The black bear and I have a long history that doesn't seem as though it's going to end any time soon. We went from living in North Carolina's Coastal Plain, where bears are numerous and grow big, to the Appalachian Mountains, where bears are just as common if not more so, and in many cities and towns, they have become habituated to humans.
|Claw marks on the tree.|
|The tree in relation to the back deck|
I've had even more direct contact with a bear since moving to western NC. While driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway between Asheville and Weaverville, I hit one with my Volkswagen Jetta. It wasn't a big deal - just a love tap really. I was driving the speed limit (35 mph I think) and a young black bear just rolled out onto the road in front of me like a boulder coming down the mountain. I hit the brakes, but I couldn't avoid the collision. By the time I stopped and got out to look for it (a yearling - maybe 60-80 pounds), the bear was gone. I searched for blood, but there was none. The only evidence it happened was the handful of black hairs I collected from the front bumper.
|Hey buddy, got anything to eat?|
And then of course, there's my best bear story of all time. I was working as a field technician on a breeding bird study in Minnesota. After a morning of censusing birds along a three-mile transect across the spruce/fir forest, I was enjoying the sunshine and scenery during the hike out. All of a sudden, there was a thunderous crashing in the trees overhead. I didn't even have a chance to look up when there was a falling black blur and a heavy thump just to my right. From out of nowhere, a black bear had fallen from the sky next to me. I know everyone says not to panic when faced with a bear, but that's exactly what I did. I ran like hell, away from the crashing, thrashing bear. But the noise behind me was going the other way. I looked over my shoulder and saw the bear was doing exactly the same thing I was - running away. So I stopped. And so did he. And we looked cautiously at one another for a long time. The distance was 30 yards. I stood as motionless as possible and sized up my bear. It was a small one - less than 100 pounds for sure - and it seemed curious now that the excitement had passed. As best I could tell, the bear just happened to fall out of a tree as I was passing by. There was no ill intent toward me, just fear, and now, intrigue. The bear took a few steps forward, sniffed the air, and took a few more. In short order, the yearling had closed the distance to an uncomfortable 15 yards and shrinking. I started looking around for trees to climb - they were all too skinny. I looked for a fallen limb to swing or a rock to throw as a weapon, but there was nothing - just me and the bear, 10 yards now. I thought about how ridiculous it was going to be to be killed by this tiny bear. It was hardly a cub really. It was going to have to chew on me for quite awhile with those tiny teeth before I finally gave up the ghost. This was going to be painful - like death by a thousand paper cuts.
I decided at that moment that I wanted to live, so I did the only thing that was left to defend myself - I bluffed him. I spread my arms out wide and puffed my chest out. The bear stopped. "Alright you bear, you're really starting to scare me now. Go away!" I bellowed. The bear rose up on its hind legs and for a split second I thought I was a gonner. But the youngster turned tail and ran the other way like a bat out of hell.