Imagine giving up everything, including electricity and running water to live in leaky trailer in the middle of the Dismal Swamp. Crazy, right? Recently, I walked up a long, soggy, fog filled road near Columbia, North Carolina, to find a mobile home once owned by a women who spent 20 plus years living in it alone.
Alone, yet not lonely. I am told she used to stand in the woods and sing. This brought out her pet bears. Yes. WILD bears -over 20 of them. Kay Grayson was her name and she was tall and beautiful.
She had lived all over the US, including in Las Vegas, leaving town each time a man did her wrong. I think she gave up on men after a while and picked bears. She befriended them, protected them from poachers, even let them into her trailer.
In 2015, after Kay failed to pick up a friend’s food drop by her driveway gate along Highway 64, they found her remains scattered in the forest near her trailer. The news and internet picked up her death and spread it as a “I told you so” story of how the wild bears that she loved turned on her and ate her. A coroner later said there was no evidence of an attack or fight. She may have just simply died in the words from an everyday event like a heart attack.
But “the bear lady” being eaten by her pet - but wild - bears fulfills a stereotype of nature being dangerous, so that it the story that spread and that we all remember. On the beautiful spring morning that I walked the road into her place, I found raccoon, not bear tracks, in the mud.
A door from her trailer lay on the ground, maybe ripped off by a bear, or a human. Looking through the open doorway of the abandoned trailer, I noticed that she had put a telephone pole up in the middle of her living room area to hold up a patched roof. Home repair books still lay on a table along with a box marked “Red Christmas Linens.” Small decorative bird houses hung from the kitchen cabinets.
Back out at the highway, plastic flowers still mark her driveway. On the back of a white cross I found a touching message.
Her life story deserves a movie made of it. Outside Magazine did a lengthy article on her life and death.
Kay found her bliss in the woods, with animals she could better predict, and more deeply love, than humans. She wasn’t crazy. But maybe we are for not recognizing the value of the life choices she made and the importance of the wild animals she tried to protect.
Like us all, Kay’s life stood for much more than how it ended.
Black Coffee, Please is Todd Drake’s blog on life as an artist, teacher, and activist. Drake lives in Brooklyn, NY and is originally from North Carolina. All images and writing copyrighted (c) 2017 www.the-equalist.com