Face to Face with a Black Bear

American Black Bear— Ursus americanus

If you talk to the animals, they will talk with you, and you will know each other. If you don’t talk with them, you will not know them, and what you do not know, you fear. What one fears, one destroys.Chief Dan George (1889-1981)

We were again on Bear Alert. We knew one was in the area because of the bear den we can see from our back deck, the fresh bear digs just twenty feet from the deck, and a neighbor’s unsecured trash that was scattered along the road. So often raccoons are blamed, but having lived in bear country twenty years, I know a bears’ handy work when I see it. I’ve spent many a morning, often before sunup, picking up bear trash. Once I even found the bears sitting place at the base of a cedar tree where he’d had himself a fine picnic.

The Bear Den at the base of a maple tree through my zoom lens from the back deck.
Fresh Bear Dig twenty feet from the back deck.

It was just after 1:00 a.m., on a warm June night that we were awakened by the jolt of crash, bang, boom! It was the sound of our bear proof garbage bin being clawed, chewed, and tossed like a rag doll by a black bear, Ursus americanus. Then there was silence. That’s when the bear made a bold move pressing its nose against our open bedroom window for which it proceeded to sniff and lick the screen. We’ve had bears look in our windows before, but this was the first time one made contact.

Adding to a bear’s intelligence and strength, is its acute sense of smell. If the breeze is right, a black bear can detect water fourteen miles away, and food from twenty miles away. Most likely, it was the neighbor’s habit of unsecured trash that lured the bear in the first place.  So, what brought the bear to our window? Was it the Italian aroma of homemade pizza sauce I’d made earlier that evening? Or the glass of chocolate milk my husband left on the nightstand? To think only a screen separated us from the bear. It might as well have been tissue paper. Thankfully, the result ended well for us and for the bear that took off when we shouted at it.

Teeth marks on the bear bin.
Bear-proofing with security bars

In the morning, the bear bin was on its side unopened. The black bear is highly intelligent, extremely crafty, and eerily human like as this bear, and others before him, have shown. The bear had walked upright carrying the bin with a bear hug for about ten paces before dropping it. The incredible strength this magnificent animal exhibits never fails to amaze me. The bear had cleverly unscrewed the lid counter clockwise, twice! Another turn and a half, and it would have been bon appétit! Discouraged, but not put off, the bear left toothy evidence, and deep scratches made by incredibly sharp claws, across the lid. After our too close for comfort encounter, we installed security bars on the window.

The bear, probably the same bear, returned a few weeks later. (I doubt it ever left.) The morning of July 28, a neighbor’s deck was ransacked. The bear made an awful mess throwing everything off the deck from ice chests to chairs, to buckets, and brooms. It made off with a trash bag that it tore open, but then abandoned in the road. Either the bear was interrupted, or it didn’t find the food it was looking for.

A neighbor’s unsecured trash along the road.

The night of July 28, at around 10:30, I opened the back door to let in some cool air when I heard movement along the fence. It sounded like raccoons returning for more cookies. I turned on the porch light, and waited. My jaw dropped when a black bear stepped from the shadows, its mouth slightly agape, pink tongue slightly curled, adding to the drama. The bear walked into the porch light, putting its face to the cyclone fence. For fifteen-seconds, I didn’t move or say a word, half in disbelief, and half intrigued. She was a beautiful bear, and I could have kicked myself for not having my iPhone with me.

I shouted, Go on, get out of here! But, the she was completely unfazed. She just stood looking at me with beady eyes. Bears have small eyes for their size, and rather poor eyesight. My shouts, and hand clapping wasn’t working, so I grabbed the tin can of change from the shelf and shook it. I thought I’d go deaf, but it didn’t faze the She Bear one bit. Her lack of fear was very unnerving. Only when the lid popped off, and coins went flying, some of them hitting the threshold with such a racket that she lumbered into the forest, snapping branches along the way.

I picked up the coins, and stood at the door, thinking about what just happened, when the She Bear came back! Again, I went into my routine, shouting and clapping my hands, and rattling the can of coins, but she wouldn’t budge. So I decided to make a daring move. Something I would never consider had there not been a six-foot fence between us. I stepped outside onto the deck. The She Bear stood on her hind legs to size up the situation; remember, bears have poor eyesight.

About four and a half feet tall, I guessed the bear to be female. I could see white hairs on her chest—two beautiful crescents that looked like half moons hung in the night sky. While not aggressive, her fearlessness was daunting. Despite more yelling and hand clapping, she refused to stand down, so I made an aggressive move to let her know that I meant business. I rushed at her, stopping at the edge of the deck. We were five feet apart, face to face. That did it! And the She Bear bolted into the woods, branches snapping in her wake; a sound that carried far, far away, but not far enough.

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