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MARTHA SEZ: ‘Bears are rambunctious. They just don’t care about correctness of any kind.’

April 12, 2019
By MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

I am wondering as I type this column whether those two bears who escaped from the wildlife refuge in Wilmington have returned home yet.

It has been almost a week since they left. Where can they be?

People are calling them Matt and Sweat, after the two men who escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in 2015. This isn't the best time for a jail break, in my opinion. The bears could have waited until summer, when all of the wild bears will have emerged from hibernation and nuts and berries will be plentiful in the forest, not to mention picnic baskets and food canisters strung up in the trees.

They must be getting hungry. You'd think they'd come home for dinner eventually. Would bears who weren't raised in the woods get lost, just like humans? Bears aren't necessarily like pigeons, with homing devices built into their tiny brains. Or hounds, whose exceptional olfactory abilities allow them to pick up a scent trail and also to retrace their steps.

If and when the bears do make it back to the refuge, they won't be able to relate their adventures, which is a pity.

Over the years since I have lived in the North Country I have seen all kinds of wild animals, including fishers, coyotes, ermine weasels, minks and foxes, and-once-a mountain lion.

I haven't seen many bears, though, and it's not as if bears are the shy denizens of the forest. You know those animal documentary shows on television, where they use terms like "shy denizen" and "elusive spirit of the arboreal canopy?"

A bear is pretty much an in-your-face kind of animal. Bears climb trees, yes, but far from being elusive spirits of the arboreal canopy, they go crashing around in the treetops, breaking branches and noisily whacking down tarps full of food, which campers have employed elaborate methods to rig in order to keep them out of the bears' reach.

Imagine the scenario from a bear's point of view. After emerging from hibernation-or, as some would have it, after emerging from its winterlong torpor-the bear blunders around, looking for food. ("Emerge" is another one of those words, like "denizen," that are used primarily in educational animal videos. An animal always "emerges" from hibernation.) Males are first to emerge, followed by females and cubs.

Bears are adept at locating food, but the pickings are slim in mud season. The dearth of berries and other natural fodder drives bears to leave the woods and hit dumpsters, cabins and other human haunts to look for sustenance. Then, a couple of months after they have emerged, the bears notice that the campers are back.

"Look," the mother bears tells their cubs, "hikers!"

The cubs look puzzled.

"Wait until after dark," say the sagacious mother bears (called "she-bears" or "sows" on the animal shows), ""You'll see!"

Experienced bears know that as the weather warms, hikers and campers emerge from their long winter's sleep in the city and head for the forests, where they hang their provender from in the trees before retiring into their little tents for the night.

When a bear detects signs of campers in his vicinity, he or she immediately begins to scan the the trees for bear canisters and packs of food.

What a lovely sight for a bear to see: packs dangling form from the white pine and balsam boughs, illuminated by moonlight and the sporadic glimmer and glow of fireflies, for all the world like presents hanging on a Christmas tree.

There is nothing mincing or squeamish about a bear. When he wants a thing, he takes it, without much ado. A friend told me about a camping trip that degenerated into a weekend-long battle with a bear for the food his group brought. The bear ate most of the provisions the first night, making short work of the elaborate pulley system intended to keep the food out of reach high in the pine boughs.

After the pack hurtled to the ground, the bear ripped into Tupperware containers, aluminum cans and freeze-dried food packets, and then tossed trash all around the campsite with absolutely no regard for the niceties of wilderness behavior. Bears are rambunctious. They just don't care about correctness of any kind, as far as I can make out.

I hope that by the time you read this the ursine Matt and Sweat will have enjoyed their adventure and returned to the refuge without incident.

Have a good week.



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