Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Day Punctuated by a Bear

 Last Monday, May 4, I posted the close-up of a bear near my back deck (repeated here in third photo from top).  It was a hurried post due to the tight schedule I was on that day.  Now I've had a few days to ruminate on the experience.  As I said in the earlier post, I was reading Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild at the dentist's office when the receptionist got a phone call from my wife.  He then relayed "Your wife called and said to come home immediately.  There's a big bear on our back deck."  I realize now, more than I did then, that Krakauer's writing had transported me into the Alaskan wilderness to an area that would be extremely dangerous unless one were prepared.  The main character of his story obviously wasn't, and he is now dead. [One could argue that Chris McCandless was prepared spiritually or philosophically, and that that is all that matters.]  I quickly headed for home, a 2-minute drive that seemed much longer.  I knew instantly that I wasn't prepared to do much about a threatening bear but scream, wave my arms, and maybe approach with a stick or axe.  I was torn over whether I should stop to call 911, animal control, fish and game, or just head home and hope luck would be with me.  A tiny part of my brain considered the possibility of getting some good photos.  The photo above was my first view of the bear.  But I'm getting ahead of the story.
 I was greeted at the door by my wife who was smiling and said "Quick.  Get your camera.  He's still out there!"  I knew right then that she hadn't been in danger, and the phone call was intended to alert me to a photo op.
The bear was in a big Ponderosa Pine about 5 feet away from the railing on our back deck.  As I got closer, taking photos every few steps, the bear hissed at me, and turned its head back and forth like our dog does when she's excited about the food dish she sees being prepared.
 When I got to the railing, I leaned forward and got to within 3 or 4 feet of the bear.  I knew that it couldn't jump from this position (above), and was probably wanting to escape, knowing full well that even if I as an individual meant it no harm, I represented a species that bears rightfully fear.
 By the time I got the photos I wanted, the neighborhood kids had started to arrive with their cell phone cameras.  Soon afterwards, the bear crawled backwards down the tree and ran off into the woods behind the house.  I was awed by how quickly it moved even while appearing to be moving slowly.  I remembered having this feeling when my older son and I encountered a full-grown bear in Buck's Wilderness last summer.  It appeared to be running (loping?) away from us at a moderate speed - definitely slower than we could run - but when checking distances and times on our watches, realized it was actually running quite a bit faster than we could.  This young bear, probably a 2-year-old, also showed its incredible strength by the manner in which it clasped the tree bark on its way down the trunk.
 When I returned to work at FRC, an entirely separate, but related story unfolded.  The back deck (visually similar to mine) of the cafeteria, the Eagle's Perch, is a favorite nesting area for the huge Carpenter Bees that have come back every spring since I've been here.  They are not only very big as bees go but they eat their way right into the treated wood.  There are many holes in the railings and uprights that would be the envy of even the most industrious woodpecker.  I've never known one of these to sting a person, although it has probably happened, and I don't see them as a threat to anything but the building's architecture or perhaps a person with a wooden leg.  In fact, I enjoy watching them.  Not being a skilled photographer of things in motion, I probably took 25 or 30 pictures to get one or two in focus.  The one above is about the best I could do.  Even though I'm not afraid of these bees in this particular context, I'm well aware that for some people they arouse as much or more fear as the bear incident did for me initially, and that the Alaskan wilderness did for Mr. McCandless.  He chose to confront his fear in a way that I wouldn't.  Incidentally, Krakauer recently gave a talk at a university in Montana where his take on the problem of campus rape was unpopular with some of the attendees.  He was confronted by the uglier side of human nature and might have been in as much danger as he would have been if he'd accompanied McCandless.  Some people are afraid of ideas and opinions.
 To calm myself down, I walked the shady, paved path to the parking lot and got a few more photos of the Western Dog Violet which are now abundant there. It worked.

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