I noticed an interesting phenomenon within myself the other day, that surprised me and has me wondering how it came to be. Apparently, I’m no longer “timid” around black bears. As for how it came to be, I’m sure not having a serious confrontation of any kind has helped immensely!
As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I was born and raised only about 10 miles from my present location, and have lived here my whole life (OK – more than half a century), with the exception of 10 years spent in Florida, one year in North Carolina, and almost two years in Kentucky. In none of those places had I ever encountered a black bear. Admittedly, when I returned here in March, 2006, the ‘living in bear country’ warnings had me just a bit nervous. I knew about bears; I’d read all the literature, and even spent time in the 1980s with NJ state biologists, tracking and tagging black bears in the Delaware Water Gap. But that was different. There were a group of us together, and the bears would be drugged. Easy.
My first encounter with a black bear here, I wrote about in this post. I did not react the way I had hoped I would. Instead the adrenaline kicked in and I fled (gracefully) to my nearby Jeep.
Last Thursday, Cailin, a bander working with me, and I were opening nets at six in the morning. Two net groupings are separated by a thick growth of shrubs – withing hearing distance, but not within sight of one another. Cailin took the one in the first field, and I went into the cedar field to open the second set of 4 nets. I had opened two, and was at the pole for net #3 when a black bear popped out of the bushes and came strolling down the net lane toward me. A net is 40 feet long, so this bear was about 60 feet away.
This time, my heart didn’t leap into my throat, and I didn’t panic. I put up my hands and said “Whoa!” and at that moment, the bear saw me. I can’t be certain, but I think it said the same thing just before it turned and bolted – heading back through the bushes toward Cailin. At that point, I did shout “Cailin! There’s a BEAR!” which I think accomplished two things: I scared the bear, and I scared Cailin, who ran for my Jeep. How silly of her. I finished opening the nets and that was that.
That reaction surprised me, and I started wondering how it came about. Am I just used to the bears now? Don’t get me wrong, I do have a healthy respect for them, but the fear is gone. It is interesting to observe that. I think it’s because I’m just accustomed to seeing them around – which is the same thing that’s happened to the bears. Many of them have lost their fear of humans – or at least that initial panic, because they are used to seeing people. What works for them also works for me.
Knowing that a bear not afraid of people can quickly become a “problem” bear makes me all the more aware that a person not afraid of bears could invite a problem. While I surprised myself by losing the fear, I am also bear-aware and will continue to watch, look, listen, and make some noise when I go into the fields.
Now, I just have to work on Cailin, poor thing.