Grin and Bear It

Yesterday, on my way home for lunch, I saw my first wild bear and I’m still giddy and excited, twenty-four hours later. I have been looking for one for about 35 years, ever since my brother and I found a track in a small patch of melting snow. Since then I’d found more tracks and a couple of piles of poop, but no bear.
One of the scat piles was in a very dense canebrake, deep under the canopy back in 1991 or 1992. A friend and I were working a breeding bird atlas block, following a game trail through the canebrake and came upon a very fresh pile of what had to be the answer to “Does a bear shit in the woods?”. Discretion became the better part of valor and we decided we didn’t really need to know what birds were in that particular canebrake. Besides, there was something important needing attention back at the truck.
The second instance was on May 31, 2009. I was out by myself, looking for Swainson’s Warblers. I was on the Minshall Tract, south of Big Spring on Z Highway. This tract has a hayfield that has to be 20 acres in size and I was working the perimeter searching for birds. I had gone completely around the north half of the field with very little to show for it. Giving up and heading back to the truck, I followed a game trail across the field. Right in the middle of the field, I came very close to stepping in a large pile of poop. It was all shiny and fresh, meaning the damn thing had crossed the field and taken a dump while I was up in the north end. This time I didn’t evacuate (the bear beat me to it), but instead tried my damnedest to find that bear, but to no avail.

Bear poop. This is not the first turd I’ve photographed and I doubt it’ll be the last.

I photographed the poop, much to Dayna’s chagrin and showed the photo to the Park’s Resource Specialist. She had worked on a bear project when she lived in Wisconsin, so she literally knows her shit (scatological humor never gets old). She agreed that it was indeed bear scat. So I had gotten close to a bear, but only had a photo of turd to show for the experience.
Which brings us back to yesterday. On most days, I drive home at lunch time to let the dogs out and I was on my way, lost in thought. The part of my brain that was keeping me on the road jerked me back to reality as it realized that there’s a bear sitting beside the road. I’m pretty sure I yelled “Holy F*ck! That’s a bear!” as I stomped the brakes and threw everything in the floorboard including my phone. My D7100 with the 150-600mm lens was not in its usual spot beside me, but still behind the seat following a trip the vet a couple of days before. The phone was now vitally important if I had any hope of a photo.
I glanced in the side mirror before diving into the floorboard and saw the bear swap directions, heading for the trees. I finally got hold of the phone, slammed the truck into reverse and stomped the accelerator. The tires were squealing and I went flying back down the road (thankfully there wasn’t anyone behind me).
The bear, of course, was gone. The tree line is pretty dense and I couldn’t see him or even detect any movement. If he had gone past the tree line, stopped and remained still, I probably wouldn’t have been able to see him anyway.

The bear was about this color. By Appalachian Encounters (Flickr: "Cinnamon" Black Bear) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I didn’t have a photo, but I HAD seen a freaking bear. He was a black bear of course, but he was actually not black, but rather chocolate or cinnamon colored. He was absolutely gorgeous with a beautiful coat and if I had to take a wild guess, I’d put him in the 300 lb. range (about my size!).

Mr. Bear was sitting very much like this when I first saw him. This is NOT my photo; I found it in my collection of reference photos with no attribution, so I don’t know where it came from. If it’s yours and you want it removed, say the word and it’s gone. If you don’t mind me using it here, Thank You Very Much!

The weird thing was that he wasn’t standing or walking when I saw him. No, he was sitting on his haunches in the grass at the edge of the pavement, facing the road. He seemed bored and was watching traffic go by to entertain himself.
If I’d been paying closer attention, maybe I see him from further away instead of when I’m right on top of him. Then I might have been able to approach him more cautiously and not scare the devil out of him by locking up my brakes and screaming to a stop. Ah well, if ifs and butts were candy and nuts we’d all have a merry Christmas.
Did I mention that I saw a bear??

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