Bears infiltrate the pears
Aspen, CO Colorado
I was wandering around the garden Tuesday evening at dusk, puzzled by how parched it looked. The plants that wilt during the heat of the day should have been stimulated to open their stomata (the microscopic pores through which gases enter a leaf and moisture evaporates) and take a deep breath by then, lifting up their leaves and flowers to the cooling evening air, but they hadn’t. I checked the time and date; yes, definitely a watering day; the irrigation should have come on at 6 o’clock. Running into the garage to check the controller, I found a blank digital display. Frantically, I began hauling hoses around and setting sprinklers. Little cartoon balloons came out of my mouth and hovered over my head, filled with black clouds so dense, they might have been visible to the naked eye, had anyone been around to notice.
Of course my irrigation control guy had sloped off that morning with his backpack fully loaded, though sporting black cartoon clouds of his own due to a delayed departure. A large limb on the pear tree, so heavily laden with fruit that it had to be propped up, had been broken. It didn’t need the additional evidence of a juicy mound of pear-laced scat in the driveway to indicate that the harvest date for our pears, ready or not, had just been advanced. Before leaving, Gerry picked all the pears, sawed off the broken branch, and dragged it to the brush pile. I quick picked the Stanley prunes too, figuring they were next on the menu. Fortunately, most European pears (Pyrus communis) are best picked green. I hope ours aren’t too green to ripen properly, since the tree, called “Moon Glow,” is a September-maturing variety. The plums will be okay, I think.
It isn’t as though the possibility of sharing our fruit crop with bears has come as a big surprise. We’ve been watching the oaks and wild berries since the late spring frosts. Hard to overlook the news reports of bears being shot for the crime hunger in Aspen, either. We expected bears in Basalt and on the last day of July they arrived. A neighbor told us that a large bear broke the metal clasp of his garbage bin and got at the trash, then walked across his deck and “took a stroll through my vegetables.” We found mushy scat resembling apricot puree, so we knew they were feasting on apricots.
Apricots seem to be for bears what tulips and columbines are for the deer that visit my garden. (I wonder if tulips give deer digestive problems.) But maybe it just seems that way because the ripening of apricots coincides with the pre-hibernation gorging period.
Gerry left a pail of windfall apples on the bench by the front door with a little pagoda of precariously stacked, empty tin cans left over from slug hunting, next to it. About 2 o’clock in the morning I hear a tinny clatter, followed by the thud of the bucket and the crash of an adjacent bike. Whoever knocked them over skedaddled and not an apple was eaten. Gerry immediately harvested the apricots from the beautiful tree inside his vegetable garden stockade, which might as well not exist as far as bears are concerned, since I’ve watched them climb timber walls that come up to my chin as effortlessly as if they were steps on a staircase.
Every morning Gerry checks the compost, but it remains undisturbed. Going outside after dark, we address possible unseen bear guests conversationally, “Okay bear, I’m outside now. I’m going into the garden. Better get out of the way, bear.”
No, the drastic, clumsy pruning of the pear tree, barely recovered from the last sparse nut and berry year, wasn’t a surprise, more like a personal affront. “That’s our food source you’re messing with, bear!” As I struggled with hoses until it was too dark to see, I wondered if I ought to pick up the windfalls or leave them for the bears. I wasn’t going to eat them, after all. The cause of the irrigation failure proved to be just a dead battery in the controller, easy to replace and reprogram, if a chore.
I wish the solution to the problem of hungry bears were as easy.