Oleí Three Paws
By Wayne Selfridge

My first encounter with Oleí Three Paws was 8 years ago when I was hiking a trail in The Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge Chapman Pond Unit.

I donít think that I have ever written about one wild animalís life in the same context as the great naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton. I grew up reading his classic animal collection, Wild Animals I have Known. Among others, it contained stories such as Silverspot, the Story of a Crow, Redruff, the Story of a Don Valley Partridge, and his most famous, Lobo, the King of the Currumpaw. I still have that book in my library I bought in 1966 as a young teen. Seton wrote the book in1898 and it is still in publication. Through prose Seton was the first to humanize the animals in his special way. Honoring their life and the message about their lives that still remains with over a century of readers. Although I do not possess the power of the pen that Seton did, I want to share a legacy of my crossing paths with Olí Three Paws, the Story of a Bear.

I have a propensity to name things in my own way, similar to what the Indians did when they would name a child after the first natural sighting immediately after birth, hence Red Cloud and Sitting Bull for example. My first encounter with Olí Three Paws was 8 years ago when I was hiking a trail in The Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge Chapman Pond Unit. It was very near dark that evening which added to the aura of what happened. Close in front of me a bear ghosted from the woods walking on three legs, keeping the right front paw held off the ground. After sighting me she sprinted to the brush on the other side with a set of that yearís twins following her.

After vocalizing to them they scurried up a large poplar on the edge of the trail. Quickly the sow reappeared in the trail facing me, still holding that paw in the air which made her seem more menacing in this charging bull posturing. Olí Three Paws warned me by audibly clacking her teeth together and pacing back and forth. By her size she was an adult bear and despite her handicap moved remarkably well.

I heeded her warning and backed up a few steps. Keeping her eyes on me she grunted again and her obedient cubs hustled down the tree with Olí Three Paws leading her progeny away from my perceived threat. I mulled over what could have caused her injury, surmising that she may have temporarily sprained it or had a recent encounter with a porcupine.

I lived close to the refuge and was regularly in the woods either off refuge nearby or trekking in it. Over the years I would occasionally see her always not using the leg, so the damage was permanent. When she had cubs it was multiples of 2 or 3. The accident or birth defect did not hamper her, overcoming the handicap with both she and her many cubs appearing to be healthy and prospering. Olí Three Paws produced many young over those years, but last year I did not see her. She was getting on to at least 9 years old if she was still alive and I just presumed that she had passed or moved on to a different territory.

This July I was giving a guided tour of the refuge when Olí Three Paws appeared in a meadow holding that paw aloft while grazing. The grasses were high by then so at first I didnít see any cubs with her. Then she stood up looking at our group. Three little ones mimicked her stance, barely seen above the grass. Two of the teens on the tour said they had never seen a bear before, so their first bruin experience was a positive one. We were able to stay within 75 yards of her grazing family while they posed for many great pictures while I told the group her story.

Her history is one of overcoming adversity yet thriving. I have to realize that just like in Setonís stories, no wild animal dies of old age and all meet a tragic end. Some day Olí Three Paws will meet a fate that we will never know.

Wayne Selfridge is an outdoorsman who has hunted and fished throughout the world as a23 year military veteran. He is a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association.

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