Christmas Eve on Wanakee Hill

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black bear with front paws over log
Simon Pierre Barrette / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Wana Bear

As told to Philip Polhemus by Wana Bear

Hear Phil tell the story fireside at the Wanakee Farmhouse

Wanakee has some very wonderful and special creatures. You will meet several of them in this story.

Wana Bear is a big old black bear who lives on the back side of Look Out Hill. He has been around for as long as I can remember and his calling from God is to watch out for all who come to Wanakee. He makes sure that all are safe and protected.

Hootie Owl is the sky patrol. She flies over Wanakee making note of all that is happening and if a need arises, she reports to Wana Bear.

Dusty Fox is the ground patrol and has the same responsibilities as Hootie.

Rusty Squirrel is a good-hearted red squirrel who likes to live in the eaves of the lower cabin in site 7.

There are others like Amos Coon, Hester Skunk, and Wesley Groundhog. You will meet them in other stories. They missed this Christmas Eve because they were sound asleep in their special winter homes.

Wana Bear told me this story several years ago.

David had taken his son Joey for a Christmas afternoon snowmobile ride to give Sarah, his wife, time alone to finish getting the house ready for Christmas. They were having a wonderful time but as it began to get dark, it started to snow and it was becoming very hard to see where they were going. David was not worried; he had ridden the trail many times. All they had to do was cross Pemi Lake, up over Wanakee Hill, down around Lake Wicwas, then a mile up the road and they would be home in time for supper. That would give them plenty of time to make it to the Christmas Eve service.

They were roaring up Wanakee Hill when it happened. Suddenly they were thrown off the snowmobile. David’s helmet was torn from his head by a low tree branch and then he slammed into a rock and was knocked unconscious. Joey landed in the snow with the snowmobile on top of him. He was not hurt but he couldn’t move.

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Barred owl in pine tree on snowy day
Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Hootie Owl

Hootie Owl was close by sitting on the top branch of an oak tree. She was not happy; the snow was coming down so hard now that she would have little chance of finding a tasty mouse for supper. She heard the thump as the snowmobile hit the stump hidden in the snow and decided she might go take a look to see what happened. As she was soaring down she heard Joey’s cry for help. “Oh, no, it’s a kid and he is hurt,” she thought. Sure enough there was a kid lying in the snow with the snowmobile lying on top of him. Then Hootie Owl saw the boy’s dad. “This is bad, real bad, but how can I help? If only Wana Bear was still awake, he would know what to do.”

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Red fox walks among small branches sticking out of in snow
Alan Krakauer / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Dusty Fox

Dusty Fox had also heard the crash for he was curled up for the night under the upper cabin in site 7 figuring it would be better to sleep through the storm rather than be out hunting. He too, heard the cries for help and wondered if he should go check things out. Then he heard Hootie talking to the boy.

“Don’t worry little fellow, I’ll think of something. You’re going to be okay.

“I can hear you talk,” exclaimed Joey. “Am I dreaming or dead? You can’t be real.”

“Of course I am real! And you are not dead or dreaming. All animals can talk on Christmas Eve. Now just lie still and let me think.”

Dusty ran down the hill and saw the boy and his dad. He knew now exactly what had to be done. Go get Wana Bear. That was the only hope. It was cold and snowing and they would never make it through the night. “Hootie, do you know where Wana Bear is?”

“Yup, in his cave up behind Look Out. He’s asleep for the winter.”

“Not now, he isn’t! Dusty Fox is off to wake him up. Wish me luck!” With that he ran up the hill, past Look Out, down the other side to Wana’s cave. Dusty poked his head in and whispered, “Wana, wake up.” No response, “Wana, wake up!” He barked several times. Still no response. The he crept to the back of the cave and poked Wana Bear’s nose. All Wana Bear did was roll over. This time, Dusty put his nose in Wana’s ear and barked as loud as he could. “Wana Bear, WAKE UP!

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Black bear running over log through snow
Eric Kilby / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Wana Bear

And Wana Bear did. He jumped up so fast, he bumped his head on the ceiling of the cave, gave a cry of pain and then turned on Dusty, about to cuff him into next week. “Do…do…don’t hit me! I, we, a little boy needs your help,” cried Dusty.

Wana heard the words little boy and help. He stopped and said, “This better be important, or you are in big trouble!”

“Oh it is” then Dusty told Wana what had happened and if they didn’t do something the boy and his dad were doing to freeze to death.

Wana stretched and then scratched his ear with his big paw and said, “Lead the way.” It wasn’t long before the big black bear was standing beside the little boy. “Now you just lie still and I’ll get this machine off you.” With a quick move of his front paws, Wana tossed the snowmobile off of Joey. “Can you move, boy?”

Joey nodded his head. “Can… can you help my dad?”

David had not moved, he was barely breathing and still out cold. “Dusty, go see if that cabin is open and wake up Rusty Squirrel. Tell him we need his help.” Dusty bounded off and pawed at the cabin door. Then barked for Rusty, “You in there, Rusty?”

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Red squirrel with long ears in snow
Mark Moschell / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Rusty Squirrel

“Go away, I'm sleeping!”

“Not now you aren’t, open this door! Wana Bear needs the cabin and there are people hurt.”

Okay, alright already.” The door slowly opened, “There, tell that old bear the cabin’s open, now can I go back to sleep?”

“Do you think Wana will let you sleep?” Then Rusty barked OK to Wana Bear.

Wana gently checked David over, picked him up and carefully carried him to the cabin. “Come on little man, we’ll be safe and out of the storm. “Rusty, is there a blanket in here?”

Yup, some camper left it here last summer. It’s over in the corner. Dusty you get it?”

Dusty pulled it out, it was a big one, he spread it out on the floor and Wana laid David on it.

“Okay little man, you lie down next to your dad. Dusty you lie next to him.” Wana Bear then covered the three with the blanket. David’s feet still stuck out. “Now Rusty you can make yourself useful and curl up on those feet and keep them warm. I’m going lie down and cover you all.”

Hootie watched all this and was very glad they were all safe and warm, but was worried. “What will happen when people come looking for them and find a bear, fox and squirrel.” So Hootie went back to his perch on top of the big oak and listened. Finally she heard them, several snowmobiles. She flew down to the cabin and screech, “They are coming!” Wana Bear was up, Dusty raced out of the cabin and up the hill to his hiding place. Wana checked David once more, breathing, but still not awake. He gently kissed Joey and with a grunt said, “Bye little man, help is coming, take good care of your dad, and Merry Christmas.” With that he ambled out of the cabin and back to his cave, singing a happy bear song.

Rusty then went to work running around using his tail like a broom to cover Dusty and Wana’s tracks. He finished just as the first machine stopped at David’s machine which was off in the bushes.

It wasn’t long before David and Joey were found in the cabin and by Christmas afternoon David was awake in the hospital, with the news he was going to be fine.

Now when Joey told everyone what happened no one believed him, yet they wondered how they got to the cabin and stayed warm all night long. You see everyone knows animals can’t talk, bears, foxes and owls don’t help humans, and red squirrels are just a plain nuisance.

Now, I know this story is true. How do I know? Because Wana Bear told me himself one summer afternoon as we were visiting together at Look Out. If you are lucky, maybe someday you will meet Wana Bear and he will tell you the story if you ask him.

Along with Wana Bear, Hootie, Dusty, Rusty, Amos, Hester, Wesley, the Wanakee Staff and Board of Directors, we want to wish you a very merry Christmas and a blessed New Year. May the Peaceable Kingdom become a reality in our hearts and the world.