by Kathy Simpson
I know spring is here for certain when my annual bear makes his first vernal visitation. I’ll hear a ruckus outside and the thud of a downed trashcan, followed by a sighting a few moments later if I’m lucky. My bear is amazingly nimble, his black, velveteen coat undulating as he plods steadily through the brook, up the hillside and across the street to the next set of trashcans in the neighborhood. He’s hungry, and he knows exactly where to find the bounty of human leftovers – and those cans are ever so much more fruitful than foraging in the woods for tiny berries.
A few weeks ago, my bear made his opening appearance of the 2015 season. I heard a rumbling outside and went to the door to investigate. There he was on my back deck large as life, just eight or 10 feet from me. He was looking a little confused, though, because the trashcan he’d come to know as a reliable food source was nowhere to be found. I opened the slider and gently said “skedaddle” a couple of times. Frightened, he quickly climbed up the steep bank in retreat, stopping a safe distance away to peer back at the house through the leaves of the laurel bushes. My guess is he was trying to figure out the case of the missing trash.
The black bears we have around here are big guys (and gals). They scare us – emerging from the woods in all their wildness and coming so close to our homes. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection says the probability of a bear attacking a human is exceptionally low, but will remove bears from proximity in response to our reports. In the process, DEEP also tags their ears and sometimes installs GPS tracking devices around their necks. With enough reports, tagged bears are euthanized.
This makes me very sad, especially because we are the ones to draw bears into our neighborhoods with our birdfeeders, unprotected trashcans, and sometimes food left out just for them. Without these temptations, DEEP says the bears would naturally stay in secluded areas removed from our neighborhoods and our lives.
I was an unwitting contributor to the problem. I don’t have a garage so my trash has been fair game. My bear’s one-time annual visit was a novelty and didn’t require much cleanup, but last year he was back a few times, and I learned how this form of unintentional “feeding” puts the bears’ lives at risk. My trashcan is now a distance from the house, the lid fastened down with a bungee cord. He’ll knock the can down but he can’t get into it, and my hope is he’ll eventually give up trying – and that his attempts are thwarted at every other household on his route. What are the chances?
My bear may be a bit of a troublemaker, but I’ve come to like him. We go back five or six years now, and I appreciate his surprising reliability, the memory that draws him back to this spot time and again, his quiet footfall and great determination, and the timidity that is so unexpected in a creature so impressively big and strong. We don’t want to mess with eachother. It’s a peaceful coexistence we seek, but he can only follow his instincts, not realizing how doing so sometimes puts his life at risk. We humans have a choice, and we can make the mindful one by not indulging the hunger of these gentle beings that cohabit our world.
My bear has two tags, one on each ear, which means he doesn’t have many chances left – and I want him to live. I imagine him sated and happy, with a rich (and natural) source of seeds, berries and plants upon which to graze and flourish, far from the madding crowd.