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Bear Encounters

Cantankerous Lumberjacks Live Long
Growing up in Michigan with relatives who roamed the backwoods of the Upper Peninsula, I had the pleasure of hearing many exciting tales of encounters with black bears. My eyes bulged as I envisioned a large, growling beast charging my lumberjack grandfather. I was amazed that he had the courage to stand his ground as he hollered like a crazy man with arms frantically waving. Thankfully, the bear stopped suddenly, realized this was no ordinary human, and made a hasty retreat. My grandfather survived more than one bear encounter due to his wildlife savvy and was proudly independent, living on his own at the edge of a forest until he passed away recently when he was 90 years old.

Forget the Drive-in Movie - Take Me to the Dump
My closest encounters with black bears happened when I was a young child. My family occasionally ventured into a creepy wooded area up north where there was a garbage dump. As we came close to our destination, the headlights went off and dad parked the car facing our target. When he flipped the headlights on, the show began. My sister and I would lean over the backs of the front seats, exclaiming with a measure of dread and glee as we watched the large furry bodies lumber about their rotting feast. (Back in the sixties we were oblivious about the health hazard the food's packaging posed to the bears). I always heaved a sigh of relief when we turned around and drove back to grandma's. Once again our car had been spared an attack by a ferocious brute.

bear with branches

How to Convince a Bear You're no Gourmet Meal
Now that I have moved to Colorado Springs, I have been intrigued by the fact that most people who live or hike along the west edge of the city have a bear story to tell. Last summer I met a tan wiry 70-year-old man who still embraced the grueling challenge of the 26-mile trek up and down Pike's Peak. While hiking on a nearby trail not long ago, he told me he ran into a bear that rose on his hind legs to sniff the air and check him out. With heart pounding, the man held his jacket above his head to look as large as possible and slowly backed up, pleading repeatedly, "I'm old. I'd be tough to eat." The bear took him at his word and left him alone, rambling in another direction.

Uncontrollable Munchies - Su Casa es Mi Casa (Your House is My House)
A couple from Rock Creek told me they recently retired for the evening with the next day's brunch goodies strewn about the kitchen island. It was a hot evening, so they left a door open with just the screen door closed. It wasn't long before a young black bear had followed his nose to the irresistible feast. Hearing strange noises, the man woke up and made his way to the kitchen and flicked the lights on just in time to see the bear's rear end scoot behind the island counter. Food was strewn all over the floor. The man yelled and chased the bear with a blunt object as he dove through the screen door he had ripped open. Somehow in his frantic flight the bear managed to grab a bag of Doritos on the way out. That's a really bad case of the munchies - risking a beating for one extra bag of chips.

Outdoor Backwoods Dining - not Such a Good Idea
One sunny afternoon I went hiking with a group of four women along the Seven Bridges Trail off Gold Camp Rd. We had just turned around to begin the trek back to our cars when a young couple came rushing down the trail from behind us. When I turned to see their wild eyes, red faces and noticed the lanky man was struggling to speak in a composed manner, I wondered if they had been doing drugs. Between gasps for air he said, "You all look like experienced hikers. We were wondering if you could help us. We were eating our lunch just down the trail when a huge black bear (he spread his arms wide) came for our food. We took off as fast as we could and left everything behind, including a wallet. Could you go back with us to get it?"

There was no way I was going to approach a bear that was sitting down to relish peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I figured we needed to give him at least a half-hour to wander far away from the area. Thankfully, we were off the hook when a group of three young guys, a woman and a small dog came along at that moment. I told them the story of the large intruder and their eyes lit up. The three guys could hardly wait to get a look at the bear. They seemed capable of scaling steep rock faces in case they had to make a quick escape, so I figured they had a fighting chance of survival. On the other hand, I wasn't too sure about the woman with the dog who ignored the warning that dogs often agitate bears. I never heard a report in the news about a bear mauling anyone, so everyone must have been okay. Of course, they probably wouldn't have bothered to report a dog's demise.

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