A visit from a gentle bear, and a vital lesson
A faint aroma, reminiscent of mossy woods and with an undertone of musk, lingers in my kitchen, reminding me of my visitor early this morning. He announced himself by making a tremendously loud noise, and I had woken up with a start.My dog, Maggie, had already decided that discretion was the better part of valor, so telling her to stay quietly in the bedroom, I crept down the hallway and peered carefully around a corner and into the kitchen. What I saw was just what I had suspected: a HUGE black bear balanced on my small kitchen counter. Returning down the hallway just as quietly but rather faster, I called 911 to say that I had an intruder in my kitchen and that I didn’t know if he could exit the same way he had entered. They promised to send someone out immediately, but after a period of silence I checked the kitchen again and my visitor had left the same way that he came in.What a gentleman!From the noise of his entry, I was afraid that I would find my kitchen in shambles, but everything was intact, even a fragile wine glass left to drain. My small kitchen window was only partially open; he could easily have ripped out the whole window to give himself more room but only took out the screen and then somehow squeezed himself through that tiny space – and he was a BIG bear, as I saw again when he stopped to drink at the pond. He did minimal damage getting in and no damage inside.I know it’s foolish to romanticize bears or one runs the risk of ending up like the unfortunate bear “expert” in the Kodiak Islands. I have a healthy respect for them and certainly do not go out of my way to create close encounters. However, it’s a fact that we live in bear territory, and it’s imperative that we find a way to live in harmony. Since we are arguably the more intelligent of the two species, we must find ways to protect both the bears and ourselves so that we can cohabit in peace.Two nights before this incident, a bear had climbed all over my newly waxed car, trying unsuccessfully to get in. Again I was impressed by his gentleness. Though the car was covered with muddy paw marks, there was not a single scratch.I realize it was my carelessness both times that had unintentionally invited the bear’s attentions. On the first occasion the bear must have smelled a sack of feed I had left in the trunk of my car, and on the second I had thrown some overripe fruit into the garbage can under the sink.In the future, if I have any trash that might appeal to bears, I will place it in my closed utility room at the center of the house where the bears probably won’t smell it, with a saucer of white vinegar to absorb any odors as an extra precaution. I have now hung nylon stockings of mothballs around the house on door handles and windows to deter them. I have found that this works very well and, of course, no unwashed dishes with leftover food scraps.Probably like most of us who relocated to the Roaring Fork Valley, one of the draws is the magnificent nature around us – the mountains, the rivers and the wildlife. Along with seeing other animals, I really enjoy catching sight of a bear padding quietly down the road or making his way through the trees, disappearing quickly into cover if humans appear. I believe that they are far more afraid of us than we are of them, and with good reason.It is with a lot of sadness that I hear of bears being trapped. I am told that they are relocated, at least for their first two offenses, but I believe bears have a homing device in their brains much as cats and pigeons do, so that they are “programmed” to return to the territory they have made their own – and thus to their probable death. I know that not all bears are as gentlemanly as my visitor, that bears, like humans, have different personalities and that some are bad-tempered and pose a real threat. However, I do not believe this represents the majority of bears; I believe most of them are gentle like my visitor and that it is humans who cause the problems.This is a plea for all of us to be responsible for our actions and not to entice wildlife as carelessly as I did. Bears are intelligent, majestic creatures, and we have been given the same planet to share and enjoy. I suspect too that we want the same things from life – enough food to sustain us, some shelter, a degree of security for ourselves and our young ones, and the chance to live our lives naturally and in peace.Catherine Garland arrived in Aspen in January 1961 on her way from England to New Zealand. She fell in love with all the wildlife here and stayed.
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