Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bear Necessities

The American black bear is the most common and widely distributed bear in North America.
Photo from
I should be doing homework. I should be writing elsewhere, but I know that "shoulds" do not enliven the arts, and if I am going to write, I need to follow my muse, wherever she alights. I've had this post in mind ever since I received the recent email from our dear, hardworking block watch captain ("BWC") on the subject of bears. Black bears, to be precise, which have been recently sighted on our street.
We live in the county, a few miles from town, and are surrounded by evergreen trees (hence the nickname, "The Evergreen State"), as well as deciduous, and lots of berry bushes gone wild - strawberries, salmon berries, thimble berries, huckleberries and the ever-present, impossible-to-kill blackberries. The most common local type is called Himalayan, and the canes basically amount to Mother Nature's barbed-wire fence.
Yours, truly
The thorns are razor-sharp and tenacious; Gregg still has visible scars from a teenage, shirtless fall off of a rope swing into a blackberry patch. Years ago, on a berry-picking outing, my mother punctured an artery in her leg on a blackberry thorn without ever feeling it; the culprit snapped off and stuck in the wound, only to fall out days later. I'd never seen so much blood, and was terrified at the sight; true respect for the strength of the thorn was born on that day. We've all had our clothes torn and stained when picking berries for pie, cereal or just a snack. It's part of summer living here.

My brother and sister picking blackberries
Fresh berries are delicious, and we look forward to eating them every summer...and so do bears. In addition to the lure of berries, the local bears are appearing because they suffer from a rapidly diminishing habitat, and the need to share it with deer, foxes, possum, otters (which can be found hiding in ditches by the side of the road, under houses, sneaking onto boats and going back and forth to and from the saltwater). I can see why we have bears, but I wish they weren't in OUR neighborhood.

Our BWC has kindly kept us all in the loop with information about when and where the bears have been seen. One neighbor discovered a bear digging in his garbage can; others have been seen in people's back yards, and David found our garbage can overturned one night, which suggests that one was in our yard without our knowing it. That is too close for my comfort; when I go out to walk, I am on alert. So when I received the BWC's email about bear "etiquette," I was ready to learn the do's and don'ts. Except that they seem contradictory, and impossible to implement.

Here are the instructions; what do you think? My thoughts are highlighted in yellow.
A reminder on how to react to bears:
Make noise when walking or jogging. Bears don't like to be surprised and if they hear you coming they most likely will avoid you. Use a bell on your shoe or walking stick. Headphones are nice when exercising but they reduce your awareness to both mother nature and other humans. Leave them out or at least in just one ear...Bird feeders attract bears. Secure your trash. Prevent attacks by not attracting them...Finally here are some tips from the Washington department of fish and wildlife on what to do If you come face to face with a bear. 
If you come in close contact with a bear:
  1. Stay calm Really? How? and avoid direct eye contact, which could elicit a charge. No problem; I wouldn't want to "eyeball" a bear. Try to stay upwind What is upwind, and how would I figure that out in the critical moment when I find myself face to face with a bear? and identify yourself as a human by standing up, talking and waving your hands above your head. I cannot imagine myself waving and talking to a bear; I can see myself screaming and running from a bear.
  2. Do not approach the bear, particularly if cubs are present. Give the bear plenty of room. No problem; you have my word that I will never voluntarily approach a bear, particularly a mama bear.
  3. If you cannot safely I love seeing that word ("safely") in this sentence move away from the bear, and the animal does not flee, try to scare it away by clapping your hands or yelling. I am 5'1" tall. Would clapping or yelling make me appear scary? Let's hope so.
  4. If the bear attacks, fight back aggressively. FIGHT A BEAR AGGRESSIVELY?  As a last resort, should the attack continue, protect yourself by curling into a ball or lying on the ground on your stomach and playing dead. That, I could do.
Go to this website for more information 
I have to say that, though I did appreciate our BWC sending along this advice, all I could think when reading it was. If I met a bear, I would be able to do only two things: scream and run - exactly what the etiquette says not to do. But I think I am going to get a whistle as soon as possible.


ChiTown Girl said...

Oh my word! This made me nervous just READING it!! Now I'm going to be worried about you running into a bear every stinkin' day. =(

Yes, PLEASE, get a whistle. And bells for your shoes, while you're at it! Hell, get some maracas you can shake while you walk, too.

ChiTown Girl said...

Oh, and I forgot...

I thought that first pictures was Katie! It's amazing how much she looks like you as a child.


Busy Bee Suz said...

Oh my, your comments on the email made me laugh. I was thinking the same thing! yes, get a whistle ASAP!
We have bears here too....I hope to never run into one because I too will scream and run!
I loved the photos. The first one I swore it was Katie! She is YOU. :)
Do you worry about the cats being outside? I'm guessing they are sly and smart though.

Elizabeth said...

I remember these exact warnings about bears and what to do when you encounter them in Yosemite. Really scary stuff!

Karen Gerstenberger said...

Please don't worry; I will get a whistle!

Karen Gerstenberger said...

You have bears in FL? I did not know that! I do worry a little bit about the cats, but they are fast & have lots of hiding places. I worry more about eagles with the cats... :(

Karen Gerstenberger said...

Did you have bear spray with you? A whistle? I always wonder about the spray - you'd have to be pretty close to the bear to spray it, right? Closer than I ever want to be!

Karen Gerstenberger said...


Karen said...

My thoughts on bear instructions:
"Too little, too late."
It's like the emergency guidelines in airplane pockets. Not gonna help.
My advice? Stay away from dem bears.

Kay said...

Scary stuff! I think I would just drop on the spot if I saw a bear. The end. lol