This is a continuation of an allegorical tale begun in The Gate is Small (Pt. 1) and continuing through The Gate is Small (Pt. 2), The Gate is Small (Pt. 3), and The Gate is Small (Pt. 4). I suggest reading the full story in order, but of course, that’s only my opinion.
“…and of course, the simple pleasure that comes from the achy pain in the feet after a long day’s walk is one that many find paradoxical. Pain being pleasurable? Perish the thought. Of course, one that bears consdiera—”
“JACK MOVE!” I shouted as the bear got dangerously close. He looked around just in time to see a flurry of fur as the bear passed him and headed straight for me.
“BEARNADINE STOP!” I heard a new voice shout from the trees ahead. Not two inches were left between my nose and the claws protruding from the flexed paw of the bear. But amazingly, the creature had halted and turned back to where it had come from. A short thin woman with frizzy brown hair stormed out of the woods toward me. Twigs and leaves were stuck in her matte of brown fuzz, and she wore what looked like a variety of leaves and vines that had been stitched and woven together to form basic garments. She carried a long staff of gnarled sassafras and pointed a bony and grimy finger in my direction.
“You nearly injured my poor Bearnadine’s paw!” she yelled. As she approached, I saw she was a foot and a half shorter than me, and the top of her staff reached my nose. She scowled up at me still pointing.
“Pita, please. I believe we both know that Bearnadine was in no danger,” said Jack calmingly.
“Truly, if anyone was in danger it was me!” I said incredulously.
“Oh please. You would have been dead in seconds, no pain at all. That’s nothing compared to the weeks of pain and limping Bearnadine would’ve experienced if I hadn’t stopped her in time! It’d serve you right too for provoking her!” shouted the woman.
“Pita, really, I must—”
“Provoking her? How did you reach that conclusion? I was merely hiking along,” I said defensively. The bear was still watching me intently.
At this question the woman, whose name I gathered was Pita, clambered onto my back pack, sat on my head, and began pulling items out of the top pouch. I squirmed to try and remove her, but she was so small and had such a firm grip on the pack it was impossible. I watched as my spare water bottle, change of clothes and shoes, compass, tent, and backpacker’s stove were tossed out in front of me. I felt her weight shift and realized that she was now diving head-first into my pack. Jack merely stood there laughing at the scene.
I heard a muffled “AHA!” emerge from somewhere near my backside and moments later she was standing in front of me waving one of my peanut butter powerbars under my nose. “I knew I smelled it. You mean to tell me you had no idea you were carrying peanut butter on this trail?”
“Of course I knew I had peanut butter. What’s your point?” I said, slipping my pack off and gathering the gear that she had strewn about the path.
“My point?! My point is that peanut-butter is irresistible to bears, particularly when mixed with honey and poured over nuts like this! You might as well have taken a hammer to her paws yourself, you monster!”
“Pita!” said Jack much more forcefully. It was enough to snap her out of her tirade. She turned around and looked timidly up at Jack.
“Thank you. Now, you and I both know that merely carrying food on the trail is by no means forbidden, in fact it is on the suggested packing list given by the rangers.”
This remark reignited Pita’s anger, but I could tell she was restraining herself more than before, “Well the rangers are just wrong! They don’t know the feelings of these creatures like I do!” She took my powerbar over to Bearnadine and broke it in two pieces. The bear gently ate the snack out of her hand, eyes still glued to me.
“We all know your opinion of the Rangers’ zoological acumen. And as we’ve told you before your opinion is misguided given the countless books and vast information they’ve produced displaying their knowledge of all creatures. Still, you’re entitled to believe they are wrong for now, as long as you submit to their rules regarding human interaction with the beasts while on their trails. I believe an apology is in order,” said Jack simply.
Pita clearly hadn’t listened to most of what Jack said. She did catch the last bit however, because she stared up at me expectantly and said, “Well?!?”
“Not him Pita! You! You need to apologize,” said Jack, exasperated.
“Oh,” said Pita looking away. “Fine. I’m sorry, I guess.” It was abundantly clear from her tone that she viewed this forced apology as a grave injustice and did not mean it in the slightest.
“That will do Pita. Now would you like to join us in this hike or will you simply allow us to go on peacefully?” asked Jack as if talking to a small child.
“I would rather have boiling water poured down my spine than hike with you,” she said snootily. “Come Bearnadine, let’s go make dinner.” She marched into the thick trees lining the path from which she had emerged and the bear followed her.
As she left, I hoisted my pack back over my shoulder and did up the belt. Jack sighed. “That girl. I do wish we could get through to her. She was such a promising trailblazer.”
“Where did she come from?” I asked.
“Oh I first made her acquaintance hiking this trail. We were both first-time trekkers. We walked the path together for a good long portion of it. She had a knack for controlling animals and using them for good. She had even trained a few squirrels to scout ahead and bring back evidence of water or shelter so we could plan the hike more effectively. Eventually though she began to idolize the animals. As you just saw, she cares more for the wellbeing of creatures than the very lives of humans,” said Jack.
“It’s not such a bad desire. Care for creatures is a noble pursuit in itself.”
“Indeed it is my lad. Caring for animals, and the proper treatment of them is a worthy cause, but it must be kept in perspective. It cannot be given its head and made more important than it is. Animals are to be ruled by humans, and not the other way around.”
“I tend to agree. But that’s not Pita’s view I would guess,” I said.
“Indeed it isn’t, or at least she would never admit that it is. I remember the day she made her concern more than mere care for animals, the day it became obsessive misappropriation of life. We happened upon the remains of a buck, it was a mighty and beautiful creature. From all appearances, some hunters had gotten one shot off into its hind legs but then lost track of it in their pursuit. Of course, the poor thing bled out and the hunters were not diligent enough to go and find their kill and make use of it properly. That was too much for Pita to take. Every day onward she became more sensitive to the hurts and pains of animals, to the point where she lost sight of the meaningful distinction between humans and animals at all.”
“What can be done for her?” I asked.
“Human contact and human love is what she needs, but she won’t let any humans near enough to her to do it. She prefers the company of animals because she can control those relationships. As I said, deep down she actually agrees that humans are to rule over animals, she simply won’t admit it. She’d rather not open herself up to being hurt or betrayed by humans again so she only has relationships with animals. And as long as she keeps only her pets for companionship, she’ll grow to resent humans more and more as a result. Isn’t it funny? She pushes humans away and then resents them for leaving. She claims to contend for the autonomy of animals, then rules over them more strictly than ever. It would be impressive if it weren’t so depressing.”
Jack let out another long sigh and then began trudging up the path. Moments later he had picked up where he left off lecturing about pain and pleasure. I stared into the trees where Pita had disappeared for a few seconds before jogging up to rejoin Jack in the hike.
This story is continued in The Gate is Small (Pt. 6)!
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