The days have been so packed with visitors that there has seldom been any time lately to work closely with Chaik and Killisnoo. On the morning of my birthday (June 1), during a brief, uncommon lull, I spotted Chaik in the training room watching me from behind a wall of steel bars. I fed him some apples and lettuce and sat, talking to him very quietly. I told him that I wanted to know what bears think and feel and what they dream about when they sleep. Chaik watched me intently throughout, almost as if he were reading something in my body language or tone of voice, and then he slowly extended his paw through a small opening in the barrier. My heart pounding nervously - mostly with the fear of making him nervous - I reached out and touched his paw. He just sat there with his head lowered while I felt the pad underneath and traced the curve of the claws. He spread them and allowed me to run my fingers between them. My breath was caught in my throat and when I pulled away, he picked up an apple and walked back out into the enclosure. Not only was it the best birthday present I could have ever gotten, it was one of the most profound experiences of my life, one that was repeated almost verbatim the next afternoon. I felt like I had gotten my first taste of what it must be like to walk on the moon.
Meanwhile, Seek is ready to go and will be departing for Texas in the morning. After restoring his health, my next job was getting him used to being alone and traveling in a kennel. He didn't like either one ate first but adapted quickly to both. He plays wildly, though, and has a tendency to bite a little too hard during these bouts. I've been working to cure him of that, too, and am pleased to say that he's learned very, very well. Now during play he thrashes wildly if he grabs pant legs or jacket sleeves, but his bite on bare skin is so gentle that it tickles. On one of my last days with him, he became spooked by heavy machinery that was working nearby and jumped into my arms, holding onto me with a death grip, his little heart racing. I calmed him down by mimicking the cooing of a mother bear (thanks to Lynn Rogers and all his work for teaching me that). Afterwards he climbed onto my shoulders and onto my head. He fell asleep up there and - over the course of half and hour - slid down my arm, onto my lap, and off onto the ground. I'm deeply going to miss the little guy.