Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for July: (7/6) Jennifer J. Chow (7/13) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 1--Ice Cream Shop Mystery), (7/20) Susan Van Kirk, (7/27) Meri Allen/Shari Randall (Book 2--Ice Cream Shop Mystery).

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Bear in the Woods

Years ago when we camped in Pennsylvania, it wasn’t uncommon to hear the rattling of garbage cans in the campgrounds. That was before they installed dumpsters that were bear proof. Sometimes we’d even spot one in the evening, but not often since bears are rather shy and usually afraid of people. Pennsylvania has a large population of black bears unlike Ohio where none were ever sighted. That is until recently.

Once when my family was camping in the Great Smoky Mountains, we became well aware of black bears. We had two pop-up campers that year; my parents and youngest brother and a couple of sisters in one, and my husband and I with our two young sons in the other. My two little daughters were in the back of the station wagon backed up to the side of the camper my husband and I were sleeping in with the window cracked slightly so we could hear them if they woke up.  While sitting around the campfire before going to bed, we could track the route of a bear that was visiting the campgrounds from the banging of pots and pans by other campers to frighten them away. As the pan banging got closer, we got out our pans and it wasn’t long before we saw a bear. It moved on when we created a cacophony of noise by banging our pans.

We were asleep when we heard the large wooden camp box my husband had made come crashing off the picnic table. Armed only with a flashlight, Jim and I went out to rescue the camp box holding much of our food. The bear took off and then turned around and watched us as we carried the large wooden box to the back of our station wagon. I was in the back wearing a skimpy little nightgown and could imagine the bear grabbing me from behind. We stored the camp box beside our sleeping daughters, safe in the station wagon and went back to bed. In the morning, my three year old daughter Susan said a bear was trying to get in. I thought she was dreaming until I saw the bear’s paw prints all over the back window. Mary, only two at the time, claims she had nightmares for years about that bear.

I didn’t see many if any bears after that until my sister Elaine and I started backpacking about fifteen years ago with assorted siblings or nieces and nephews on the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park which has more black bears per acre than anywhere else in the eastern United States. Then it wasn’t too unusual to spy them once in a while, but they never came close, and we were smart enough to take necessary precautions and never leave anything out that would attract them when we went to bed. Everything was hung high in a bear bag and not close to a tree trunk so they couldn’t reach it that way, either. Once I was crossing a parking lot to get my car to move it when a female bear with two cubs wandered across the parking lot. I stood and watched them with some other people until they disappeared into the woods. We were all delighted to see them.

Gradually, over the last ten years or less single young bears would be spotted in Ohio rather close to the Pennsylvania border. These were young teen-aged bears looking for a new area to settle in as Pennsylvania’s bear population was both expanding and running out of places for them to settle because of people taking over their natural habitat. I live about twenty to twenty-five miles from the border, so although I’d read about these exploring bears, they weren’t very close. And then there came reports of black bears working their way further west even much further west than my county.

So I started looking for bears on my morning walks in the woods and actually hoped I’d see one, but the summers passed with no sightings. However, the summer before last I heard a deep huffing sound in the woods just beyond my woods. My dog, Maggie, erupted in a frenzy of ferocious barking. Well, since her previous owner had her muted, it wasn’t as scary as the barking of most dogs, but it was enough to scare the bear away. Even though we didn’t see it through the underbrush, I was sure that’s what it was. I was proved right the following day, when my daughter-in-law Pam, her granddaughter and a customer of the business Pam has in part of their barn (The Shabby Cedar Barn) were standing outside when a bear walked around the barn slowly, meandered over to the play house beside the woods, and then moved on into the woods. I saw further proof of the bear a few days later when I went to pick more blueberries from my patch and there wasn’t one left, not even the unripened ones.

This summer there weren’t any signs of another bear except one morning when my dog erupted into a frenzy of barking again shortly after we entered the woods. After looking and seeing nothing, I continued walking with Maggie following. She seemed to be nervous and kept looking in the direction she’d been barking. It wasn’t until we turned to go deeper into the woods that she relaxed and did her normal little exploratory jaunts checking out new smells.

But I’m sure they will be back if not this year then next because black bears have lost over 60% of their historical range. As human encroachment increases, preserving large areas of undeveloped land where bears and other animals can thrive is crucial. I don’t expect them to settle on my property or any place close because they need rock crevices, hollow trees or dense vegetation and travel corridors with sufficient cover for protection from poachers, harassment and other dangers associated from human development. When that time comes I’ll take the necessary steps to keep them from becoming a nuisance: put away the bird feeders until winter, not keep animal feed out to attract them, keep everything securely put away that might attract them. When walking in the woods I’ll talk or sing to let any bears that might be out there know I’m in the woods. A bear that’s startled may feel cornered.
Not s smart thing to do. Even friendly bears can cause harm while playing. 
Some black bear facts:
·        They eat mostly berries, nuts, grasses, carrion, and insect larvae.
·        They have color vision and a keen sense of smell.
·        They are good tree climbers and swimmers.
·        They are very intelligent and curious.
·        They can run up to 35 miles per hour.
·        They weigh an average of 125 to 600 pounds.
·        They go without food for up to 7 months during hibernation in northern ranges.
·        They usually give birth to 2 to 3 cubs during the mother’s sleep every other year.
·        They can live over 25 years in the wild (average age in the wild is 18).
·        They are typically shy and easily frightened.

What bear tales do you have to tell?

Have you ever seen a bear in the wild?


Kara Cerise said...

When my husband and I were camping at Red's Meadow in Mammoth, California we saw several cinnamon brown bears. One day we walked past a dumpster near the campsite startling a baby bear who had apparently been eating trash. He jumped out of the bin and was so scared that he threw up. Then we saw a mother bear coming towards her baby bear probably to protect him from us. Luckily the bathrooms were close by. We quickly ran inside and stayed there until the bears left.

E. B. Davis said...

My husband worked below Middleburg, VA, which is horse-country. Most of the estate "farms" are double-digit acres separated by fences. As we drove along the winding two-lane road, we noticed the car in front of us pull over to the berm. As we were about to pass, we saw the driver looking out on the pasture. We, too, looked. An animal was galloping through the pasture and hopping over fences. At first, we thought the animal must be a frisky horse--but no. It was a bear. I had no idea bears could gallop or hop as high as a fence so as to lope over it. Dangerous animals to be sure.

Gloria Alden said...

Kara, you were lucky to be able to get away so fast. The most dangerous bears are those mother bears, who think their cubs are in danger. Sort of like must human mothers, right?

E.B. once years ago when we were camping in New York state, we came across a bunch of cars stopped for a bear. On stupid mother had her car windows down and she and the kids were feeding the bear through the window. When they ran out of what they were feeding the bear, it started climbing through the window.

KM Rockwood said...

We get the occasional wandering bear. I'm sure there are more up in the Catoctin Mountains. My brother placed a motion-activated camera near his house and has caught bears, bobcats and coyotes. Beaver have recently built a dam on a stream not far from us. And my husband recently saw a feral hog, which are not listed in our county, but are known to be in the next one over. Additionally, hawks and eagles are establishing themselves in the area. And we have a pair of resident owls.

Warren Bull said...

Once while camping my wife's mother reached out of her tent and patted something she thought was her husband's back. He was actually somewhere else. She patted a bear. Luckily the bear did not seem to mind.

Shari Randall said...

We were hiking in Shenandoah and we saw one pretty far off - unfortunately did not have any binoculars with us.
That last photo of the lady with the bear reminded me of signs we saw out west - Don't ride the buffalo. Who would try to ride a buffalo? Enough drunken frat boys that they have to post signs, I guess.
Frankly I like to enjoy wildlife from a safe distance. People who treat wild animals like stuffed animals drive me crazy.

Jim Jackson said...

I have so many bear tales I could fill a book….hmmm. Which to choose? The time a bear crossed my trail three feet away but didn’t see me? Perhaps the time the bear stood on our back porch railing and batted hummingbird feeders to get to the sugar water? Or the time one smashed a sunflower feeder, gorged on the sunflower seeds, and then went to sleep in the yard? Or the one I met on the ATV one day who stood up to see me better? Or the one my father and I saw from a canoe that swam across a lake (faster than we could paddle), shook off buckets of water like a dog when it reached shore, and bounded up the boulders as though they were mere pebbles?

Bigger, faster, stronger. I grant them priority.

~ Jim

Norma Huss said...

Lots of bears here. My bear story is over 50 years old. We were camping in Yellowstone Park before they removed the bears. My daughter wasn't quite two, but I was in the midst of potty training, so we walked to the park facilities, me holding her hand. A bear walked down the road between us and the concrete restroom. We waited until he left and continued.
My daughter still remembers it! She said she looked at that animal, then looked at me to see if she should scream. I looked so unconcerned, she decided not to scream. (This was when she used and spoke about 20 words.)
And, of course, I looked unconcerned for exactly that reason.

Gloria Alden said...

KM, it sounds like you have quite a variety of wildlife in your area. I think that's quite interesting.

Warren, that had to have been scary for her. One of my sisters was camping alone in a primitive campsite a few years ago with almost no other campers near, when a bear came into her camp and started snuffling around her tent and then pushed on her foot. When it left, she debated about running to her car, but wasn't sure if it was still close by. Later it returned and again sniffed around before leaving for good.

Gloria Alden said...

Shari, most of my backpacking was on the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park, and although we saw bears, usually they didn't come close. Like you, I keep a healthy distance between me and wild animals.

Wow, Jim! What cool stories you have to tell. I take it they are mostly from your Michigan home. Are you able to feed the birds up there?

That had to have been nerve wracking for you, Norma, but you were wise not to show it. I think one of the reasons I'm not a Nervous Nelly, is because my mother wasn't. I don't worry as much about black bears as I would about grizzly bears. I think they're more aggressive, at least from what I've read.

Jim Jackson said...

Gloria -- the trail incident occurred when I was hiking alone in the White Mountains of NH. The next three occurred at our camp in the U.P. The swimming bear was in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ont.

Our compromise with the bear is that we put up both hummingbird feeders and sunflower feeders, but take in anything it can get its paws on each night. It's a pain, but since we've done that the bear has not stayed around and our raccoon problem has also disappeared.

~ Jim

Gloria Alden said...

Jim, I've been in the White Mountains of NH, and my youngest brother took a canoe trip with his Boy Scout troop in Algonquin Provincial Park. My sisters and I thought we'd always like to do that someday, too. You are smart taking the feeders in at night. I used to have more trouble with raccoons, but not so much since I have a dog, who barks at them from inside the house. It also helps that I keep all my chicken feed in metal garbage cans in a closed stall in the barn. Now if I could only do something about the squirrels and chipmunks that won't leave the bird feeders alone. Even the squirrel proof ones don't seem to work well.

Patg said...

Gosh, Gloria, you know me. I've never been camping, never have seen any bears in the wild either.
Grizzly bears out here, and they aren't friendly, or afraid of anything.

Gloria Alden said...

Yeah, Pat. I know you stay away from anything that seems even slightly wild, and I don't necessarily mean only critters. I imagine even a dozen trees might spook you. :-) After all, there could be a rabid squirrel hiding out in one of them. Just kidding, but I'm sure there's a kernel of truth in there, too. Right?