Last Sunset Before Hibernation


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 Hootie Owl

In this story you will meet several of Wanakee’s furry and feathered friends.

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 and Karri Fox are the ground patrol and have the same responsibilities as Hootie.

Bucky and Bea Beaver are water patrol and have the same responsibilities as Hootie and the Foxes. They report to Wana Bear through Hootie.

Amos Coon and his family are guardians of James’ house and live close by.

Also part of the team of Wanakee caregivers are Wesley Groundhog, Hester Skunk, and Rusty Squirrel.

It was a beautiful fall day and Wana Bear invited all the team to the swimming beach for one last sunset before he turned in for the winter. It had been a warm fall and in the last few days it had finally turned cold. The lake had frozen over but still no snow. Hootie Owl was perched up in the tree at the edge of the beach. Rusty was sitting on a branch below. Wana Bear sat on the beach with Coon family, Wesley and Hester huddled together. Bucky and Bea were sitting on the dam, the ice had kept them from joining the others.


bright orange and pink sky reflected in the water at sunset
James Tresner

Sunset at Wanakee's waterfront

The sun was a brilliant orange red slowly sinking behind the hills, White puffy clouds were turning various shades of red, pink, and orange against the light blue sky that was slowly becoming dark. The stars were starting to come out. There were oohs and ahs and a sigh as the sky finally turned to black.

Wana yawned, stood up and stretched. “Well, I guess that's it. Thanks for coming. It’s time to say good night all and I will see you in the spring. Have a good winter. Of course, wake me if there is real trouble but it better be real serious.” He laughed and started up the path headed for his cave on the other side of Look Out Hill.


Barred Owl perched on bare tree branches
Mdf / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Hootie Owl

“Wait a minute,” cried Hootie, “there’s someone on the ice! Over by the cottages.” Sure enough, the Brailie twins were starting to skate across the cove.

Wana Bear stopped turned around, “Oh, this is not good. The ice is too thin, they are going to go in I just know it. We must stay here, they will need our help.”

They ducked into the trees so they wouldn’t be seen, all except Hootie and Rusty who were perched up in the tree by the water. The twins were laughing and pushing each other as they passed the swimming area and headed for the beaver pond.

“Hootie, go fly over to Bucky’s and tell them to watch out for them. The ice is real thin over there.” Wana whispered.

Wana had no more gotten the words out of his month when they heard the ice crack and the twins screamed “HELP!” Hootie was off in a flash as Bucky and Bea Beaver had seen them fall through the ice and screamed.


beaver sitting on ground with tail between legs munching on something
Steve Hersey / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Bucky Beaver

Wana yelled, “Help them out of the water, Bucky! Don’t let them take off their clothes. They’re wet but they will be warmer if they keep them on.” Bucky and Bea were in the water and had the twins in their teeth pulling them to the dam.

Wana turned to Dusty and Karri, “Head to the pavilion, I’ll meet you there.” The three took off running as fast as they could. “The rest of you stay here, we will need you later.”

The raccoon kids were about to take off to help but Amos said. “Stay here, you heard Wana and I don’t want to be pulling you kids out of the water.”

Wana Bear, when he reached the pavilion grabbed a canoe and carried to the beach. “Dusty, you and Karri pull this to the twins. I am going to get the Brailies. Be careful now don’t get too near the dam. You can push the canoe to the twins.”

Wana said a brief prayer, “O Lord, keep me safe and may the Brailies hear me.” He ran along the edge of the lake and up the Brailie's beach and pounded on their door.

Mrs. Brailie opened the door and shouted, “Fred, it’s a bear!” as she slammed the door.

Fred opened it again with gun in hand. Wana stood on his hind legs and shouted. “Don’t shoot, your twins are in trouble!”

Fred lowered the gun and started to laugh. “George (their next door neighbor), where did you get the outfit? You look like a real bear. You about scared Hazel to death!”

“I not George and I am a real bear, your twins fell through the ice and you better call 911 and get the ambulance here fast or you are not going to have any twins.”

Fred was about to say something when he hear the cries for help. “Hazel it’s the kids, call the ambulance. I could swear that bear can talk.”

“You bet I can talk,” growled Wana, “Now you get yourselves over to the Wanakee Barn, and I will meet you there. Do you know where it is? I’ll meet you there with the twins.” Fred nodded. Wana Bear then turned gave a word of thanks to God and took off to the swim area hoping the ice would hold him.


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

Dusty Fox

Dusty and Karri slid the canoe up to the twins, holding the rope in their teeth. Bucky told the twins to get in and lie down on the bottom and hold each other tight. “OK, Dusty off you go, they are in the canoe,” but the canoe was stuck in the water it wouldn’t slide up on the ice.

“Bucky, you and Bea are going to have to help, Karri and I can’t pull it up on the ice,” said Dusty. Bucky and Bea slid into the water and began to push, flapping their tails as hard as they could as Dusty and Karri pulled. Finally the canoe was up on the ice and they were off to the swimming area.

“That’s all we can do, Dusty, you’re on your own now,” said Bucky. The Beavers turned around and climbed up on the dam to watch.

Wana was waiting for the foxes and he pulled the canoe up on land. “Amos, you Coons get in the canoe, you too Wes, Hester, and Rusty. Now cover those kids and try to keep them warm. Dusty, you and Karri push and I’ll pull. We need to get them to the barn.” It was hard going but they made it just as the Brailies and the ambulance were coming out of the woods below the wash house.


Fox squirrel looking up from snowy branch
Mark Moschell / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Rusty Squirrel

“OK, you guys, thanks for your help. Now we better disappear. Those humans won’t understand us furry ones being here.” Off they went, Amos and his family headed though the woods to James’ house. Wes darted to his home under the barn. Rusty was up the tree, he wasn’t going to miss a thing. Karri and Dusty ran to the pump house then across the field over to the Rec Hall which is their home for the winter. Hester slowly wandered up the side of the road. She laughed knowing no one would bother her. Besides she hates to run.

Wana Bear stood in front of the canoe. Watching the Brailies come running toward the canoe. “They are alright. We got them in time.” With that he too headed toward the woods. It was past time to be asleep in his cave.

The twins were just fine. After being checked out at the hospital they went home. Of course, no one believed their story about the animals. The twins knew it was true, though, and they will be telling the story for years to come.

How I know this story is true? Because Hootie told me one afternoon later that winter when I was taking a rest from snowshoeing.

Wana Bear Stories