In recent years, up here near the ridge top of these Santa Lucia Mountains, black bear sightings and encounters have increased. The bear population seems to be thriving in these woods.
Last week, when bears were in our yard, I didn’t see the sow, but Takoda the Labrador did. The hair on his back went erect as he skidded to a halt just past our pump house, where he stood and barked into a patch of thick brush and poison oak.
Sixty feet away from Takoda, on the other side of the brush patch, my two mixed-breed Chihuahuas, Silly and Drayco, moved slowly with rigid posture. They were nearly nose-to-nose with a black cub with a white marking on its chest.
At the same time, back on the opposite side of the brush, Takoda jumped sideways when branches cracked and leaves rustled. Tail tucked tightly between his back legs, he wisely ran toward the house, looking over his shoulder the entire way.
Meanwhile, the cub turned away and loped up the slope. The cub ran. The little dogs chased. Through the dry grasses the cub made its way to a black oak. It wrapped its arms around the tree and clawed its way straight up the trunk where at about 20 feet high it began to wail. “Maw! Maw,” the cub cried. Poor baby.
Bawling above. Yapping below. Grunting behind. It didn’t look good for Silly and Drayco.
Luckily, after much encouragement, all three dogs were beside me. From inside the house, we watched the cub shimmy down the trunk to the ground, where it looked around then bounded into the woods. Phew. All was well. Turned out to be one of those experiences that makes my insides fill with wonderment and celebration.
And then there’s the other side of the story…
Bears destroy spring boxes and waterlines. They break branches on nut trees. They tear off siding from camp trailers. When neighbor David Hindmon wasn’t at home one evening, a bear shoved in a screen and crawled through a window — took a walkabout inside David’s living room, office and kitchen. The bear only tipped over the trash before it went out a different window.
Just a few days ago, a bear broke into my henhouse. Somehow it managed to open the front door then proceeded to knock over nesting boxes and a galvanized trashcan that held approximately twenty pounds of layer pellets. The chickens were traumatized, but uninjured. Every morsel of chicken feed was consumed.
Drat! That’s exactly what we don’t want. That bear was rewarded with a full belly for breaking and entering. So, naturally, the next night it came back for more. That night it found a precarious stack of empty metal trash cans and a sheet of plywood braced against the door. The bear toppled the booby trap and vandalized the barricade, but subsequent ingress was thwarted, so far. Stay tuned.
From over the ridge and off the grid, Michele Oksen writes Mountain Musings for The Cambrian. the second Thursday of each month. Her column is special to The Cambrian. Contact her at overthe firstname.lastname@example.org.