Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Bear and the Backscratcher

Back scratchers do not have video screens, so I was surprised when my 10-year-old grandson Anderson asked me to make him a wooden back scratcher.

Kids do make odd requests so I agreed to carve a back scratcher with his name on it. My only concern, besides my dubious woodworking ability, was that when other grandchildren saw or heard of this, they too would ask for one. I could see myself trapped in a crowded workshop for months, patiently carving back scratchers.

So I decided to invent a story about how I got the back scratcher; a story that would explain why it would be impossible to get another. The story went like this:

I was walking the woods at Shaman’s Rock when I came across an old guy sitting outside the entrance to a cave. He had silver hair grown well below his shoulders and a silver beard that touched his belly button. The patch of face not concealed by hair was wrinkled and tanned brown by the sun.

He was carving a piece of birch branch and paid little attention to my approach.

“I’ve never seen you out here before,” I said to him.

“There are many things out here that you do not see, nor hear,” he replied, raising his head and revealing a pair of dazzling blue eyes that illuminated the darkness of his face.

“So what are you carving?” I asked.

“Back scratchers. For the bears.”

“Back scratchers!. Bears don’t use back scratchers.”

Those bright blue eyes locked me in a look that said “you have much to learn and much to understand,” then he told me a story.

He was walking the woods when he saw a bear rubbing his back against the rough bark of an ancient oak tree. The bear spotted him and summoned him to come and talk.

“Do me a favour old man,” said the bear. “Scratch my back. The itch is driving me crazy.”

The old guy knew that it was important never to upset a bear, or any of the forest animals. So he scratched the bear’s back as it sighed contentedly. Scratching through that thick fur coat was tiring work.  

Back at his cave the old guy realized the bear likely would come looking for him to scratch its back again. And, it would tell other bears who would line up to have their backs scratched.

Then he was struck by an idea: He would make the bear a personalized back scratcher and show it how to use it.

The bear loved the back scratcher and as word spread, other bears came to the cave to place their orders. The old guy was happy because carving back scratchers was much more enjoyable and less tiring than scratching a bear’s back.

“So the bears are happy,” said the old guy. “And when the bears are happy, everyone is happy.”

I gave the old guy a skeptical look and was about to tell him how ridiculous I thought his story was when he stared into my eyes and said:

“When you help and respect nature and all its inhabitants, it will help and respect you.”

Then the old guy simply vanished and I found myself standing in the woods with a freshly whittled and decorated back scratcher. Carved into its middle was the name Anderson.

I’m sure Anderson will enjoy his back scratcher. When the other grandkids see it and ask for their own, I’ll tell them the story of the old guy and the bears and how I keep looking for him in the woods to ask him for more back scratchers.

The story might keep me off the back scratcher assembly line. Yeah, good luck with that.


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