Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bear Necessities

Spring sprung a lot earlier than usual around these parts. Thanks to an incredibly unseasonal string of 70 degree days back in March, just about everything seems to be happening about three weeks early. I guess especially after such a lame summer last year everything wants to get a head start now, and was rather undampened by the five inches of heavy wet snow we got last weekend. One good thing: snow in May just doesn’t stay.

This happened several weeks ago now, but since I’ve been so negligent of this space, it never got written down.

It was just dark on a balmy (and I mean balmy!) Sunday evening back in early April. It was about nine and I had just gotten off the phone with a friend. It was just beginning to cool off and a busy work day ahead was calling me to bed. I walked out on the porch to close the door. I briefly thought about letting the dog out that door to do his evening business, but a noise fortunately made me stop.

Out about 20 feet beyond our deck there was a horrible crying noise.

“Noooooooooooo! Noooooooo! Nooo!” wailed the sad sound.

“Noooooooo! Noooo! Oooooooo - nooooo!” it continued.

My heart stopped - I’d never heard such a thing. It sounded like a lost and hurt child.

One of the bulbs in the outdoor floodlight had burned out and the other had been stolen by the winter pond skaters, so I had no way of looking to see if I could find something. And as much as things might sound human, I know very well that any variety of animals, from cats in heat to mountain lion, can convince somebody that there is a person in distress in the dark.

So, I ran for the phone. And, of course, called my daddy.

I held the phone out into the dark (while a very baffled dog sat at my feet trying to figure out what was interrupting his evening routine) for my dad to hear the noise. It came and it went, and soon was accompanied by the scrabbling of claws on a tree. Whew, at least it really wasn’t human now.

Dad was just as confused as I. Raccoons? It’s said they say it with far more abuse than a slap. Porkies also make a lot of noise this time of year.

But then the noise was joined by another, deeper and far more primal noise:

“No. Ugh. Hupmh. No.”

At least I’d already decided the first noise wasn’t human, but that second one, if it had come from an adult male human, would’ve had me dialing 9-1-1. The “no” was so clear that I fully expected the other lower octave noises to become words.

That was the last straw. I finally dug up a flashlight in hopes that the beam would go far enough into the woods to uncover the mystery.

Much to my surprise, the flashlight beam did reveal the intruder - it was much, much closer than I originally expected. And from the way it was crouched and snarling at me, my first thought was, “Wolverine!”

But just a few seconds later I saw the two black shapes scrabbling on the tree alongside the crouched menace. Then my brain kicked in, and I realized it was the momma bear and her two itty, bitty cubs. And they were making a fuss that I’m sure, like any human mother with twin toddlers throwing a tantrum in Walmart, was embarrassing and stressing her beyond intelligible words.

The next day my birdfeeders were taken down for the summer, and my attempts at an organized compost pile were abandoned. The bears are back - with these twins, the count stands somewhere at momma, two-year-old (last year’s yearling), twin yearlings (last year’s twin cubs) and two new cubs. That’s just the one family - there are still the three three-legged bears out there somewhere.

Since that day in early April I haven’t seen the bears myself. But pictures of this family made it to the front page of our local paper after they took up a week-long residence in one a tree downtown. Whatever the economy elsewhere, looks like it will be a bearish summer around here.

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