“Oh, no, we don’t have bears here,” said my new neighbor.
To tell the truth, I was somewhat disappointed to hear that. I had finally escaped the orbit of the dreaded DMV—the not-so-affectionate term for the D.C./ Maryland/ Virginia metro area—for a much more rural spot in West Virginia. As little as I wanted to have to lock up my trash and pet food, as one ought when there are lots of bears about, I enjoy watching wildlife as much as anyone else does.
“Really?” I asked. “This looks like bear country … to me anyway … nice water source, plenty of crops and wild berries to eat …”
“Nope, no bears here,” he concluded cheerfully. “Lots of deer, though.”
That was all I needed to hear. Although it would be several months before deer season came ‘round again, there’d be no harm in wandering about and trying to find their trails. After learning where the country was posted no-trespassing and where it was okay to scout, I didn’t even wait for the snow to finish melting before I started looking for sheds.
The truth of the matter is that this was my first attempt at shed hunting, and I knew chances weren’t great that I’d find any. Still, I kept my eyes on the ground and my shoulders hunched against the dry blackberry brambles that were getting denser around the little game trail I’d found. Because nobody was around to hear me, my inner monologue went exterior.
Is that an antler tine? No, that’s not an antler, that’s a branch. What about that? No, that’s a root. How about that pile right here? Is that an antler? No, that’s bear poop.
Bear scat is pretty unmistakable once you’ve seen it a few times … and maybe even if you haven’t. First, there’s the sheer volume of it, which is rarely seen outside the halls of Congress. Second, although much depends on the bear’s diet, there tend to be a lot of visible seeds in it, and there were plenty here. In fact, on the subject of “plenty,” this wasn’t the only pile. There were lots of them.
In fact, I mused, straightening my spine with the careful precision of someone who has just realized she has done something very dumb, there were lots of tracks, too. Fresh tracks, as evidenced by the fact that the mud hadn’t even started to dry and crumble at the edges.
In fact, some of those tracks were quite large. Others, about half the size. This wasn’t just one bear; this was at least two. Of course, this being West Virginia, these multiple bears would have to be black bears, and that was reassuring. Black bears aren’t anywhere nearly as aggressive as grizzlies. That is, unless, one has very stupidly put oneself in between a mama bear and her cub(s). That, of course, is precisely what I had done.
They say that one of the things you can do to deter black bears from bothering you is to make a bit of noise while you’re hiking, so they know to get out of your way. For that reason, I continued to let that internal monologue out. “Oh excuse me, I seem to be lost,” I trilled, backtracking. “No, I don’t want any porridge, I have a bed back home, and I’ll just be going now,” I called. I switched my walking stick to my non-dominant hand, while the dominant one swung by my strong-side hip.
See, as far as that strong-side hip, the good news was that I did at least have a sidearm with me. The bad news was that it was a 9 mm, which is underpowered for bears. (Which, in my defense, were supposedly not there.)
They say that God loves fools and rocks above all else, because He made so many of them. God clearly loves this fool enough to let her get back to her new country abode without any incident, because that’s what happened. I did learn some lessons, though. The first is that I should always be sure to carry enough gun; that 9 mm should have been a .45. The second is that any gun is better than no gun—I was quite happy that I had something more emphatic with me than a walking stick.
The third lesson, of course, is that what country people mean by “we have no bears” is “we have no problem bears.” The black bears around here are well-educated about the dangers posed by humans, and they stay well clear of us, our livestock and our pets. That’s good for the bears, good for the livestock, and most of all … lucky for me.