Su Lum: Slumming
July 22, 2009
A year or two ago (I am vague on the specifics) the papers ran a story about a game warden, or animal control man, who taught a small town how to interact with garbage-hunting bears. Rather than panicking, freezing or backing away, this guy advised the populace to react to a bear rummaging in a trash barrel as if it were a naughty dog caught in the act of knocking over a garbage can.
“BAD bear!” he told them to cry loudly, in shocked tones. “NO! STOP that! BAD bear!,” “Go HOME, bear.” He swore it worked, and I believe it. If all of the pedestrians passing by my house in the East End turned on my menacing dachshund puppies, crying “BAD dogs! NO BARKING! HUSH!” it would knock the wind out of their bravado pretty quickly. Also, I have a similar bear story of my own.
On an Alaskan homestead in the early ’60s, I emerged from the outhouse to see a large black bear (we said “black” to differentiate it from a “brown” bear, which will chomp your head off and pee on your remains, though this one was brown in color) standing behind the cabin toward which I was heading.
I did not walk or run, but SPRANG through an open window of the cabin, heart pounding. We – my husband and I and the owners of the cabin – were all “cheechakos,” or “tenderfoots,” out of our element and out of our depth in the wilds of Alaska.
At the time I was eight months pregnant, and everyone was off doing what East Coast pseudo-Alaskans are wont to do (“adventuring”) while I was inside a flimsy cabin with an unlockable front door that could be pushed in by the press of a paw.
My first reaction was to rouse the dogs – four of them drowsing on various cushions and couches. I picked up Rook, our superior watchdog, and hefted him up to the kitchen window, where he had a straight-on view of the bear. Rook gave his most lethal growl, deep in his throat, so inaudible the bear didn’t hear it.
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I picked up another dog, holding his head toward the bear. The dog squirmed to get down. “BARK!” I commanded, though dogs never bark when you want them to (and vice versa). I began barking myself to give the dog the idea. The bear took a step closer to the cabin.
Pots and pans! I had heard that if you bang on pots and pans, bears will go away, so I gathered pots, pans and a wooden spoon, and set about making what I thought was a fine racket, only to see the bear take a few more steps forward toward the cabin, wondering what the fuss was all about.
Tenderfoots are prone to be irrational in the face of perceived peril, and I was definitely that. When the pots and pans produced the opposite of their intended effect, I banged on the kitchen window with the spoon and shouted, “GO HOME, Bear!,” a pure visceral reaction, expecting no positive response, this being decades before the wildlife guy’s advice. To my astonishment, the bear dropped on all fours and disappeared into the forest.
Judging by the expensive bear-proof garbage containers overturned in my alley of late, the naughty bears are back in full force. We can’t blame it on drought and the lack of natural forage this year – the hills are alive with berries – but Aspen’s juicy, gourmet garbage calls to them: the leftover pomme frites, the asparagus tips drizzled in BEARnaise sauce, the sauteed cheeks of an unborn calf. What bear could resist?