Our local bear is definitely back. His huge paws have repeatedly dug up the soil by the opening in our back fence. He’s raided garbage cans the entire way down our street, and even knocked over the dumpster of the local nursing home. He’s grown since last year. One of the nursing home residents, who had the pleasure of watching him rummage through that dumpster, insists that our bear weighs in at a hefty, six hundred pounds. A famous naturalist once said, “A bear a long distance from a scale always weighs more.” However, considering that male, black bears in the Northeast often exceed eight hundred pounds, the estimate of six hundred doesn’t seem unreasonable.
A few people have seen him. Most of us have picked up after him, but other than our still jittery neighbor that almost walked into him last summer, the rest of us just accept his presence with a casual shrug and use him as a conversation starter. In our neighborhood, nothing will inspire a friendly conversation quicker than detailing your latest attempts to keep your trash bags on the curb and in tact until the garbage truck arrives at 7:15. We are perfecting our systems: some successful, some not so. It appears that Blackie loves the smell of Lysol, and despises the stench of dirty, kitty litter. Who knew?
Other than being a temporary inconvenience however, our black bear and his crime fighting abilities seem to be a welcome addition to our community. Hoodlums and troublemakers don’t creep around our houses when darkness falls, because the night belongs to Blackie.
Unfortunately, and we should have known this was coming, we don’t always return home before darkness falls. Tonight was one of those nights, and as I sit in my living room listening to the occasional rumbling utterances of our seasonal security guard, I thought I would share the experience of the now jittery people that live in my household.
My husband and I and two of our grown children had been to visit my parents this afternoon. It had been a quiet time of friendly discussion, reminiscing of the past, thinking about the future, and sharing strawberry shortcake, made from berries grown in my own patch. Unwilling to leave my parent’s company, the four of us lingered far later than we had planned. When the clock’s hands traveled past eleven, we realized it was time to start the long journey home.
Only a few stars lit the sky as we stumbled out of the Jeep into our driveway. Visibility in the hollow is often difficult. Streetlights are a commodity we country people have decided to live without.
We were a few feet from the house when the loud bellow of a very large, irritated beast stopped us in our tracks. What followed was total pandemonium.
“What in the world was that?” someone muttered, as everyone’s eyes peered into the darkness to see vague, undefined shapes. Was there actually a bush that close to the bridge? Were the shadows really moving?
“Was that the bear?” someone gasped, “It was the bear wasn’t it?”
A deep threatening bellow echoed from the darkness directly in front of us.
“Oh no, that was the bear!”
“That was close, where is he?”
“I can’t see anything, but he’s not far away, and he’s yelling at us!”
“He’s really close. I can hear him. We gotta get inside!”
“Someone’s got the keys, right?”
“Who’s got the keys?”
I fondled the zipper on my purse, but gave it no further thought. We would all be dead before I found my keys at the bottom of that mess. Surely, someone else had the frame of mind to take out his or her keys as we pulled into the driveway!
“Someone hurry up and open the stinking door! Where is that bear?”
“I think he’s on the other side of the creek!” my son decided.
This wouldn’t have seemed like such a problem had the creek been more than forty feet away, but a black bear can run 35 miles or a total of 184,800 feet per hour, or 3,080 feet per minute. That translates out to 51.33 feet per second. It takes three people, fumbling with multiple sets of keys at least five seconds to figure out which key on their rings doesn’t belong to a house we lived in twenty years ago, and another fifteen seconds of stumbling over each other to determine which panicked, misguided soul was responsible enough to insert their key into the lock.
“Come on, guys, make lots of noise! You’re supposed to make lots of noise!” my daughter yelled.
We were already making enough noise to wake up our neighborhood — and the next — and perhaps the dead in the cemetery on top of the hill.
During the later half of this chaos, hubby, whose vision isn’t the best in the daylight, was fumbling with one key after another.
“Not that key,” he muttered.
“Hurry up!” I gasped. “We’ve got to get in the house.”
“You’ve always said that you want to get a look at him,” my man grumbled as he finally inserted the proper key into the lock.
“Not while standing in the dark holding a half gallon of ice cream!” I howled back. “He’s gonna take me first!”
This saga ended, with my family rushing into the safety of our sturdy, old home and me slamming the door behind us.
Did we see the bear? Of course not. With flashlights in hand, we hung out the upstairs windows and scanned the forest for five minutes after our adventure, and never caught a glimpse of the animal that was scolding us from the darkness. We felt like a bunch of (jittery) kids running from a shadow, but a six-hundred-pound bear casts a very ominous shadow!
Next week the neighborhood conversation starter will be: “Hey, did you hear about family that lives on the end of the street? They got chased into their house by the bear on Monday night.” and the most common reply will be: “So that’s what all that noise was about.”
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