in my memory. Just as well. As a small business owner for many years (two college-town stores) and a writer and occasional anthology editor, I’ve learned that the old catching-more flies-with-honey thing does work, and taking a diplomatic approach has usually served me well. So I’ve been searching my mind for some good example of actual ground-standing, and coming up with nothing, except...just yesterday…well, there was the matter of the bear.
I know that one isn’t supposed to set out bird feeders around here in the months between when bears come out of hibernation and when they go back into that semi-sleep. But I love to watch the birds up close, so in spring through autumn I take the bird feeders inside at dusk and back outside in the morning, which works most of the time. But a every year the time comes when a bear will stroll through in daylight with the intent to tear down the pole with the sunflower seed container on top, as well as the suet holder dangling from another pole next to a tree where the woodpeckers gather. This year, yesterday, in the late afternoon, was that time.
It was medium-sized bear, possibly one that had come by last year when it wasn’t quite as big and could resort to climbing trees. I saw it this time it when it had just reached the seed feeder and was tensing to rise up and topple it. I banged on the window and yelled, and the bear, startled, moved back a few steps. I charged out onto the porch and yelled more, and the bear loped away out of sight into the close row of dense shrubbery and trees bordering a stone wall. I marched out into the yard while a family member backed me up from the porch, retrieved my feeders, and that was that. It will happen again, and if no one sees him, the poles will be pulled down. If I see him, I’ll shout and scare him off, and if it appears to be needed a family member will chuck small stones at him, not enough for injury but enough for a warning. (Note that I say “he.” If it were a female with cubs, I wouldn’t challenge her, or any large bear that couldn’t be driven off by my yelling. I wouldn’t stand my ground.)
Now that I reflect on the episode, though, whose ground was it? Was it the bear that didn’t stand its own ground? Bears have a sense of territory, I think, but only in terms of where they can hunt for food. And extending that line of thought, were early settlers standing their ground with guns against indigenous natives also trying to stand their ground? Whose ground it was certainly varied according to separate perspectives, especially when the indigenous side had a far different view of whether land could actually be owned. I’ve thought of this a good deal with regard to land I theoretically own, my home, and my father’s home where I grew up but must now sell since he’s in a nursing home at 98, and my beloved riverside retreat in the mountains of NH which I’ll need to sell fairly soon. I’ve come to feel that the land endures (we hope) but all we own is its use for a certain span of time, and the memories we have of that time.
We of course want to protect that land and our families and other possessions during that time. We want to stand our ground against threats. But that attitude seems sometimes to expand to a dangerous extent. You know where I’m going, right? Here’s part of a Wikipedia explanation of “stand your ground” laws: “A stand-your-ground law (sometimes called "line in the sand" or "no duty to retreat" law) is a justification in a criminal case, whereby defendants can ‘stand their ground’ and use force without retreating, in order to protect and defend themselves or others against threats or perceived threats.” In some states this covers being in any place one has a right to be, not just on one’s own ground. The obvious rub here is the “perceived threats” part. Our society right now is in a dangerous state of perceiving anyone not just like ourselves to be a threat. You know the cases we’ve seen in the news.
Often, of course, the threats are real. Looking back through colonial history across the world, the threats have been real, not just perceived, on all sides. Ground can seem to be gained, or lost, in all sorts of ways, and standing one’s ground has always felt imperative, and honorable, to both sides. It is, in fact, imperative and honorable, but not always a clear-cut cause for deadly force.
All of which has nothing to do with our individual and personal cases of standing our ground, so I’ve clearly been punting here, although I’ve found the thought-exercise interesting just the same.
But I’ll still chase off any bears (with the previous exceptions of mothers/cubs and really big, unchasable ones) even though the whole situation is my fault for setting out bird feeders in the summer. Mea culpa.