FORT KENT, Maine — Living out in the country, as we do here on Rusty Metal Farm, contact with some of the local wildlife is a near daily occurrence.
Sharing the farm with a seemingly endless variety of critters of all shapes and sizes with fur, feathers or scales means that on any given day the odds are in my favor of seeing something intriguing or mysterious enough to send me running to consult one of my nature books or the Internet.
But nowhere in my personal library or from within the depths of Google is there any reference to the animosity that bears hold toward photography.
Certainly, there are cultural and societal references documenting human emotions about being photographed.
In some cultures having one’s photo taken is perceived as having one’s soul stolen.
In others — largely those populated by celebrities such as Sean Penn — it’s an invitation to a smackdown.
Now you can add bears to the list of those who prefer to remain off camera.
Earlier this summer a friend and I set up a game camera next to Rusty Metal Pond in an attempt to capture images of a pair of beavers who had moved in and set up house.
Mr. and Mrs. Beaver were in the middle of constructing a pretty impressive lodge and we figured it would be fun to document their progress.
The camera itself is a fairly simple piece of technology running off a set of batteries and a built-in motion detector.
When an animal or bird — or, as we learned, a bug, leaf or branch — walks, flies or wafts past, the movement trips the camera’s shutter and a photo is taken. There’s even a flash for low light and night shots.
Patience, my friend told me, is the secret to getting good photos with a game camera. The longer it’s left alone, the better the odds of capturing something interesting.
What we were hoping for, of course, was a National Geographic-quality sequence of photos of our friends the beavers building their home.
What we got was a less-than impressive array of fuzzy night photos in which, if you squint and look at the images from the right angle, there may be a beaver doing something.
There also were several shots of the vegetation in front of the camera and way more photos than I ever needed of me on the riding lawn mower cutting the grass around the pond.
Were the beavers camera shy? Were their lodge-building techniques proprietary in nature and thus no photos allowed?
We may never know, but clearly if we wanted some game shots, a change of venue was in order.
So we reloaded the camera’s memory card and set off to position it on a trail here on the farm known to be frequented by creatures great and small.
And there it sat for more than two months — out of sight and definitely out of mind until last week when it hit us, “Wow, maybe we should go check the camera.”
A short hike later brought us to within sight of where we had left it, but it seemed to be missing.
Getting closer, we saw it was not missing, rather the tripod on which it sat had fallen over.
Getting closer still, we then saw it had not so much fallen as it had been smacked over and perhaps even stomped on.
What creature, we asked ourselves, would hold such malice toward an innocent game camera? We could hardly wait to get back home and find out.
The first series of photos showed the north end of a southbound female moose sauntering by either unaware of, or uncaring of the game camera, though now that I look back on it, her expression as she looked over her shoulder toward the lens may have been one of, “Does this camera make my butt look big?”
The next two shots were of a smaller moose at night and then some more of those fuzzy, “find-the-animal-in-this-picture” shots.
Then — pay dirt.
An extreme closeup of a black bear looking directly into the lens.
Now, we are not sure what happened next, but best as we can figure, bears — or at least that particular bear — are not exactly patrons of the visual arts.
The shot immediately after the close up is a sort of action photo as the camera is pushed to the ground.
The next series shows the ground from a profile angle since the camera was on its side with a bear apparently jumping up and down on top of it.
Bears are known for having a keen sense of smell, and my friend and I wondered if perhaps they have pretty good hearing to go with that and perhaps the soft “clicking” of the camera’s shutter irritated the bruin.
According to the American Bear Association’s website, “It is believed that black bears hear much better than humans, probably in the ultrasonic range.”
The structure of a bear’s ear is unique from other omnivores in that, according to the website: “The middle ear consists of a balloon-shaped, bony structure that forms a resonating chamber around the ear drum.” Called the auditory bullae, this structure increases hearing sensitivity.
Over the years, I’ve had more than one bear encounter here on the farm — from being charged by a mother bear with a cub, to having a young bear circle the small cabin I use as a writing studio.
Every time the bear and I have both come away unscathed — if a bit rattled, at least on my part.
Bears seem to want to mind their own business and avoid humans.
Camera-toting paparazzi, on the other hand, could very well be fair game.
So, just in case, next time we set up the game camera, it’s going to be tied to a tree.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer, who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.