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MARTHA SEZ: Waiting for the next bear sighting

August 6, 2012
MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

I lived in the Adirondack Park for 10 years before I saw a bear.

People all around me were seeing bears. It's not as if bears are exactly the shy denizens of the forest.

The bear is a no-nonsense, get-down-to-business kind of animal. After hibernating all winter, he emerges (emerge is another one of those words, like denizen. An animal always emerges from hibernation) and blunders around, looking for food. A couple of months after they have emerged, the bears start noticing that the campers are back.

"Look," the mother bears tell their cubs, "hikers!" The cubs look puzzled.

"Wait until nightfall," say the sagacious mother bears (called she-bears or sows), "you'll see!"

Bears know that as the weather gets warm, hikers and campers begin to emerge from the city and head for the forests, where they hang their grub from trees before retiring into their little tents for the night.

What a lovely sight for a bear to see: packs dangling from the balsam boughs, illuminated by moonlight and the sporadic glimmer of fireflies, for all the world like presents hanging on a Christmas tree. When a bear detects signs of hikers and campers in the vicinity, he immediately starts to scan the trees for packs of food.

There is nothing mincing or squeamish about a bear. When he wants a thing, he just takes it, without much ado. He doesn't sneak around, trying not to awaken the human whose food he is stealing.

My friend Ski told me about a bear with whom he became intimately involved on a camping trip. After eating most of Ski's provisions, making short work of an elaborate pulley system meant to keep the food safe high in the branches of an old pine, the bear began shuffling around, sniffing.

Tentless, Ski huddled in a sleeping bag with a slumbering she-human, sure that the pounding of his heart was audible to the bear. Ski lay scrunched down, paralyzed with fear, afraid to breathe. Only the top of his head was exposed.

Closer and closer came the bear. Ski could hear it snorting and knocking things over as it advanced.

"I could smell it. I could feel its hot breath blowing my hair as it smelled me. I felt its nose, all cold and wet, on the top of my forehead. And then I fainted."

Ski, elusive denizen of the Rockland County suburbs, did not regain consciousness until the next morning. The bear was gone, the she-human was making coffee, and Ski was filled with that divine appreciation of life which we should perhaps feel at all times but which seems to occur mainly at epiphanic moments, like when we wake up and realize we haven't been mauled by a bear and, moreover, the bear didn't spill all the coffee amongst the pine needles.

I never saw a bear until one day Brandon, a classmate of my daughter's, yelled "Quick! Get in the Jeep! There's a big male in the dumpster right now!"

It was the middle of the afternoon, but the bear was there, standing on top of a woodpile near the dumpster and glaring at the jeep. After a moment or two he dissolved into the foliage.

"Boy, he was mad!" Brandon said. "Did you see him stamp his foot?"

Brandon asked me at the time not to divulge the location of the dumpster, but I can tell you now that it was at the Ausable Club in St. Huberts. Brandon said it wouldn't be fair to the bear to have people coming out to stare at him.

It impresses me that on nonhunting occasions hunters are so sensitive to the feelings of animals. I mean, Brandon journeys to the Apennines to shoot ibexes. When he tends bar at the local inn he has the television tuned to the hunting channel, where all kinds of fish, fowl and mammals can routinely be seen being stalked and killed, their bloody, lifeless bodies then proudly displayed by grinning sportsmen. Yet he worries that a bear might not wish to be stared at. A bear who wouldn't think twice about breaking into Brandon's Jeep to steal the ham sandwiches out of his cooler. But that's just one of the little ironies that keep life inside the Blue Line so interesting.

I am still grateful that Brandon took the trouble to introduce me to that bear. Finally, I felt like a true denizen of the North Country.

Have a good week!



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