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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Recent Bear Sightings

A few days ago, while driving home, at a point less than two miles from here, my wife saw two bear cubs cross the road in front of her.

To her they looked too small to be out there on their own, and she thought they were adorable, bumping up against each other as they hustled across the road and into the underbrush and soon vanished from sight in the woods.

The operative question, naturally, is, where was the mama bear? She was nowhere to be seen. Yet these cubs looked well-fed and healthy, and Esther was struck by how deeply black and glossy their fur was.

Could they have been members of the same family that our neighbors right across the road, K. and L. saw just a few weeks ago, right up the road from here -- a mother bear and her two cubs? And L., too, had been struck by the deep, pure, blackness of their coats and their sheen, as well as by the sheer size and powerful appearance of the mother bear.

But the main thing I know is that I don't need bears of any kind walking around at night while I am making one of my regular treks between my house and my shop 100 feet away. I have already had my nocturnal encounters with bears, years ago, and one daytime event, too. I think I've already written about them here, and though they were in no way dangerous to me, that was still plenty enough of that for me.

Still, a couple of weeks ago, not here but way out in a national park in Montana, Glacier it must've been, K. and B., the two sons of K. and L., were taking a six-mile hike together from their car to a campsite that they had signed up for with the park authorities. But the bear population hadn't been notified, and when at length the brothers arrived at their destination, just at twilight and when they were weary and ready to pitch their tent and call it a day and commune with nature on a somewhat grander scale than it exists here in humble Virginia, it turned out that a mother bear and her two cubs had already claimed that site.

Knowing ahead of time just what to do in cases of that kind, and being the naturally prudent kind anyway, K. and B. calmly backed up till the bear family was out of sight, then they trudged the six miles all the way back to their car, while contenting themselves with the story that they would have to tell.

People who have lived here in the Virginia rural sticks learn early what to do in the case of bears, for it is well known that they're around and far beyond the confines of zoo bars, lots of them, and nearly everyone has a bear story.

When they had a yoga class together, Esther's great, good friend, K., who can always be depended on for a vivid personal story, especially when it comes to the wild life, had a good one to tell her.

A nephew of K.'s husband, from Holland, came over here determined to take a picture of a bear on his cellphone. (So why are they called "cellphones" or "mobile phones." People don't talk on them. Instead they type on them, or they snap photos with those jivetime far too tiny things.) I'm guessing that that wonderful "Dutch Light" so beloved by painters still doesn't show too many bears roaming about at will.

K. tried to tell her in-law that bears can't be depended on to show up just because she has visitors from Holland, but this guy insisted, and so they took a long walk through the woods, and lo and behold, wouldn't you know it! A bear did show up, in plain sight, and not far away.

This guy, overjoyed, immediately started shooting away, and after he took what K., a highly experienced photographer herself, considered to be enough pictures, told him it was way past time for them to leave. She had some trouble convincing him, but eventually they did part company from the bear without incident, to K.s' enormous relief.

But just yesterday, out in Denali National Park in Alaska, which is a long way even from Anchorage or Fairbanks, one guy with his camera and this Dutchman's attitude wasn't so lucky, and he wound up the next day with a huge male grizzly sitting on top of him and using his dead body as what the investigators called a "food cache."

This links to an article that tells the story. For now let's just note that this guy was out there hiking alone, and he came upon a bear peacefully grazing in a meadow and not engaging in any aggressive behavior. Maybe believing his great, good luck, and though he had just attended a course given by the park people, in which the main advice is never to get closer than a quarter-mile from any bear, and to quickly decrease that by backing away, and though he was only about 50 yards away from the bear, this guy still unlimbered his camera and kept shooting pics for a full EIGHT (8) minutes, before deciding that it was time to leave.

Unfortunately, though, he had given that bear plenty of time to get another idea, and the thing about bears -- that is, the ones that are no longer cute, cuddly little cubs -- especially grizzlies -- is that they can easily outrun a man and outpunch a bunch of them.


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