Tag Archives: bear

hammock

About that bear, part 2: Encounter in the aspen grove

It was only a matter of time before the bear and I crossed paths. These woods are only so big. (If you missed the earlier posts about the bear, you can catch up here and here.)

Yesterday afternoon, I hung the hammock I’d hauled up to the cabin from Austin. The weather was perfect, it had that crisp Indian Summer quality – blue sky, slanting golden sunlight, with the faintest hint of autumn in the breeze. A good day, I decided, to hang the hammock and stare at the aspens for a couple of hours. (I’ve discovered that the perfect antidote for feeling stressed about not making better progress on your novel is to lie in a hammock for a chunk of the afternoon. It’s like magic).

I found the perfect spot at the back of the property: two aspens the desired distance apart, dappled shade, a good breeze, and a view of nothing but aspens and pines. I proceeded to stare at the trees with my ipod playing something instrumentally mellow. Tree-gazing music.

I was on about track 4 of my Tree Gazing playlist (“Bascar Azad” by Bliss, if you care) when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. Big, black, furry movement. A big-ass bear had crept to within 25 feet of me (I paced it off later for journalistic accuracy) and was moving in my direction, apparently oblivious to my presence.

You might be thinking, “Dave, weren’t you scared shitless?” Which is a valid question. One thing I’ve learned from living in bear country is that bears are keenly aware of two smells: human garbage and human fear. (A University of Idaho study on bear olfactory systems found that to a bear, human fear smells almost exactly like a medium rare ribeye with a side of twice baked potatoes.) To be honest, I was too surprised to be afraid.

I was, however, acutely aware of the precariousness of my situation, dangling there between two trees like an overstuffed enchilada.

Your mind works really fast when a bear is, um, bearing down on you. First thought: what’ll happen if I just sit here quietly and the bear bumps into the hammock and gets startled? (I don’t think you want to find out).

Second thought: I’m armed with only a pillow and a hardware store fly swatter, can I MacGyver them into a lethal, bear-killing weapon? (doubtful, you’re not even doing much damage to the flies).

Third thought: Can I get out of this hammock without flipping myself off it with a big crash that will sound like a delicious slab of meat hitting the ground? (probably a 50-50 chance).

While I was sorting through those thoughts, the bear was moving closer. I’m guessing here, but it seemed about 15 inches away. So I decided to announce my presence in what I hoped would be a non-startling way for the bear. I cleared my throat. Kind of like you’d do when the barista at Starbucks is chatting with his co-worker and ignoring you even though you’ve been standing there, tragically under-caffeinated, for like 30 seconds.

Huhmmm-mmhh!

The bear stopped. Rotated her (or his) head around, looking for the source of the sound (I’m thinking, I’m right here! Open your eyes!). Lifted her nose into the air and bobbed her head, a little like James Brown listening to the groove and waiting to drop that first lyric (Got to get ready…for the big payback. Heyyyyy!).

I’m swaying slightly in the hammock, waiting to see what she’ll do, mind still racing: Should I clear my throat more assertively? Give a big yell? Throw the pillow? Do any bear prey items make a sound like someone clearing their throat? Probably too late to worry about that.

Then she caught my scent, or something. She sort of leaned to one side, like Bugs Bunny winding up for one of those sneaky-quick escapes, and went bounding into the forest with lots of bear-crashing-through-the-woods sounds.

Crisis over. And I can always wash the hammock.

Of course the minute it was over I was kicking myself for not having my camera with me. Then I was kicking myself for not having anything with me that could deter an ill-tempered bear. (I know, I know, black bear attacks on humans are extremely rare. That just means that they only kill and eat people now and then).

I’m not going to get caught defenseless like that again. Next time I hit the hammock, I’m taking an extra pillow.

ψ

Visiting bear, circa 2012.

About that bear…

A couple of lines about bear scat in my earlier post caused a stir on my Facebook page (and by a stir I mean four or five comments, such as “Run!” and “Nice bear.”)

I was trying to write about the majesty of nature and inherent spirituality of walking in the woods, and instead my loyal readers (and by loyal I mean anyone who’s read more than one of my blog posts) fixated on the bear shit.

They apparently have read the same scientific papers that I have, which show a startling correlation between bear poo and the presence of bears (true fact: 93 percent of bear poo is deposited by bears. A crack scientific team is currently studying the source of the other 7 percent, thanks to a generous federal grant).

My goal in making that observation was simply to answer the eternal question: ‘Does a bear, in fact, shit in the woods?’ Yes it does. (As for the secondary question posed by loyal reader and serial smartass Pat Beach: ‘Does a wannabe-novelist shit in the woods?’ Yes again! But he buries it, because he has opposable thumbs and a shovel.)

The unspoken question (and thank you for not asking it out of respect for my peace of mind) was, ‘How big you figure that bear was?’

Obviously I thought about this, but having nothing but the aforementioned scat pile to analyze, I thought it was impossible to calculate the bear’s size. Then I found a mathematical formula in a copy of Large Critter Quarterly (1989 Christmas edition) that was lying around the cabin. So by applying the formula…

scat height + scat width + X² ÷ ᴫ³ = bear size (‼)

…I calculated that the bear is roughly 10 feet tall and weighs 1,750 pounds. (for any Austin hipsters who are reading, this is even larger than the cute new Fiat that everyone in your condo bought last year.)

I see the bear. The bear sees me.
I see the bear. The bear sees me.

I’ve seen bears at the cabin before. Some of you may remember this guy from two years ago who passed within 20 feet of the cabin several times while my faithful guard-hound Maya (rest her soul) uttered nary a yip of warning because she was too busy becoming a dog statue and trying not to look like a bear snack.

From watching Discovery Channel I know that bears don’t want to hunt down and eat people. They just want our garbage and that lunch you packed for the family trip to Yellowstone. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a short list of tips for surviving in bear country:

  1. Don’t toss your unfinished McNuggets into the woods, they will attract bears. Bears love McNuggets and have foraged for them for millennia to fatten themselves before winter.
  2. Don’t bring snack dogs into bear country. By snack dogs I mean Chihuahuas, pugs and any other yipping, Napoleon-complex mutt that will try to play whose-is-bigger with a bear. The bear’s is bigger, and he’ll prove it.
  3. If a bear rushes up to you and buries its snout in your crotch, don’t take it home as a pet thinking you can train it to stop that embarrassing habit. Crotch-sniffing in bears is a recessive trait that signals atypical aggression. It will eat the kibble you give it, then it will eat you in your sleep.
  4. Don’t try to lure a bear with food just so you can get a photo. You will most likely have a photo of a bear running away with your arm in its mouth. And nobody wants to see that on Facebook.

I hope those tips are helpful next time you’re in bear country. And please keep those comments and questions coming.

ψ