by B.W. Thines
In the north east corner of Montana, Sheridan County, just north east of Fort Peck Indian Reservation lives a man by the name of Roland Erb, Dr. to be exact. Doc Erb is a retired teacher from the University of Montana at Billings and now a research biologist. He has a twenty acre farm where he raises and stables horses, and has around two hundred head of cattle. But what makes Doc Erb different from your ordinary Montana rancher, is his friends.
These friends are a five year old Collie named Rex, a Macaque snow monkey named Ollie and a Kodiak bear named “Bear”. Doc Erb considers them his friends, to call them pets would be demeaning.
Ollie the Macaque monkey is from Japan, who lived in the cold woods of the Otaru Sapporo Mountains. The Japanese call them snow monkeys because of their tolerance to cold temperatures. Doc Erb befriended the monkey while the college was studying’s the adaptability to Montana’s climate. Doc Erb rescued the monkey from its caged life at the University and brought the monkey into his home. Ollie fit into the household very well, he got along with Rex and became best of friends.
Bear and Doc Erb met when Bear got his foot caught in a steel trap. The bear was in much pain, he was only a cub. Doc Erb had to give him an injection to calm him down, and then remove his leg from the trap. He then took the bear home to his ranch to mend his leg.
Doc Erb was able to repair the damage to the bear’s right rear leg. Bear did not like the cast which Doc Erb put on his leg, he tried to chew it off, and so Doc Erb put a muzzle on him. During his recovery Bear stayed in a large cage in the basement of the house. Doc Erb fed him three times a day, and would sit and talk to him, Bear would look at him attentively. Doc Erb designed a harness for Bear and would exercise him daily, which was quite a chore. There seemed to be a certain degree of bonding between the two of them.
It finally came time to remove the cast from the bear’s leg; Doc Erb examined it and found that it healed well. Bear sat for a while examining the leg and then licking it for a while. Finally Bear got up on all fours, looked at Doc Erb then slowly walked towards the woods and then started to run until he disappeared into the woods. Doc Erb thought that would be the last he would see the bear.
Then about a week later Doc Erb noticed the bear roaming around the ranch, he looked hungry so Doc Erb would leave food out for him. When Doc Erb saw him he would wave and say “Hi Bear”. This went on for over a month.
During the first week of June Doc Erb decided to have a cookout at the ranch, just him, Nancy, Ollie, Rex and a few close friends. On the menu was BBQ chicken, corn on the cob, hamburgers, hot dogs and potato salad.
The smell of the cookout filled the air, enticing the bear from the woods. Bear entered the clearing and stood on his hind legs smelling the aroma of the food, Doc Erb and Ollie waved at Bear. Doc Erb’s friends knew the story about him saving the bear. The bear started walking slowly down toward the ranch, Doc Erb told everybody not to be afraid and to be calm. Doc grabbed a couple of hot dogs from the table and started walking toward Bear. They met a few yards from where the group was eating and Doc Erb offered the hot dogs to Bear who smelled them and ate them. Doc Erb gently patted Bear’s head and Bear rubbed up against him, smelling him and licked his hand.
Doc Erb guided Bear to one of the nearest picnic tables, his wife Nancy brought them each a plate with a hot dog, hamburger and beans. Nancy gave Bear a bowl of milk with honey, Bear lapped it up and smiled at everyone.
Ollie stayed his distance from Bear, not wanting to get too close; they both eyed each other with curiosity. Doc Erb petted Ollie’s head to show Bear that Ollie was his friend also. Ollie broke the ice by bringing Bear a slice of cherry pie. Bear ate the pie and smiled his approval at Ollie. That night they all sat together at the picnic table’s listening to Doc Erb play his guitar and Sheriff Bob Long play the fiddle. They all enjoyed the music, even Bear.
The guests left soon after; the Sheriff and his wife Nia helped clean up and put food away. Ollie did his part collecting all the trash and putting the trash bins in the shed. Bear bid his farewell to Ollie and Doc Erb and headed for his lair in the woods.
B.W. Thines is in his 70s, retired and a long-time patron of the Rochester Public Library. He is a writer of short stories and the author of the forthcoming story collection, Tales from the Elk Hotel.