Fearless….For Now

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!

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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. 

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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.

7 Responses to “Fearless….For Now”

  1. Nina Says:

    Sounds like you kept your head in that one! I think it almost must be counter-instinctive to stand and wave at a bear, when every immediate impulse says, “run.”
    I’m afraid of bears. Can remember seeing too many too close, I guess growing up. And although i know they’re not really big animals, when i was little, they seemed huge.
    I don’t know if I would be a sensible under pressure as you.

  2. Lynne at Hasty Brook Says:

    I’m impressed with how you kept your head. I get really anxious up at Hasty Brook out in the woods when I hear something moving.

  3. Laura Says:

    I know nothing of bears, so I’d probably just stand shocked and stupid!

    Hope your banding buddy can learn to stand tall and unafraid too.

  4. KGMom Says:

    I do love your bear stories–your links sent me back to read anew or re-read them all.
    As for what you said to the bear and the bear to you–you said WHOA (i.e. STOP), the bear said WHOA (i.e. what the ??) and you both went about your business. Cool.
    Are bears near-sighter? Or just preoccupied.

  5. Carolyn Hoffman Says:

    I’ve seen lots of bears in the wild, and like you, I’ve never had a problem of any kind with them. One time, I was concerned when I came across a mom with two cubs. After all, this is when I’ve always heard they are most dangerous. She was standing in the middle of the trail behind me, with both cubs up trees on opposite sides of the trail. I whooped at her, and she went up a tree too! I made a big detour around her, but I never got the sense that she was going to attack. Her posture was pretty relaxed, ears up, etc. All the stories about terrible bear attacks must be true, but I also think they must be fairly rare. I’ve never even felt threatened by the bears I’ve seen–which is a good thing!

  6. ocean Says:

    Very interesting article and a close call with a bear. I wonder if you took this bear shot as it is incredible. We had a lot of bears on the coast where I grew up – I usually ran first and they sniffed and then ran also.

  7. obi4240 Says:

    Nina – so true. If you’re not used to seeing them around, the first impulse is to flee – I don’t care what the books say!

    Lynn – it surprised me too. Just make some noise when you hear those noises at Hasty Brook. I usually just yell “run away!”

    Laura – I guess you don’t have that many in southern NJ. They are magnificent animals…

    KGMOM – it was actually kind of funny, but I really think it had the same reaction I did. Bears don’t have keen eyesight – they rely more on smell and hearing. Guess I didn’t smell that morning!

    Carolyn – you’re right, black bear moms are pretty docile. Even when I went tagging cubs many years ago, they told us if mom ran out of the den (if they missed with the dart gun) just stand still and let her go – she wasn’t interested in attacking us, just getting away. In all their years tagging cubs in the den, they never had an incident either. But then again – it only takes one bear with an attitude to have a problem. You did the right thing – bears always have the right-of-way on a trail!

    Ocean – I didn’t take that one, my son did, from the back porch of his house.


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