httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khVlxZeg5KIAround these parts of the countryside encounters with black bears are commonplace. When thinking about this past year, I realized that our family had three uncommon interactions with this fascinating mammal.
In early June my wife, Maureen, was taking her daily hike along a ridge top trail in the forest not too far from our homestead. As usual she had taken our two dogs with her. The dogs look forward to these adventures and, in fact, act quite depressed when they don’t get out to explore the woods on a regular basis. Now, these two dogs are as different as two canines can be. First there is Ella, our Newfoundland. She generally walks immediately behind Maureen. She sees herself as the protector so wandering off is not an option for her and at 140 pounds of solid muscle she is qualified for the job. She follows Maureen so close that it is not unusual for her to step on her heels several times on a normal hike. Then there’s Shadow, a true hound right down to the marrow in his bones. His bloodhound/bluetick hound/walker hound heritage keeps him running ahead exploring and smelling every nook and cranny within a quarter mile of your journey. Shadow was named for his black color, not for his fondness of staying close at hand.
On this particular day, Shadow was about running along the top of the ridge well off the trail. Maureen was walking at her typical brisk pace along the old logging road with Ella bringing up the rear. Maureen heard a crashing and crunching of brush coming straight down the hillside and turned to see what was causing the racket. At this point I must say that my wife was not blessed with the vision of an eagle. All she could see was a large black figure on all fours tumbling down the forested hillside. She assumed Ella, our happy Newfoundland, had wandered off for a moment with Shadow but was surprised to see Ella moving with such great speed from such a great distance. Sensing something behind her, Maureen turned around to see our big Newfoundland cowering behind her, looking through her legs at whatever it was clammering down the hillside. Now at this moment of realization just a little bit of fear might have found its way into Maureen’s normally calm psyche. Turning back towards the loud noise the intruder was now close enough to be identified as a black bear! He came out of the woods, turned onto the logging road, and charged up the path at full tilt towards Maureen. It was lucky for Maureen that the bear sensed something and lifted his head to see Maureen and a large Newfoundland standing in his way. Now within fifteen feet of Maureen the bear veered sharply to the right and ran back through the woods making no less noise in his exit than he did in his approach. Sure enough, not far behind the bear came Shadow, nose to the ground and baying occasionally as he followed the bear’s trail through the woods. Needless to say the walk was cut short that day as Maureen made a quick return to our doorstep with the Newfoundland and Shadow not far behind.
Later that summer, sometime in early August, I was mountain biking along one of my favorite routes on a well worn trail along an electric transmission line. On this particular day I was enjoying the ride as I was testing a new V brake that I had just installed on my front wheel. As I was approaching a small hill on the right-of-way I downshifted. The gears were clattering away making a fair bit of noise. Unknown to me a large black bear was foraging up ahead in a raspberry patch. As fate would have it the raspberry patch had a large piece of outcropped bedrock to the far side where sound could bounce off of the rock with no problem at all. Evidently the bear thought the noise was coming from the direction of the rock so he naturally chose to escape the intrusion in the opposite direction. Unfortunately that was directly in my path. All I know is that suddenly I had a very large bear directly in front of me as I was riding down the trail. There was very little time to react. Without thinking I grabbed my brake lever with full force. The new brake did more than an adequate job stopping the front wheel dead in its tracks resulting in me getting catapulted over the handlebars. As I was being thrown forward, my hands still on the handle bars and my feet in the air, I glanced ahead to see the bear in the middle of the trail. I had enough time to think “Holy crap, I’m going to land on the bear!”
Lady luck must have been riding with me that day. The bear hesitated and I crashed to the ground, face up, slightly to the right hand side of the trail missing the bear completely. I say “him” because the bear then jumped directly over me. His underside was fully exposed as he hopped over me where his gender cold be clearly identified. The bear skeedaddled across the power line and I was left to picking myself up out of the mud and dirt with only my pride damaged.
A third encounter came about in December while I was deer hunting in a remote area to the south of our homestead. On this particular day I had decided to stand on a vertical ledge overlooking a sizeable red oak tree grove. I had been there for about a half hour when I could hear a loud scratching noise to the south and east. Through my binoculars I located a small black bear climbing down a beech tree. The bear was more than 100 yards away. His strong nails dug into the bark as he slowly lowered him self down the smooth barked tree. It was a funny sight watching the bear slide down the tree tail down. The bear seemed to be going down the tree a little faster than it wanted to be. It looked around anxiously and landed with quite a sudden thump. I watched him wander off in the opposite direction but about ten minutes later the bear reappeared. He was lumbering along a deer run that went directly below where I was standing. The bear was in no hurry. It stopped frequently to sniff about in search of food. As he got closer there was no need for my binoculars as he was within 20 vertical feet of me at the bottom of the ledge on which I stood. At this point he must have caught a whiff of my scent because the bear stood up on two legs with it’s nose straight in the air. His back was to the ledge as he investigated his surroundings. At one point he turned and looked up the face of the ledge. In full camouflage I stood still looking directly down at him. Not seeing me and satisfied that no threat was near he wandered over to a large red oak about 100 feet away. The bear shimmied up the large tree trunk digging his strong nails into the tree bark. He climbed out onto a large horizontal branch and using his paws to drag branches in to his snout where his tongue plucked acorns from the branch tips. The bear did this for about fifteen minutes as I watched in awe. For some unknown reason, perhaps he still sensed a human was in the area, the bear awkwardly pushed himself back along the horizontal branch, climbed down the tree and disappeared around a piece of ledge to the east. There is no doubt that this was an absolute peak experience for me. To be lucky enough to watch a bear in its natural surroundings for that long of a period is something I will never forget.
So there it is . Three different bears. Three different encounters. All wonderful experiences in the New England forest.
Originally written for the Heath Herald and titled “Bearly Encounters” in March of 1998.
And… the remix…