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Inbetween the beaches of Ventura and the Los Padres National Forrest, Ojai is a small town where the citizens know the homeless population by name. Ojai, (Oh, hi) is the Chumash word for Closed after eight PM. On any sunny Sunday morning you’re bound to see a peddeler’s fair, a horse drawn carriage clip-clopping down a shady side street or a four-hundred pound bear up in a tree in somebody’s yard.
The latter is what caused a stir a couple Sundays ago but because of the competitive garage sales in the area the crowd was managable. Bears often wander down at night from the Los Padres, into avocado orchards and from there, down the paths to the outskirts of town following the promise of fresh garbage. From there it’s a hop, skip and a jump into the residential areas. Usually the bear will find his way back home before morning and for people in Ojai, it’s no harm, no foul, and a pretty good topic starter around the coffee shops in the morning.
Unfortunatley, this eight-year-old black bear climbed a tree in someone’s front yard on Aliso street around midnight and was still clinging to the branches when I saw him at seven-thirty in the morning. The crowd was around twenty–coming and going , and the police had to be on hand to save one from the other. By the time they wrapped the street in yellow tape the bear wasn’t going anywhere and neither was the crowd.
This was Dog Day Afternoon and the bear was Al Pacino. As I watched the bear gaze down at us while clinging to his spot about forty-feet high in the pine I almost expected the police to start yelling at him through megaphones and the crowd to mimic, “Hey, Sonny!”
Forced to return to work behind the counter at the Chevron, I felt like Sitting Bull getting battlefield reports from The Little Bighorn. As the morning cycled through the sun, and the afternoon, the shadows, people would rush in to report the latest.
“They’ve got the pet psychic out there now!”
“The Department of Fish and Game is coming out, but they can’t remove him, they’ll only tranquilize him.”
A policeman who came in to get gas explained to me, “Once he gets tranquilized he’ll have to be destroyed because it’s the beginning of hunting season and if, say, a hunter shoots and eats tranqued bear meat, he’d be poisoned and probably die. The best thing to do is just to let him find his way home; it’s not like he’s going to go on a killing spree.”
The rumours came and went until I went home that night. The next morning I heard the news. The Department of Fish and Game had indeed come out and shot a tranquilizer into the bear. He had crashed onto the street and was hit again with another tranquilizer, then taken away and destroyed.
Questions are still being asked of the Department of Fish and Game reguarding their conduct that day. Today I was told that the officer in charge that day has resigned. Is that a good enough answer?
I can still see that bear looking down at us while hanging on up in the tree. It was as if he had his own questions: “Why are you here? What do you want? Why won’t you go away so I can come down and leave?”
Because, we’re human. Isn’t that a good enough answer?