“I need a gun,” Ginny said.
I laughed and shook my head.
Eight or nine years ago I was still-hunting one of the steep ridges northwest of our camp. I was hunting deer, carrying the Ruger No. 1 single shot .270 that I had hunted with for years. The breeze had shifted an hour before and I had adjusted my route to accommodate it – dropping down along the backside of the mountain I had spent the morning hours slowly walking up. Now, angling slowly into the wind along the ridge’s steep incline, I heard the rustle of leaves from the cleft below me. Moments later that resolved into a bundle of black.
“Well I’ll be damned,” I murmured to myself.
Maybe seventy yards away, the bear was slowly working his way up the ridge, rooting around in the leafy undergrowth.
Killing him wasn’t a consideration. Black Bear season wouldn’t be coming in for another week. Not that I would have anyway, probably.
For five minutes I remained frozen, watching in fascination. By that time he had moved to within eight or ten yards of me, still unaware of my presence. Having judged that close enough – I didn’t want to have to kill him – I slowly lifted my boot and gently brushed it sideways in the leaves. The bear looked up, surprised, and gazed at me curiously for a couple seconds. Then he seemed to acquire a look of embarrassment, as if asking himself “how the hell did this happen?” He slowly turned his head down and began moving away from me.
That was the first bear I had ever seen in the wild.
A few years later a bear cub ran across the road in front of me while I was out riding my motorcycle along one of my remote mountain routes. In a reprise, I saw another young bear just a few weeks ago, along that same road. And a couple of times we’ve seen bears at Snowshoe, on our motorcycle visits there.
The two things all those places have in common is high mountains and serious remoteness. They are all places where you might expect to see a bear.
Where you don’t expect to see them is at my home in Fauquier County.
So when Ginny called me yesterday – I had taken the Harley out for a ride – and relayed with a hint of breathlessness that a not-so-small bear had come cruising through our yard just a few feet from the deck, paying little heed to her shouts to get out of there, and that, yes, she needed that gun, I had to laugh. I admitted that I had seen a pile of scat the evening before on our quarter-mile-long driveway that I was pretty sure was from a bear.
“Did you get a picture?” I asked.
She tried, bless her heart. But the bear was gone by the time she got back outside with her camera. I did get the impression she wasn’t entirely sorry about that. “I do need a gun,” she tried again.
By the time I got home a couple hours later she had already called all the neighbors. The farm next to us. The fellow halfway down our driveway who likes to feed the deer. And the new folks down at the end who have a couple of young kids.
And Animal Control, who told her that there had been several sightings.
Me… aside from worrying for the bear’s sake – the county here, despite being decidedly rural, is not nearly remote enough or rugged enough for a bear – I’m delighted. I wish the woods were full of ‘em. Along with wolves and mountain lions and all the other a-little-bit-dangerous kinds of animals that used to live around here.
Makes it more exciting when you walk outside in the dark. And it gives new meaning to the “what was that?” sound when you walk out to the shed at night.
A toast to wild things…