Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I see a couple black bears a year here in Garrett County, MD. Sometimes from the car, but most often I've been on foot or on my bike.

One of the most spectacular was while I was out running with my two dogs 7 or 8 years ago. I heard the usual thrashing in the brush up ahead and had my usual expectation of seeing a deer, but then a bear cub the size of a beagle crossed the road, followed by another, followed by a third. Obviously, when you see a bear cub (or two or three) maybe 50 yards ahead of you, you stop immediately.... there's got to be a mother with those little guys. Sure enough, out she came, followed by a FOURTH cub! And, oh, dear, the mom stopped in the middle of the road and looked at me, and one of my dogs barked at her, and I'm thinking, what to do if a bear with cubs comes after you? They say stand your ground and yell at her to go away. But she just stared for what seemed like half a minute but probably wasn't, before moving on across the road and into the woods.

I reversed my direction. I wasn't going there.

Then maybe 3 years ago, I was biking on a small but well-populated road along Deep Creek Lake, and here came 2 cubs followed by the mother, right across the road into a driveway, and there the mother stopped although the cubs continued on into the yard. Again I stopped. She was right smack next to the road, which had no shoulders. I wasn't riding past her. Even if I turned around and went the other way, she could go from 0 to 30 a lot faster than I could. So I just waited. She looked at me. I looked at her. She waited. I waited. Finally, in a friendly voice, I just said, "Hi!" She turned and booked, along with her cubs, to the back of the house and into the woods.

Quite a few times I've seen a bear up ahead while I've been biking; hollering out, "Hey, Bear, move! I'm coming!" has been enough to make them get out of the road.

But I never had one come this close to me before. I have a friend who's a woodswoman (hunter, hiker, wanderer) and she never goes into the woods without her bear spray on her hip. I've teased her about it. But now I think I'll ask her where she buys her spray. Maybe I've been too blasé about these beautiful, usually non-agressive, powerful creatures. This juvenile bear was awesome but I wasn't nuts about the way he ran right towards me. He'd changed his direction -- had started running into the woods and changed his mind for some reason. I thought the mom might be behind him, coming after me, or that he had decided to chase me off instead of running away, or who knows. I thought he was going to fight my dog (whose purpose is to deter marauders of all species, but I don't want her mauled by a bear.) Oddly, I wasn't frightened, just thinking faster than I ever imagined possible. And after he went away I went ahead and finished my run, 5 more miles, including a 2+ mile road through the forest with few cars and no houses. I mean, what's the chance of two close bear encounters in one hour? I just plain wasn't scared. Call me crazy.

But when I got home, after excitedly telling my husband, I went scrounging through some old stuff and found a can of bear spray we'd bought when hiking in Yellowstone and the Tetons. It said "Exp 2007." I took it outside and shot a little blast at the fence. It still shot. I sniffed the fence. Smelled like pepper. But I'm sure it loses potency. I'm buying myself a new can. ~Sigh~ It costs about $45, but I guess it could be money well-spent.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great stories! Good thinking talking to them. I watched a video of a man who specializes in bear photography and video-recording: during a tense encounter with a couple bears feeding at a creek he started singsong talking in a quiet voice and to his surprise they calmed down.

You're much braver than I!