An Unexpected Dedication

Robert Peake reads a poem next to "Elliot" the bear
Photo by Randy Graham

I broke away from work to attend the dedication ceremony for my neighbor Mark Benkert’s new memorial sculpture to the Aliso Street Bear (a.k.a “Elliot”). In introducing me to read the poem I wrote dedicated to the bear, Mark also mentioned something remarkable about the process of sculpting the memorial.

For both Mark and I, the loss of the bear resonated deeply with the loss of our sons. As Mark was inscribing the letters “J” and “B”, the initials of his son, Jonah Benkert, the “B” also read much like a “P”–and he mentioned that “J.P.” reminded him of our own son, James Peake. Needless to say that by the time I took the microphone, I was nearly unable to speak.

Yet I managed to read my poem, honoring the bear, our sons, our community. The rest of the dedication meant a lot to me–from written poems and prose pieces, to impromptu verbal tributes, a song, and drumming. It was also a moment of catharsis for our community, coming together once more to honor all that the bear brought to us.

To learn more about how to promote the peaceful coexistence of humans and animals in the Ojai Valley, please visit the Ojai Wildlife League website.