Bears make interesting neighbors

Posted Sept. 09, 2010, at 10:51 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:53 a.m.
Photo taken June 18, 2008 (Bangor Daily News Photo by Julia Bayly)
BDN
Photo taken June 18, 2008 (Bangor Daily News Photo by Julia Bayly)

Living in rural Maine means you usually know your neighbors and, more often than not, you get along with them pretty well. Of course, living in Maine also can mean some of those neighbors have four legs and fur.

In my case, there are far more of the furry types around my house and farm, something that always strikes me this time of year when a lot of my friends take to the woods in active pursuit of the forest-dwellers.

As for me, I have a sort of live-and-let-live arrangement with the moose, bear, coyotes, fox, deer and grouse that inhabit the fields and forest. But there are days I’m forced to wonder whether it’s a mutual arrangement.

Take the day my trusty dog Corky, who is half sheltie and half husky — making her a shusky — and I were walking along one of the field access roads. All of a sudden, I spotted something dark in the trees ahead where the trail forked.

As I peered into the shadows, my brain just had time to register “bear” when she must have caught a whiff of us and turned in our direction.

I have no problem admitting my heart jumped into my throat, but I thought bears are pretty shy and want less to do with us than we do with them. While my brain was still processing the immobile bear, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the cub.

This is where things began to get interesting. The only thing I really fear in the northern Maine woods is a mama bear and her cub, and here they were, about 50 feet down the trail. While few things are cuter than a baby bear, few things are more frightening than a protective mother black bear.

The mother bear and I stared at each other ever so briefly before the dog picked up on the critters and began barking fiercely. The barking temporarily deflected the bear’s attention from me to my dog, giving me time to step off the trail and take cover behind what I considered to be a rather spindly looking tree.

Then again, in that particular situation even a giant sequoia would have appeared spindly.

Seconds later, the combination of my presence, the cub’s cautious and curious steps in our direction and the barking became too much for mama bear.

Ever seen a black bear in full charge? Imagine a rolling ball of muscle with fur. Now I know why Marlin Perkins on the old “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” television series had poor old Jim scout out the wilderness while he stayed safe and sound in the jeep.

Several feet before the bear reached my dog, she must have picked up my scent because she executed a 90-degree turn that put her trajectory right toward my spindly tree.

One coherent thought ran through my brain: “This is going to hurt.”

Five feet in front of me, she stopped dead still and stood like that for several seconds. She didn’t make a sound, but I was acutely aware of how this animal was in complete control of the situation.

For my part, I stood very, very still — not out of any survival training but out of pure, unadulterated fear.

Don’t ask me how long the standoff lasted, it felt like an eternity. But it was long enough for Corky to run over and get between me and the bear, which took one more look at us, whirled and ran back to her cub.

Last seen, they were both ambling off into the woods.

When I got home and the shakes had dissipated enough to do a little research, I discovered we’d witnessed what biologists refer to as a “bluff charge.”

Safe to say, I won’t be playing poker with a bear anytime soon.

But live and let live — right?

Until the next time, which occurred when a friend and I — along with that same trusty dog — were hiking through a very dense northern Maine cedar bog.

Corky had run ahead and we were taking a rest from fighting our way over roots and through closely spaced trees and dense understory.

After a bit, we heard the dog running back, only it sounded like she was splashing through water.

In fact, those splashing sounds were the noises made by the huge black bear Corky had somehow rousted and was now herding back toward us running through the brush.

As the bear passed within 10 feet or so from us on a dead run, Corky pulled up, sat down and looked at me with an expression that I swear was saying, “Look what I found! Can I keep him? Please? Can I?”

But fortunately, the bear kept going and I grabbed Corky and put a leash on her.

The only thing more fun that day than crashing through the dense cedar bog to get back to our car was my continuously untangling Corky and her leash from the brush and understory.

So, here we are at the start of a new bear hunting season and all of my Registered Maine Guide friends and neighbors are out there on high bear alert, tromping through the woods in search of their quarry.

I wonder if they’d be interested in borrowing my dog.

Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer who frequently submits articles to the Bangor Daily News. She may be reached by e-mail at jbayly@bangordailynews.com.

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