Grandfather, while you were out checking traps
a brown bear pushed in the door

He took a seat by the stove and ate
the last loaf of bread

My kitten was ricocheting around the room with her tiny sickles out until the bear
tired of surprises, flicked his paw

Now she is just a little fur island with no one there

Please be more careful I said, slopping the tea

But I forgot to add the leaves

With a grunt the bear plucked her still-warm lump off the ground
and peeled it


I know, Grandfather, from watching you work
I had to learn
not to read each face

like learning not to overhear
I wished that we could put all those pink bundles back inside their mothers with a message
not to let them out again until the day of judgement,

but you scolded me for speaking bad luck

The bear said I invited him in
He left the chrysolite to prove it


Chrysolite is not itself a mineral but an ancient umbrella term designating a valuable greenish stone. Peridot, olivine, topaz, and yellowish emerald are such minerals, but I did not know any of this when starting to write ‘In Our Cabin‘. Nor did I know that in 1749 a meteorite containing a large quantity of chrysolite landed near Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. But this information helps explain, in a foggy way, the origin of a rather boring Russian legend that fascinated me enough eventually to claw my way into it. I here refer to the story of Silver Hoof, an elusive deer of the taiga.

This legend has been commemorated in countless Russian Lacquer paintings, all of them featuring a deer proudly raising its foreleg from the snowy roof of a log cabin. Gem stones issue from the deer’s argentiferous hoof to fall at the feet of an overawed orphan and her adoptive grandfather. That’s pretty much the legend of Silver Hoof in a nutshell. Oh, and there’s a cat.